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DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines – Scions of Pangasinan’s political dynasties may sport cutesy nicknames more suited to boy band members but they represent some of the country’s toughest political brawlers.
These powerful clans aren’t just maneuvering for a redistribution of local spoils in the 2022 elections. Who wins the presidency will also affect the fortunes of their dynasties.
Will the dominant Espino family align with Vice President Leni Robredo, main rival of Ilocano favorite Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in the homestretch of the elections?
Governor Amado Espino III (Pogi to his followers) openly supports Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte’s vice-presidential bid but remains mum, as of writing, on his president.
The Espinos campaigned for vice presidential candidate Marcos Jr. in 2016 so their lack of enthusiasm for his presidential bid has sent tongues wagging.
Even cryptic silence is seen as brave in this area of the country, where the Espinos face tough challenges on all fronts from the pro-Marcos Alyansang Guico-Lambino (Aguila) coalition.
Former Speaker Jose de Venecia, his wife Gina, and legislator son Christopher (“Toff”) have come out for Robredo. But De Venecia and Gina, who also served as representative of their 4th District bailiwick, are both retired, and reelectionist Toff doesn’t have a strong opponent from a rival political clan.
A major voice missed in the province during these elections is former president Fidel V. Ramos.
The 94-year-old Ramos, Pangasinan’s pride, has not appeared in public for a few years now. Recent news about him has revolved around the publication of “Behind the Red Pen,” a deep dive into the Ramos presidency by his close-in writer Jojo Terencio, and the unveiling of the Fidel Ramos Virtual Library.
Ramos was a second cousin of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and vice chief of the Armed Forces when he helped precipitate the 1986 People Power revolt by resigning and withdrawing support from the government.
Ramos, as president, allowed the Marcos family to bring back the tyrant’s body to Ilocos Norte in 1993. But he also called President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of a hero’s burial for Marcos an “insult” to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
It is hard to see a man – who sees his role during the People Power uprising as “atonement” for long years of supporting a dictatorship – approving of the Marcoses’ return to Malacañang.
In January, Ramos’ former Cabinet officials endorsed Robredo’s presidential bid.
We may never know the score with Ramos now, nor how he could have influenced Pangasinan alignments in the May 2022 elections, as he has stayed out of the public view.
A key move in the current power play involves incumbent 5th District Representative Ramon Guico III who dislodged Espino patriarch Amado Jr. in the 2019 polls. He is now challenging the son, Governor Pogi, and supporters have given the son and namesake of Binalonan Mayor Ramon “Monching” a new nickname, “Gwapo.”
The Aguila coalition includes the former 1st District representative Arthur Celeste and former 5th District representative Mark Cojuango, who both failed in the 2016 gubernatorial race.
Cojuangco has transferred residency to the 2nd District, where he seeks the congressional seat against Jumel, Pogi’s brother.
Gwapo’s running mate is incumbent Vice Governor Mark Lambino, son of Raul, the presidential adviser for Northern Luzon and administrator and chief executive officer of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA). Former broadcaster Nestor “Nikiboy” Reyes is the governor’s running mate.
Team Aguila recruited the Espinos’ political foes, from aspiring councilors to provincial board members, in their bid to crush the Land of Salt’s dominant dynasty.
The Espinos, in turn, have gathered allies under the regional party Abante Pangasinan Ilocano (API) for their May 9 clash with Aguila.
Old clans, fresh recruits
The Guicos’ home base is Binalonan in the 5th District. Their first political leader was World War Ii guerrilla and businessman Ramon Guico Sr. They are distant relatives of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through her mother Eva.
Gwapo’s father, the Binalonan mayor now running for congress, is a third cousin of Macapagal-Arroyo. Monching faces Espino ally Clemente “Niño” Arboleda, nephew-in-law of the late provincial administrator Rafael Baraan.
Another of Monching’s sons, Ramon Ronald, is contesting the Binalonan mayoralty in a four-way battle against Eduardo Boado, Josie Caburnay, and the Espino-backed Ryan Gotoc.
Gwapo’s running mate, Mark Lambino, hails from Pangasinan’s 4th District, turf of the De Venecia family.
Lambino patriarch Raul was the former speaker’s chief of staff from 1995 to 1998 and a loyal lieutenant of Macapagal-Arroyo. He organized the failed 2005-2006 Sigaw ng Bayan campaign to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution through a People’s Initiative.
Raul himself does not have a successful electoral track record. He did not come close to the winning circle of 12 in the 2010 senatorial elections. His 2016 bid for mayor of hometown Pozorrubio ended in a heartbreaking loss, by less than 600 votes, to Artemio Chan.
In 2019, Raul’s wife Marilyn defeated then-incumbent mayor Bona Parayno in her hometown of Mangaldan to establish a political foothold.
Their son, Mark Ronald, also won the seat for vice governor as a substitute for retired police official Paterno Orduña, who withdrew from the race due to health reasons. His principal, Arthur Celeste, lost to Pogi Espino by almost 200,000 votes.
Mother and son Lambino are now running for reelection.
A lot of Celestes
Completing the alliance of bigwig families aspiring to dethrone the Espinos are the Celestes of West Pangasinan. Five Celeste brothers hold public office while younger relatives have begun to take up their seniors’ posts.
The Celestes rose to political prominence in 2001 when Arthur Celeste won as representative of the 1st District, thereafter eclipsing the Orbos family.
After completing three terms as representative, Art in 2013 succeeded Hernani Braganza as mayor of Alaminos City. He held that post until 2019, when he made a disastrous attempt to take down Governor Pogi.
Art’s son, Arth Bryan, is the incumbent mayor of Alaminos. Another son, Arthur Jr., is seeking a council seat.
Art has gone back to scale and will attempt a congressional comeback against former governor Oscar Orbos.
His brother Jesus (Boying), who succeeded Art as representative from 2013 to 2019, will try to take Sual town, one of the Philippines’ richest municipalities, from Espino ally Mayor Liseldo “Dong” Calugay.
Art’s other brother, former Bolinao mayor Arnold, is the 1st District incumbent representative, having defeated Oscar’s brother Tim in 2019. Arnold is now running as Agno town mayor against the Espino-backed incumbent, Gualberto Sison.
Alfonso, another Celeste sibling, has been alternating as mayor and vice mayor of Bolinao. He is now seeking reelection as mayor. His reelectionist running mate Richard, is among the younger Celestes, as is councilor Gregorio.
The pro-Robredo Orbos brothers are on the Espino side of Pangasinan’s brawl, while the Espinos also have on their side the Resuellos of San Carlos City in central Pangasinan.
The Resuello family suffered a tragedy when San Carlos City Mayor Julian “Jolly” Resuello, then running for vice mayor after completing three terms, was shot dead on April 28, 2007. Since then, the number of their kin in elective posts has grown, their network expanding to adjacent Basista town.
Sympathy votes in 2007 resulted in landslide victories for Julian’s son, Julier (Ayoy), who was running for his father’s post, and his half-brother, Bogs, who substituted for the slain vice mayoralty candidate.
Ayoy and Bogs, both Espino allies, continued to win the elections in 2010 and 2013. They swapped posts in 2016, and again in 2019.
Mayor Ayoy and Vice Mayor Bogs are reelectionists. Another half-brother, councilor Joshua, is also running for another term.
Basista Mayor Jolly, also their half-brother, is defending his post against Team Aguila’s Edgardo “Boy” Tagum.
Modesto “Moding” Operaña, former executive officer of the provincial sports management council, has the Espinos’ backing in his fight for the mayorship of Urbiztondo town against Aguila ally Martin Sison.
Trials and tribulations
The Espinos, especially former cop Ama, have faced controversies through their years in power.
Former Bugallon mayor Rodrigo Orduña accused Ama in 2012 of involvement in the illegal numbers game jueteng and amassing more than P900 million that year alone (around P10 million per month) in protection money.
Espino denied the accusations, calling it a “smear campaign” by Nani Braganza, who lost to him in the 2013 gubernatorial election.
In February 2013, Espino and former ally Boying Celeste, faced criminal complaints for the December 15, 2012 murder of Infanta town mayor Ruperto Martinez
The justice department cleared both men in June 2015 for lack of probable cause.
And then there was Duterte and his “intelligence” claims. The new president in 2016 accused then-representative Ama and several other officials of trafficking in illegal drugs at the national penitentiary.
Duterte issued a public apology months after, taking responsibility for “being negligent in counterchecking.”
Espino, however, did face graft complaints for allowing illegal black sand mining operations in the Lingayen Gulf, an environmentally critical area, from 2011 to 2013.
The Sandiganbayan acquitted him on December 3, 2020.
The most serious threat Ama faced was the September 11, 2019 ambush that injured him and killed his security aide, Police Staff Sergeant Richard Esguerra, and driver Agapito Cuison.
Smaller clans carve turfs
Pangasinan has smaller clans that could become bigger.
The Lim-Acosta clan in the 4th District and Dagupan traces its rise to Benjamin “Benjie” Saplan Lim, former general manager of Duty Free Philippines who won as representative in 1998.
After one term, Benjamin won as mayor of Dagupan City in 2001. He introduced the Bangus Festival, which became a worldwide attraction.
His son, Marc Brian, became a councilor, then a vice mayor. He became mayor after Benjie’s death in January 2019, defeating Belen Fernandez. His mother, Celia, also won a council seat in 2019.
Brian will try to protect his post from another try by Fernandez in the 2022 polls. His sister, Victoria Czarinna (Irene), who originally filed as vice mayoralty candidate, eventually opted to contest a council seat. Irene’s husband, John Benedict Acosta, is a three-term councilor in adjacent Calasiao town, and is set to step down after the election.
The Perez clan from San Manuel, which hosts the San Roque Multipurpose Dam, has been in control of the town since 1934. The eastern Pangasinan municipality is now under the fourth generation of Perez politicians, all open supporters of Robredo.
Kenneth Marco, the town’s incumbent mayor, is now vying for reelection, while Alain Jerico, former mayor and incumbent vice mayor, is also seeking another term.
Their brother, Salvador Jr., is one of the two incumbent Sangguniang Panlalawigan members in the 6th District of Pangasinan. Another sibling, Antonio (Honeyboy), is seeking a council seat in their hometown.
In the province’s 6th District, the Primicias clan has been gaining political momentum. Sisters Marlyn, Lorna, and Alicia are the clan’s third generation politicians. – Rappler.com
Read the other stories in our Political Dynasties 2022 series:
- Political Dynasties 2022: Amid controversies, Pinedas of Pampanga expand reach
- Political Dynasties 2022: Espinos still lynchpin of Pangasinan politics
- Political Dynasties 2022: Fariñas clan foil to Marcos power in Ilocos Norte
- Political Dynasties 2022: Revillas now the largest in Cavite
- Political Dynasties 2022: Evardones reach Eastern Samar summit
- Political families crowd Eastern Samar candidates’ list
- Political Dynasties 2022: No heirs for Osmeña, Rama in Cebu City
- Political Dynasties 2022: Garin patriarch of Iloilo hard act to follow
- Political Dynasties 2022: Benitez clan guns for Bacolod City
- Negros Occidental big clans offer ‘soft’ support for Marcos
- Political Dynasties 2022: Zubiris rule Bukidnon after Fortich
- Political Dynasties 2022: Clashing families spring from Dongkoy Emano
- Political Dynasties 2022: Dongkoy Emano morphs into kingpin after EDSA revolt
- Political Dynasties 2022: Two families dominate Zamboanga Sibugay politics