Get to know Alvarez’s 6 nominees to the PDP-Laban 2019 senatorial slate

Jodesz Gavilan

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Get to know Alvarez’s 6 nominees to the PDP-Laban 2019 senatorial slate
(UPDATED) House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez names 6 people whom he wants to be part of PDP-Laban’s senatorial slate for the 2019 elections: Mocha Uson, Harry Roque, Carlo Nograles, Francis Tolentino, Geraldine Roman, Albee Benitez

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Friday, November 17, named 6 people whom he wants to be part of PDP-Laban’s senatorial slate for the 2019 elections. 

The latest roster announced in Cebu by Alvarez, the party’s secretary general, includes controversial names – including blogger-turned-official Mocha Uson and newly-appointed spokesperson Harry Roque.

At least 4 of the 6 people he named were already previously named by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III last October 6 as slate members of the ruling PDP-Laban for the 2019 midterm elections.

Pimentel, however, said that the party has yet to decide on the inclusion of Uson and Roque, adding that they can be considered as the “Speaker’s nominees.”

Aside from Uson and Roque, Alvarez also mentioned Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles, Negros Occidental Albee Benitez, Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman, and defeated 2016 senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino. Who are they? 

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary

BLOGGER TO SENATOR? Malacañang official Mocha Uson is named by Pantaleon Alvarez as part of the 2019 slate. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

One of the most controversial government officials, Mocha Uson is known for repeatedly being caught spreading inaccurate and wrong information on her Facebook page. She, however, insists that she is a “victim of fake news” and consistently calls media as “ “Presstitutes.” (READ: Mocha Uson: Fake news victim or fake news peddler?) 

Uson was appointed assistant secretary for social media under the Presidential Communications Operations Office on May 9, 2017. She earns at least P106,000 ($2,073) every month.

Before she was appointed to the PCOO, Uson was a board member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). Born Margaux Justiniano Uson, 34-year-old Mocha Uson gained popularity as the leader of the Mocha Girls, an all-female dance group. 

She previously ran a blog that featured sex tips, her advocacy for breast cancer awareness, and the passage of the then-Reproductive Health Bill. 

Her involvement with the Duterte camp started when she and her girl group started joining campaign sorties. Uson also expressed her support for Duterte, whom she believes would end criminality in the country. This support was and continues to be expressed in her Facebook page Mocha Uson Blog. 

A medical technology degree holder from the University of Santo Tomas, she pursued medicine for two years before dropping out to build an entertainment career. She is also the daughter of Judge Oscar Uson from Tayug, Pangasinan who was gunned down in 2002 after receiving several death threats.

Uson, however, said that she has no plans of running for senator but would entertain the thought if President Rodrigo Duterte himself asks her to run. (READ: Mocha Uson says no plans to run for senator, but…)

Presidential Spokesperson 

FIRST TIME. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque takes questions from the media in his first Malacañang press briefing. Photo from Malacañang

Harry Roque is the newly-appointed Presidential Spokesperson, replacing Ernesto Abella. His appointment was announced by Duterte on October 27. 

Prior to being the President’s voice, Roque represented Kabalikat ng Mamamayan (KABAYAN) in the House of Representatives. According to its website, his party list hopes to contribute to the “full realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of all Filipinos, particularly the marginalized.” 

But he has been the subject of infighting in Kabayan. In January 2017, he was removed as a member “and consequently, from representing the party” due to “dishonorable behavior” stemming from the congressional hearing into the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison in November 2016. (READ: The House’s ‘climax’ congressmen: Who are they?)

As a lawyer known for his human rights advocacy outside politics, Roque has handled high-profile cases with the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) – particularly cases of families of the Maguindanao Massacre victims, of slain journalist and environmental activist Gerry Ortega, and of slain transgender Jennifer Laude, among others. 

He was the lawyer of at least 70 members of the Malaya Lolas group composed of victims of rape and sexual slavery during the Japanese Occupation. (READ: Things to know about Harry Roque, Duterte’s new spokesman)

Not yet a month in his new post as spokesperson, Roque was thrust to the center of controversy when rabid pro-Duterte bloggers called him out after he spoke about the value of critical journalism. He, however, said it is up to the President to fire him. 

He also has been widely believed to have bigger political dreams. When asked on October 23 to confirm rumors he will be aiming for a senatorial seat in 2019, Roque only said, “My motto is, ‘Thy will be done.’ I will go where the Lord leads me.” 

Representative, First District of Bataan

REPRESENTATIVE. Geraldine Roman makes Philippine history as the first transgender member of the House of Representatives. Photo from Geraldine Roman's Facebook page.

Upon winning the 2016 elections, Geraldine Roman became the first openly transgender woman elected to Congress. She represents the first district of Bataan. (READ: Transgender politician poised for historic win in Catholic Philippines)

Roman was born to a political family. Members of the Roman clan have held a congressional seat since 1998 when patriarch Antonino Jr was first elected, serving until 2007. His wife, Herminia, took over from him and served from 2007 until 2016. Geraldine, in turn, took over afterwards.

During the 2016 elections, Roman ran under the banner of the Liberal Party (LP), but left it in May 2017 to join the administration party PDP-Laban. She drew flak from her supporters, mostly from the youth, because of this decision.

The move, Roman said, was prompted by the desire to look after the welfare of her constituents. Some reports said she jumped ship for the sake of her pet bills. 

A member of the so-called “equality champs”, Roman co-authored House Bill Number 4982 or “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE).”  (WATCH: RAPPLER TALK: Geraldine Roman on fighting discrimination)

The anti-discrimination bill, which has been repeatedly refiled in previous Congresses, was finally approved by the House of Representatives in September 2017. 

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs

TO SENATE AGAIN. Former MMDA Chairperson Francis Tolentino is among the candidates of PDP-Laban. File photo by Rappler

He may have assumed the role of political adviser to Duterte last June, but Francis Tolentino is still best known for his 6-year stint as chairperson of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) under the administration of then president Benigno Aquino III.

Before he shot to national prominence, Tolentino served as mayor of Tagaytay City for 9 years from 1995 to 2004. In 2016, he set his eyes on a Senate seat, initially under LP, but he asked to be removed from the slate after hiring sexy dancers for a lawmaker’s birthday party. That put him in hot water.

Despite running as an independent, Tolentino enjoyed the support of the Duterte camp. He was often seen during the then Davao City mayor’s campaign sorties. (READ: The Leader I Want: Francis Tolentino’s to-fix list for 2016) 

Tolentino, however, only landed on the 13th spot during the 2016 senatorial elections. He later filed an electoral protest against Senator Leila de Lima and even tried blocking the proclamation of new senators. 

Representative, 1st District of Davao City

KARLO NOGRALES AND RODRIGO DUTERTE. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte congratulates Davao City First District Representative Karlo Nograles after the latter was sworn in as new member of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Photo by Karl Norman Alonzo/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Karlo Nograles is serving his 3rd term as representative of the 1st District of Davao City after running – and eventually winning – unopposed during the 2016 elections.

He is the son of former House speaker Prospero Nograles and a member of a powerful political family in Mindanao previously known to be the fiercest enemy of Duterte. Politicians from both families have long fought over government positions in the city.

The two eventually patched things up when the former Davao City mayor ran and won the presidency. (READ: Duterte’s long-time critic, Prospero Nograles, says sorry)

A member of the National Unity Party, Nograles eventually joined PDP-Laban in September 2017. He even took his oath before Duterte who described the young Nograles as “one of the most powerful congressmen,” adding that “we can take advantage of him.”

Among the laws that Nograles authored and which were passed since he was elected congressman in 2010 were Republic Act 10771 or the Green Job Act, which gives special tax deductions to environmental-friendly companies, the JobStart Philippines Act, which helps the youth get employment, and Republic Act 10741, which strengthened the operations of the National Labor Relations Commission.

Representative, 3rd District of Negros Occidental

THIRD TERM. Former provincial chairman for LP Albee Benitez will run under PDP-Laban. File photo by Marchel P. Espina/Rappler

Alfredo “Albee” Benitez is on his 3rd term as representative of the 3rd District of Negros Occidental. He also currently chairs the Committee on Housing and is the lead convenor of the House of Representative’s Visayan Bloc.

He is considered one of the richest congressmen. First elected to Congress in 2010, Benitez is the author of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act. As a businessman, Benitez was also involved in the gambling industry as founder of Leisure and Resorts World Corporation (LRWC). In 2010, he resigned from the board after being elected into office. In July 2017, the gaming company was reported to have lost 50% of its online gaming locators under its subsidiary First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corporation.

He was the former provincial chairperson of the Liberal Party (LP) before he was stripped of functions in October 2015 after reportedly missing key events. Benitez eventually left LP in December 2015 and supported Grace Poe’s presidential candidacy in the May 2016 elections.

Shortly after Poe lost, however, Benitez jumped ship to PDP-Laban– 

*Sen. Leila de Lima’s photo during 2016 elections courtesy of Philstar Online/ Photo by AJ Bolando

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.