How the mighty have fallen

"This is just one example."



The 2019 mid-term elections will be remembered for two major developments in the politics of this nation.

One is the overwhelming vote of confidence given to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, whose chosen and adopted candidates for senator clearly won.  Most of his candidates for local positions also won all over the land.

It will be most interesting to watch how the President and his men will use this huge mandate in the second half of his term to strengthen, even recast if he wishes, his legacy as leader.

How the President wields his powers and how he harnesses the support of his key allies in Congress and the local government units in pursuit of a lasting and truly reformist legacy will also determine how he will influence the vote for the next president of the land three years from now.

How his chosen senatorial candidates will remain steadfast in their loyalty to the President through support of his plans and programs also bears watching. Similarly, how these endorsed senatorial winners as well as those who have allied themselves with him but are not due for reelection until 2022, (none of whom supported him in his presidential run in 2016), will be keenly observed.

 The second major development that 2019 will be remembered for is how the mighty have fallen.

Let me begin with one:

In Cebu City, the Osmeña dynasty is thrashed. Tomas Osmeña, since 1988 the undisputed kingpin of Cebu politics, was defeated by a political commoner, a timawa so atypical to an electorate dominated by the revered memory of a gentleman president, Don Sergio Osmeña, followed by a brash but visionary son, Serging Osmeña who despite losses in the national stage, made his mark in Cebu City’s political and economic landscape for posterity.

This legacy of a prosperous Cebu which Tomas Osmeña inherited from his forebears, and for which an entire generation of Cebuanos have entrusted to the Osmeña’s third generation, was laid to rest last Monday by Edgar Labella, who until 2018 was pooh-poohed by keen Bisaya political observers with a sneering “kinsa man siya?”  Labella who?

Mild-mannered, humble to the point of self-effacement, deeply spiritual and simple-living Edgar Labella was a prosecutor whose father was a true-blue Osmenista, “bisag unsahon, Osmeña gihapon.” He would have risen in the legal profession perhaps to the rank of Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas had not fate intervened.  Rushing to Cebu back from a conference in Manila, he took a ship which sank past midnight in the waters off Masbate.  For two nights and three days he clung to a piece of timber from the sunken vessel, kept alive only by prayers and the hope to see his family yet.

Rescued by Waray fishermen on the third day almost lifeless, Labella miraculously survived the ordeal. Years after, he ran as councilor in the ticket of Tomas Osmeña.  A hard-working legislator, Mike Rama picked him as vice mayor to give balance to his ticket.  Rama is from the south district, Labella from Mabolo in the north district of Cebu City. Tomas Osmeña supported Rama and Labella, and ran for congressman after his third term as city mayor.

But the Osmeña-Rama honeymoon failed to last.  Aching back for the kingdom he entrusted to Rama, Tomas wanted it back in 2016.  Mayor Rama was on his second term, gunning for a third and final term.

It was, however, a presidential election year.  The only Bisaya candidate for president was a tough guy mayor of Davao City whose father migrated from Danao in Cebu to seek greener pastures in the land of promise.

Osmeña and his local party, Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan was allied with the Liberal Party whose standard-bearer was Manuel Araneta Roxas of Capiz and Negros Occidental. Rama on the other hand was Vice President Jejomar Binay’s UNA candidate for reelection, and was very vocal about his support for Binay.

Duterte had no big politician gunning for him in Cebu City.  After Duterte launched his “listening tour” in Butuan City on Jan. 23 in Butuan City, I asked my good friend, businessman Michael Lloyd Dino, to arrange a similar engagement in Cebu City, and he did so at the University of Cebu through family friend Dr. Augustus Go a week later.  From that point onwards, Mike Dino the non-politician, was Duterte’s point person in the city, and even the province, where he tried to enlist the support of the Garcia clan for the Cebuano Duterte.

To cut a long story short, Winston Garcia junked Binay and went for Duterte about three weeks before election day.  Dino tried convincing Rama to support the Bisaya candidate, meanwhile launching the Bisaya Na Pod movement across the Visayas, evoking the sentiment of the Bisaya ethno-linguistic group which altogether comprise more than half of the entire Visayas, who have not had a president since Carlos P. Garcia in 1957 (there have been only two, the short-lived Osmeña ascent to the presidency after Quezon died, but whom Manuel A. Roxas of Capiz defeated in 1946) and the Boholano Garcia).  Rama stuck to Binay.

The wily Tomas Osmeña switched to Duterte when he saw that an avalanche of support was clear for Cebuanos in support of Duterte.  In his miting de avance three days before the elections, he plastered Duterte-Osmeña in a yellow and blue background, the colors of Mar Roxas and the Liberal Party.  That switch may have contributed to his victory over Rama.

But Duterte is made of different stuff.  He has little respect for those who switch their support for a rival simply to curry favor with the voters whose support he had already won.

And he appointed Michael Lloyd Dino Presidential Assistant with rank of cabinet for the Visayas.  

Meanwhile, Tomas Osmeña in his renewed first term of another hoped-for round failed to answer the basic needs of a population hungry for relief from the basic problems of uncollected garbage, water shortage, and heavy traffic.  His high-handed, arrogant style of leadership, which Cebuanos before relished as toughness now failed to impress his constituents and turned-off the business community.

Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, who was reelected in 2016 even as his Mayor Rama lost to Tomas, became the PDP-Laban and Hugpong candidate against the incumbent. He was the exact opposite in style and personality versus Osmena.

As of the unofficial count midnight Monday, he leads by a comfortable 17,000 votes over incumbent Osmena, with no more than 20,000 votes to be canvassed.

It was an extremely tight contest.  But two things that happened in the last week of the campaign period may have turned the tide for Labella and against Osmena.  First, a video-taped appeal from President Digong with Labella beside him.  “Pulihi na,” Bisaya for “palitan na”  was the message the President imparted to his fellow Cebuanos.

Next, an IBP-sponsored debate on May 10, the last day of the campaign, where Labella outdid and out-classed the voluble Tomas Osmeña.

How the mighty have fallen, and there are many other such stories whose denouement came on May 13.

Topics: Rodrigo Roa Duterte , Election , Tomas Osmeña , Edgar Labella
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