ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Five of the city’s eight mayoral candidates signed an agreement to ensure honest, orderly, and peaceful elections even as they faced off in a debate at the Alcalde de Ciudad de Zamboanga on Saturday, April 9.
Of the eight candidates seeking to succeed Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, six came but only five were able to sign the peace covenant because one of them nearly passed out.
Those who came for the debate were Zamboanga 1st District Representative Cesar Jimenez Jr., Vice Mayor Rommel Agan, Councilor John Dalipe, former congressman and mayor Celso Lobregat, and independent mayoral candidates Cesar Climaco Jr., and Karim Ismail Bahjin.
Bahjin, a former overseas worker who was dehydrated and weakened because he was fasting, had to go home early and missed out on the signing of the agreement.
Two other independent candidates, Abubakar Barahama and Ephraim Ekong, were a no-show.
The Valiente Mayoral Debate was organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA), Philippine News Agency (PNA), Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU), Manos Unidas, and United Front for Honest, Orderly, and Peaceful Elections. The debate allowed the city’s voters to listen to the candidates, and politicians to respond to the concerns of stakeholders.
Among those who asked the mayoral candidates questions were former Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Pedro Rufo Soliven, Monabelle Delgado, Gibran Abubakar of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and Sammy Santos.
Representative Jimenez, Mayor Climaco’s preferred successor, promised to continue city hall’s programs and projects about education, free housing, and health.
Vice Mayor Agan said his offer was the kind of leadership that can be trusted by the people.
“As we try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and work in a new normal, it is important to have a leadership that we can trust, someone with integrity, who will do the right thing even if no one is watching,” said Agan whose father Vitaliano was once Zamboanga’s mayor.
Former mayor Lobregat, for his part, said he would invest more in infrastructure and education the same way he did when he served as mayor from 2004 to 2013.
Lobregat also said he plans to improve, strengthen, and activate a children’s and women’s crisis center to help the many children and women who are victims of abuse in the city.
He stressed how the local government, through the City Health Office, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Department of Health (DOH), can collaborate to strengthen programs for women, children, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+.
The youngest of the mayoral bets, Councilor Dalipe, vowed to help indigenous peoples with ancestral domain claims, particularly within the Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, and elsewhere in the city.
Dalipe promised to start a no-nonsense anti-corruption program if he wins the mayoral race this May.
Although unrelated to the late Zamboanga mayor, Climaco Jr. said his priority would be to work for increased wages in the city if he wins.
Before he left early due to dehydration, Bahjin said he wanted some of Zamboanga City’s barangays to be turned into municipalities to speed up development, an idea that is undoable unless the villages separate from the city to form a new province. – Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship