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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Administration slate Team PNoy was first to visit Mindanao this week but the opposition is not worried. After all, it claims the region as turf.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) begins campaigning in what it calls Erap country. From March 2 to 4, UNA senatorial bets will spend the weekend visiting Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro, and Iligan City in Northern Mindanao.
UNA is pulling out all the stops, bringing two of its so-called 3 kings -- Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada -- to endorse its candidates.
Binay’s daughter, Nancy, explained the choice of campaign stops.
“Since balwarte nga ito ni Presidente Erap, alam naman nating pagdating ng end of March, magiging busy na rin siya sa Manila so habang magiging available pa si Presidente uunahin na namin ang balwarte niya,” Binay told reporters here. (Since this is President Erap’s bailiwick, we know he will be busy by the end of March for his mayoral campaign in Manila so while he is available, we go to his bailiwicks.)
In 2010, Estrada beat President Benigno Aquino III in 12 provinces in Mindanao, in addition to 12 more in Luzon. Binay also won in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan but not in Bukidnon.
The former president got the largest number of votes in Mindanao ever given to a senator, vice president, and a president.
Why is Estrada big in Mindanao?
Estrada repeatedly says that the 2010 results were proof of Mindanao’s approval of a controversial decision he made as president: to declare all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000.
The war led to the fall of the MILF base Camp Abubakar, and claimed hundreds of lives. Despite the backlash, Estrada points to the 2010 race as “the vote of the families that wanted peace.”
The book Ambition Destiny Victory: Stories from a Presidential Election said of the turnout, “This supported the findings of Pulse Asia FGDs that ordinary families in the South appreciated what the bourgeois in Manila severely criticized him for: his all-out war against Muslim secessionists.”
Besides the policy, Estrada has always stressed the value of Mindanao as the country’s food basket, and the need to improve agriculture and peace and order here. In 2010, he used this message in ads targeted to Mindanao voters.
Estrada also counts Mindanao leaders as supporters including his loyalist Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Vicente Emano. Emano is running for reelection under UNA. The opposition is allied with Emano’s local Padayon Pilipino party.
The UNA stalwart is also allied with Cagayan 2nd District Rep Rufus Rodriguez, whom he appointed immigration chief during his administration.
Rodriguez told Newsbreak in 2010, “Mindanao is traditionally an Erap country. In 2001, Mindanao did not support the EDSA people power [that ousted Estrada].”
In Bukidnon, UNA has ties with the local Bukidnon Paglaum Party (BPP) of the Zubiris. Resigned Sen Juan Miguel Zubiri is an UNA senatorial bet while his father, Vice Gov Jose Maria Zubiri Jr, is again running for governor under BPP.
UNA hopes Estrada’s popularity in Mindanao will help deliver votes for its senatorial bets, who have been trailing behind the administration in a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
Cagayan de Oro City had over 289,772 registered voters in 2010 while Bukidnon had 743,737. Iligan’s voting population in the last election was 139,390.
Sabah and energy blueprint
Like Team PNoy, UNA plans to focus on the peace process in its Mindanao leg.
In the wake of the deadly Sabah standoff, UNA campaign manager Navotas Rep Tobias “Toby” Tiangco told Rappler that the candidates will inevitably discuss the issue.
“We will not make it an issue because it’s already an issue. May namatay na Pilipino doon eh. Kung may bibitaying isang OFW, we move heaven and earth to save that person. Ito namatay, mapag-uusapan ‘yun. It’s already a national issue and our candidates have to make a stand,” Tiangco told Rappler. (There were Filipinos who died. If OFWs are about to be executed, we move heaven and earth to save that person. Here, there were fatalities and that will be discussed.)
The opposition also plans to emphasize another key problem: Mindanao’s power crisis.
“With the dry spell this summer expected to affect hydroelectric plans in the region and available power resources are getting scarce, UNA believes that a 15-year energy blueprint should be crafted to abate further energy crisis that could develop into an economic and political catastrophe,” Tiangco said in a statement.
The region has regularly experienced power outages, prompting the administration to call a summit on the energy crisis last year.
Some consumer, business and political groups criticized Aquino’s response to the problem, and blamed the privatization of power barges as the root cause.
Aquino had said that Mindanao will have to share the burden of higher power costs.
Health program, Koko rivalry
In UNA’s Bukidnon stop, Zubiri is expected to highlight the province’s No Balance Billing Program, which assures patients of 100% free health services in government hospitals.
The senatorial bet has been citing the program in all his sorties, and his plan to replicate it nationally.
Also giving color to UNA’s Mindanao sorties is the rivalry between Zubiri and the Mindanaoan candidate from Team PNoy, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Zubiri said he will address Pimentel's cheating allegations in Mindanao.
Their feud is rooted in cheating in the 2007 polls. Pimentel filed an election protest against Zubiri, who resigned just days before the Senate Electoral Tribunal proclaimed Pimentel the rightful winner in 2011.
In 2007, Zubiri topped the polls in Pimentel’s hometown of Cagayan de Oro, and emerged first in Northern Mindanao. Pimentel placed only 5th.
UNA was supposed to have two candidates from Mindanao but Pimentel bolted the alliance over his objection to Zubiri’s inclusion in the slate.
Zubiri said unlike many candidates of Team PNoy, UNA will not skip the hometown of rival candidates.
“‘Di lang kami pupunta kundi magbababad kami sa CDO. Mahal na mahal namin ang CDO,” he said in jest. (We won’t just go to CDO, we will stay long there. We really love CDO.) – Rappler.com
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