Tales of 3 cities: family feuds, blurred lines and old vs new

Lilibeth Frondoso

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Sibling rivalry in Makati, challenging a 50 year old dynasty in San Juan and the Belmontes go after Duterte loyalists

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It promises to be an exciting race in at least 3 cities in Metro Manila: Makati, Quezon City, and San Juan. Three things stand out.

One, almost everyone running is a scion of old political families.

Two, almost all say their “hands were raised by President Rodrigo Duterte and daughter Sara.”

Three, song-and-dance routines with a sprinkling of celebrities are the dominant form of their sorties. Joy Belmonte couldn’t help tell her audience Saturday night, March 30: “Baka magsialisan kayo ha? Sabi nila kapag politika at seryoso ang usapan nag-aalisan, pero ‘pag entertainment lagi kayong present.” (I hope you don’t leave? They say that when politics is the topic, the audience leaves, but when it’s entertainment, you are always present.)

Makati’s Binay vs Binay. It’s the most compelling teleserye in town nowadays. The sibling rivalry in Makati proves that truth is really stranger than fiction – one of our reporters says it’s like watching the Game of Thrones.

A day after the start of the local campaign season, Abby Binay – the sibling of former mayor and rival Junjun – predicts the family feud “will not be mended” even after elections are over. The patriarch and longtime former mayor of Makati, former vice president Jejomar Binay, is campaigning for her. He even danced on stage for her.

On the opposite side of the ring is Junjun, who fires back and says his sister is “out for vengeance.” Supporting him are his two sisters, reelectionist Senator Nancy Binay and Anne Binay.

Anne even takes the rivalry to the gutter level on stage, “Ay tama po, mas maganda ako doon, mas mabait ako at hindi ako maldita.” (Oh yes, I am prettier than her, nicer than her, and I am not a brat.)

Many questions are left unanswered: why did their father allow his children to slug it out? Why did he take the side of Abby? How does he feel about the mudslinging, after stipulating that the family must avoid throwing hurtful comments at each other? Why does Nancy take her brother’s side? What’s behind the rift between the sisters Abby and Nancy?

One thing should not be over-shadowed in the war of the Binays: the family’s populist track record in public service and spotty handling of public funds. It’s a family history steeped in allegations of corruption despite free movie tickets and birthday cakes.

For more background on the magnitude of the Binays’ political empire, read the 5th chapter of 5 Case Studies of Local Politics in the Philippinesedited by Pete Lacaba an published by PCIJ. The chapter, Makati One City, Two Worlds is seminal analysis on the country’s oldest business district and its dominant political leader.

For a backgrounder on the wealth of the Binays, there’s Miriam Grace Go’s The Lord of Makati: Can Binay explain his wealth?

And for an in-depth look at the parking building controversy, read World-class’ prices for Binay’s parking building.

The Binay vs Binay feud is a graphic tale of a political clan’s collective hubris. Why should their individual political whims come before the interest of their constituency? Normally, family members can agree on how they will divide power and turf among themselves. When they turn against each other, who’s the real loser? The voting public, of course, including their ardent supporters.

Quezon City’s blurred lines. In Quezon City, the daughter of LP stalwart Sonny Belmonte, Joy, launched her campaign Saturday night with the son of Senate President Tito Sotto, Gian, who is running for vice mayor. Joy and Gian’s campaign is trying to win over Duterte supporters, with many references to the President and her daughter Sara’s endorsement of the tandem.

But changing colors for the Belmontes isn’t that simple. Sonny’s wife Betty Go Belmonte was a trusted amiga of former president Cory Aquino, who appointed him to GSIS and later paved the way for his political career. Nephew Kit Belmonte is the secretary-general of the Liberal Party.

The discordant note reaches fever pitch when Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos – who was toppled by “yellow” forces including Joy’s parents – is called on stage. Bong Go and Bong Revilla soon follow.

PDP-Laban, her new party, plays both sides, but in the end endorses Joy Belmonte’s opponent, Bingbong Crisologo, for Quezon City mayor. Koko Pimentel attended Crisologo’s rally which was on the same night.

San Juan’s old vs new. It should be a ho-hum affair in San Juan but it’s turning out to be a very exciting rivalry.

To be sure, the challenger’s family, the Zamoras, are not newbies in politics. They’ve been around San Juan politics as much as the Ejercitos.

Janella Ejercito-Estrada picks up the baton for the “royalty” clan of San Juan. She’s the daughter of senator Jinggoy Estrada, who is out on bail for plunder charges since September 2017.

Though she is promising a lot of new things, for her it’s not a matter of messaging but of bailiwick. Will she be able to command the old Erap loyalists to deliver this win for the family?

How do you challenge a family that has ruled for 50 years? By promising change, of course.

Candidate for San Juan mayor Francis Zamora promises WiFi for all in a bid to turn it into a “smart city.” That’s a promise many millennials glued to their mobile phones might go for.

Rappler CEO’s arrest. Last Friday, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was arrested at Manila’s airport NAIA after coming from San Francisco.

This is the 7th active court case against Ressa, and the 11th case overall against Rappler, its directors, and staff since January 2018, when the Securities and Exchange Commission attempted to shut the company down.

Professor Randy David said in his column in the Inquirer: “Any neutral observer can reasonably conclude that Ressa is being singled out for prosecution because of her critical views of the current administration. But to prove that within the legal system is something else.”

He adds, “If we have strong independent courts that are not beholden to any powers outside the legal system, then it is possible to stop the political weaponization of the law.”

Here’s Ressa after filing bail, talking about the impact of the arrests on businesses.

Media and various groups describe the string of cases and complaints against Maria Ressa and Rappler as selective justice at work.

University of the Philippines communities in Diliman denounce the arrest and tell media to “stand firm and fight for press freedom.”

Watch the video below, but don’t be surprised if it has no audio. That’s part of the message.

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Lilibeth Frondoso

She currently heads Multimedia Strategy and Growth in Rappler.