Barely a week before local politicians file their certificates of candidacy for the May 2022 polls, most of those being talked about as contenders for General Santos City’s leadership were still keeping their cards close to their chests.
Pundits talk of at least a three-cornered fight for the mayoral post as an offshoot of the split of the alliance of the Ronnel C. Rivera Movement of the incumbent city mayor and the People’s Champ Movement of Senator Manny Pacquiao.
Rivera, now on his last term, won under the RCR-PCM alliance banner in all his three terms.
The third group is the decades-old Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM) of the Antonino political clan.
While some see AIM as a worn-out local political group, old timers and those in the know believe otherwise.
Robinson Francisco, an AIM community organizer, said the party never failed to field candidates ever since.
In fact, he said, its candidate for vice mayor, Loreto Acharon, won in the 2019 polls, while the AIM’s standard-bearer then, newbie Jay Omila, nearly snatched the post away from Rivera who won by a slim margin.
Many see the wife of the mayor, Jane Rivera, and Labangal barangay chairperson Lorelie Pacquiao – the senator’s sister-in-law – as likely contenders for the city’s top post.
Ben Sumog-oy, a local political columnist, said that following the Pacquiao-Rivera split, the senator formed his ticket in General Santos City.
The ticket supposedly includes Acharon who would run for congressman, Labangal barangay chairperson Pacquiao for mayor, and Councilor Franklin Gacal Jr. for vice mayor.
Sumog-oy said Rivera would run for congressman.
South Cotabato 1st District Representative Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles has also set her eyes on the mayorship and Councilor Rosalita Nuñez has emerged as her likely running mate, according to Sumog-oy.
So far, only Gacal and Nuñez, a former mayor, were vocal about their plans to run for vice mayor.
After the Pacquiao-Rivera falling out, the senator’s group formed an alliance with a group that includes former South Cotabato representative Pedro Acharon Jr. and the vice mayor, both identified with the AIM.
The former congressman has kept his silence and never made any overture if he will run for any office in the 2022 elections.
Former Mindanao Development Authority chairperson and AIM leader Luwalhati Antonino rejected an alliance with Pacquiao’s PCM.
“Walang alyansa. Hindi natin kailangan ang alyansa lalong-lalo na magkaiba ang ating panindingan. May sariling panindigan ang AIM,” Antonino said.
(There is no alliance. We don’t need an alliance, especially that our positions on issues differ. The AIM has its own principles.)
Antonino said her group was considering local business leader Elmer Catulpos as a potential candidate for the city’s top post.
Catulpos, a former broadcaster who founded the Brigada media network, is the president of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.
But Catulpos has kept mum about whether or not he has political plans.
Like Antonino, former mayor Darlene Magnolia Antonino-Custodio’s name has also surfaced as a likely candidate for congresswoman. She has not made any pronouncement about her plans, though.
Voters here will cast for the first time their ballots for the city’s new lone district representative position. A four-cornered tussle for the congressional post is seen forming among Mayor Rivera, Vice Mayor Acharon, Antonino, and labor leader Herbert Demos.
Jimbot Lim, a resident, said it was clear to him who among the politicians were planning to launch their candidacies because “sige panghatag de lata ug bugas (they keep on distributing canned goods and rice).” – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.