political dynasties

Negros Occidental big clans offer ‘soft’ support for Marcos

Inday Espina-Varona, Marchel Espina
Negros Occidental big clans offer ‘soft’ support for Marcos

BIG GUNS. Negros Occidental's most powerful political dynasties have ruled for decades and, in some cases, for a century.

Alejandro Edoria

Negros Occidental's political dynasties may back different presidential candidates but their chief basis of unity is the protection and expansion of their grip on power

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – A coalition since 2019 between the two biggest political blocs in Negros Occidental gifts most political dynasties with an election-free pass or a way of skirting strong opponents.

Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson’s Love Negros bloc and Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer’s United Negros Alliance (Unega) feature heirs of Sugarlandia’s powerful land-owning clans.

Lacson is among the province’s few officials campaigning for presidential aspirant Vice President Robredo.

While he has no sibling in politics, the governor is a cousin of Patrick Lacson, a “Kakampink” (supporter or ally of Robredo) in the council slate of pro-Marcos Bacolod mayoralty bet Albee Benitez

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Patrick is the son of former governor Daniel “Bitay” Lacson. His first cousin Andrew Montelibano, is a reelectionist 3rd District board member. The late EB Magalona mayor, David Lacson, who died of COVID-19 last year, was also his first cousin.

Ferrer is the provincial whip for Robredo’s rival Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

His wife, Juliet, the reelectionist 2nd District representative, is the granddaughter of Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto.

Juliet took over the mayor’s post from 2010 to 2016 when Jeffrey served in Congress. She is running unopposed in the 2022 polls.

Majority of the province’s mayors are backing the dictator’s son and namesake in the 2022 presidential elections.

It’s mostly about family ties. 

Representative “Marilou” Arroyo of the 5th District is the sister-in-law of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was instrumental in getting Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to be Marcos’ running mate.

The former president, who also served as House speaker, personally called officials to attend the February show of force for Marcos.

But Ferrer told Rappler, wryly, that some mayors and legislators can’t get their own families to back Marcos.

All stripes

Many Bacolodnon Kakampinks have grudgingly agreed to see past Benitez’s Marcos endorsement because his wife, Nikki, is a known supporter of Robredo. 

Pro-Marcos Talisay Mayor Nilo Jesus Antonio E. “Neil” Lizares’ wife, lawyer Rowena Lopez, is also prominent among Kakampink circles. 

The PDP-Laban reelectionist is the son of former vice mayor Nilo L. Lizares Jr. and the cousin of former mayor Anthony Lizares. 

The Marañon-Cueva clan from the province’s northern 2nd District are also Kakampinks. 

Their political dynasty stretches back to 1964, when the late Alfredo Marañon Jr. won a council seat in Sagay City. He served as councilor, vice mayor, mayor, assemblyman in the Marcos-era Batasang Pambansa, and later completed three terms as 2nd District representative.

His younger brother, Joseph, was also mayor of Sagay City from 1992 until 2001, when he became governor until his death in 2008. 

WELCOME. Sagay City musters a show of force for Vice President Leni Robredo on March 11, 2022. Sagay City Mayor Alfredo Marañon III (left,) Cadiz City Mayor Salvador Escalande, and Negros Occidental 2nd District Representative Leo Rafael M. Cueva, lead Negrenses from neighboring towns in welcoming Robredo. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

Alfredo Jr.’s son, outgoing Sagay Mayor Alfredo “Thirdy” Marañon III is running unopposed for the 2nd District congressional seat of his three-termer cousin, Leo Rafael Marañon Cueva, who is now running as vice mayor, also unopposed. 

Thirdy’s successor, Vice Mayor Narciso Lachica Javelosa, likewise unopposed, was present during a show of force for Marcos in February. He is the uncle of the late Sagay vice mayor Kent Marañon III Javelosa, Thirdy’s cousin and the son of a former mayor.

Thirdy’s brother Arthur Christopher and cousin Perfecto are also council bets.

Cadiz City Kakampink Mayor Salvador Escalante Jr. has a reelectionist councilor son, John Vincent. 

His cousin, Manapla town mayor Manuel “Manolet” Escalante, attended the gathering for Marcos.  

But at least two sugar planters in the district independently told Rappler that Manolet is “a very soft supporter” who has told barangay captains they are free to choose their presidential bets.

Also on the Kakampink side is reelectionist 2nd District provincial board member, Sixto Jr. Villena Guanzon. His sister, retired judge Frances, is running for a Cadiz council seat. 

PINKS. Guanzon siblings running in the 2022 elections, Sixto and Frances. Photos from Sixto Guanzon and Frances Guanzon’s Facebook pages

Both are siblings of former Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, who plays such a high profile in the Robredo campaign that she has had to post, “I am not a candidate.”

Tangled webs

Kabankalan reelectionist Mayor Pedro Zayco served three terms as 6th District provincial board member before replacing his brother, Mayor Isidro, who retired in 2019 after completing two three-term stints.

Pedro was present in the Marcos gathering. His nephew Miguel Montinola Zayco, reelectionist board member, is campaigning for Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. 

Salvador Benedicto Mayor Marxlen de la Cruz and brother, Vice mayor Nehemia, are running unopposed for new terms. 

They are sons of the late Nehemias G. de la Cruz Sr., a New People’s Army rebel-turned-politician, who served a total of 13 years as mayor of the mountain resort town. 

Family matriarch Cynthia also served three straight terms as mayor. The clan has held power for all but three years in three decades.

POLITICAL HEIRS. Don Salvador Benedicto Vice Mayor Nehemia (left) and mayor Marxlen (right) are siblings and sons of former mayors Nehemias Sr. and Cynthia. Photo courtesy of Don Salvador Benedicto LGU

Incumbent La Castellana Mayor Rhumyla Nicor-Mangilimutan, a Marcos supporter, has father and former La Castellana mayor Alberto Nicor Jr. as running mate. Two other siblings of the mayor, Alberto III and Anejo, are running for council seats

Hinigaran Mayor Nadie Arceo is running for reelection with his wife, Mary Grace, as running mate.

Reelectionist Binalbagan Mayor Alejandro Mirasol is also running with his wife Mary Anne.

Bago City reelectionist Mayor Nicholas Yulo and vice mayor Ramon Torres are relatives who exchanged positions when their respective third terms ended in 2016.

Some of the province’s dynasties – Gatuslao, Montilla, Zayco – had ancestors lording it over the local populace in the Spanish and American colonial eras.

Pontevedra Mayor Jose Maria Alvarez Alonso and 4th District board member Joeben are twins, siblings of former Sugar Regulatory administrator Nicolas A. Alonso. The 6th District board member Valentino Miguel is their nephew.

The Alonso siblings are also Marcos supporters, as are their Alvarez kin, who are all running unopposed in Ilog town.

Blood and gore

The Alverez family is part of the huge, turbulent Montilla clan. 

Sipalay City Mayor Gina Montilla Lizares backs Robredo while sibling Vice Mayor Oscar Montilla has declared for Marcos.

Isabela Mayor Irene Montilla, widow of the late mayor, Enrique, is running for reelection with son Juan Miguel as running mate. 

Enrique’s brother Patrick, is an independent 5th District board member candidate. Raymond, the son of Gerardo, Enrique’s brother and also a former mayor, is running for a council seat.

TANDEM. Mother and son, Irene and Juan Miguel, are running mates in the 2022 Isabela local elections. Photos from their individual Facebook pages

Alvarez patriarch Genaro Jr., popularly called Lim-ao, served as congressional 6th District representative from 1995 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2010. 

He won as vice governor in 2010, sending his daughter Mercedes to Congress.

When Mercedes ended her three terms in 2019, the patriarch returned to Congress for one term. 

Mercedes will now return to her old seat. Lim-ao is the running mate of reelectionist Mayor John Paul, his son.

Another sibling, Genaro Alvarez III, has also served as mayor and vice mayor.

There has been radio silence since the pandemic from the most controversial Montilla personality, Magdaleno “Magsy” Peña, former mayor of Pulupandan and Moises Padilla towns. But he still casts his shadow over the political landscape.

Magsy started his political career as mayor of Pulupandan in 2007.

He was then known as a warlord whose command of state forces and stranglehold on the legal system forced Negros Island Army commander, Brigadier General Raymundo Jarque – trapped in a feud between Magsy and his brother, Bonifacio – to seek protection from the New People’s Army in 1995.

It took 12 years before the Supreme Court and the Sandiganbayan junked the graft and qualified theft cases Magsy filed against his cousin, former mayor Antonio Esteban Suatengco, and Jarque himself. The general faced additional attempted murder charges, which the High Court also dismissed.

In 2013, operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Special Action Force members raided the Peña ancestral house, seizing the equivalent of a small town’s arsenal: 89 assorted high-powered firearms, explosives, and thousands of ammunition.

By that time, Magsy’s son and successor, Miguel Antonio, was running unopposed for his father’s old post.

Magsy had set his sights on Moises Padilla, a perennial hot spot on the province’s eastern border with Negros Oriental. He won as mayor in 2016, his running mate a niece, Ella Garcia-Yulo.

Within a year, Garcia-Yulo faced illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges after cops at a checkpoint forced their way into her vehicle.

By March 2019, a councilor was dead in Moises Padilla. Two months later, gunmen ambushed Yulo’s convoy, killing her brother Mark Garcia and nephew, councilor Michael Garcia.

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Garcia-Yulo was charged for the murder of councilor Jolomar Hilario, but was acquitted since she was behind bars when the killing occurred. 

Her co-accused, including councilors Jose Morito Flores, Jimmy Don Plaza, and Vincent Garcia (Michael’s brother and Ella’s nephew), and Vice Mayor Ian Villaflor took leave from work and stayed away even after Garcia-Yulo’s landslide 2019 win against Magsy. They surrendered in 2021, only when reports swirled about their nemesis suffering a debilitating illness. 

Garcia-Yulo and relatives, who have experienced firsthand living under tyranny, still back Marcos.

With Magsy’s absence, rapport was forged between Suatengco, the former mayor, and incumbent third-termer Mayor Miguel Antonio Peña, who slid down to vice mayor. 

Antonio Suatengco died in February, however. His son Lorenzo has filed as a substitute candidate. 

MAGSY’S SON. Pulupandan Mayor Miguel Antonio Peña, who is running as vice mayor after completing three terms, is coming out from under the huge shadow of his controversial father, Magdaleno. (Pulupandan Health Office page)
Old, new powers in Himamaylan

Two mayoralty bets in the 5th District city of Himamaylan are Marcos supporters. 

Provincial board member Ernesto Agustin “Tinto” Gatuslao Bascon, from the province’s longest-running political dynasty, will try to defeat incumbent mayor Raymund Tongson, Marcos Jr.’s Western Visayas campaign head.

Tongson’s family bagged many public works contracts during the Marcos regime. 

Tinto told Rappler in March that he has fond memories tagging along with his grandfather, former mayor and legislator Agustin Gatuslao, during visits to Malacañang.

Tongson, in 2019, defeated then-vice mayor Carmenia “Mencit” Gatuslao Bascon, who was running to replace her son, Tinto, who was then the outgoing mayor.

Mencit had served as mayor from 1993 to 1995, and from 2001 to 2007.

Across five generations, the Gatuslaos have placed in office two governors, five mayors, and four legislators. 

Family members have a record of facing off during elections. Tinto defeated his mother’s brother, Antonio “TonyGat,” in the 2010 mayoralty race. 

TonyGat ran as an independent for the Batasang Pambansa in 1983 against his cousin, Bob Gatuslao, of the Marcos Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. 

Tinto’s vice mayoralty tandem is cousin Raymund Gatuslao, the son of former mayor Hernan. His other cousin, incumbent Vice Mayor Justin Dominic, TonyGat’s son, remains Tongson’s running mate.

Justin’s sister, Rita, a Kakampink 5th District board member, is running for reelection. Herman, Raymund’s son, is also running for board member. – Rappler.com

Read the other stories in our Political Dynasties 2022 series: 

Overview

Luzon

Visayas

Mindanao

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