Friday, January 12, 2007

Liberiaga Candidacy a Boon to Gonzalez, a Serious Setback for Drilon

Amidst the Dinagyang fever currently gripping the city, Councilor Erlinda Liberiaga suprised everyone by declaring that she will vie for Iloilo City's lone congressional post this May 2007 elections, thus setting the stage for a three-cornered fight between her and incumbent Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. and Senator Frank Drilon (who has yet to categorically declare his candidacy for the post). Just days before, Councilor Liberiaga vehemently denied that she is running against her political betters. She even argued that her lawyer husband, Bert Liberiaga, owes a debt of gratitude to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. for appointing him as PAO (Public Attorney’s Office) Regional Director in Western Visayas. But yesterday, Councilor Liberiaga took back her words and confirmed that she is indeed running for Congress under the banner of Aksyon Demokratiko, the late Raul Roco’s party.

So the question in people’s minds right now is: what happened in the intervening days that made the Liberiagas change their minds? Various local media reports say that Councilor Liberiaga decided to break away from the administration LAKAS party because Mayor Jerry Treñas supposedly “does not like her husband Bert” and that they were disappointed because “Bert was excluded from the Treñas-Gonzalez slate” for City Councilor. Local pundits also point to the colorful Mark “MJ” Jimenez as instrumental in convincing the Liberiagas to challenge their erstwhile political patrons. MJ is not exactly shy about expressing his hatred for both Gonzalez and Drilon, and he has been running around Iloilo City bragging that he will be bankroll the candidacy of any politician who will dare oppose the two Ilonggo titans. Finally, MJ got his wish in the person of Ma’am Liberiaga, who made her name in Iloilo as a school teacher.

Since I used to work for Roco and consider myself still a member of Aksyon Demokratiko, I was completely surprised by the Liberiaga announcement. For one, I was not consulted about her candidacy. Other old-time Aksyon members I talked to likewise said they were not consulted regarding Liberiaga’s candidacy. So it seems to me that the decision to field Liberiaga was a totally unilateral decision on the part of Mark Jimenez. It is all the more surprising to me because Mrs. Sonia Roco, the widow of Senator Roco, will be running for senator under the Liberal Party (Drilon Wing)-Nacionalista-Aksyon coalition (the so-called “Third Force”) and I always thought that Aksyon will be supporting Drilon in Iloilo City. It turns out I was wrong.

I predict that this unilateral decision of Jimenez will turn-off most of Aksyon’s members and supporters in Iloilo City which is mainly comprised of middle class professionals, the youth, the “thinking” voters. I for one will not support Liberiaga because, aside from the fact that I was not consulted, Ma’am Erlinda is not even a bonafide member of Aksyon Demokratiko. I am not even sure whether Mark Jimenez consulted Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, the incumbent Aksyon chief, or Mrs. Roco, our titular head.

In the end, a Liberiaga candidacy will prove to be a boon to Gonzalez Jr. and a serious setback to Drilon. This is so because while the administration machinery vote will solidly be behind Gonzalez, Drilon and Liberiaga will be fighting over the same opposition vote. We have seen it happen before here. In 2004, the hugely-popular Mansing Malabor lost to the young Gonzalez simply because there were too many opposition candidates angling over the same opposition vote. Then and now, Gonzalez Jr. was consistently lagging behind in the media surveys but was able to pull off a “come-from-behind” victory because his camp was able to effectively mobilize their supporters on election day while support for Malabor pettered out at the last minute. It seems that we will see history repeating itself this 2007 elections.

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