By Jun Ledesma

The wheels of political fortune in Davao del Norte

August 23, 2021, 11:27 am

FOR several decades, elections in Davao del Norte had always been bland as the results could always be predicted months ahead of the actual polls. While they were not commanded or persuaded whom to vote electorates have their ears close to the ground and watched the body language of their employers to know who they will support comes every election. 

Those were the days when Don  Antonio O. Floirendo and Jesus V. Ayala were still in the helms of the biggest banana conglomerates in the country. The industry employs the most number of workers not only in Davao but in Mindanao.  These two venerable and admirable business leaders in the Davao region have all gone to that great beyond and thereafter radical changes happened in the   Davao del Norte’s political arena. 

In 2016 Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez who ran for congressman under PDP-Laban won in the 1st District along with his intimate friend Tonyboy Floirendo in the 2nd District. Their teammate, Anthony del Rosario won as Governor and they swept nearly all local government positions in the province.  In the Presidential race, Davao del Norte delivered the highest national percentage of votes cast by a province for Rodrigo Duterte. 

Alvarez went on to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2018 there emerged a new strain of political virus that was, to say the least,  divisive. It was the start of an era that best described in demonstrative terms what the phrase “In politics, there is no such thing as permanent friends, only permanent interests” means. Imponderables happened. The celebration appeared to be endless until something earthshaking happened. Alvarez filed adverse information against his BFF Tonyboy before the Ombudsman over an issue of an undeclared share that was too small and inconsequential. Then by a sheer act of madness, the quarantine stations in Tadeco banana plantations were ordered dismantled exposing thousands of hectares of Cavendish bananas to the dreaded Fusarium wilt. The soil-borne fungal disease had already wiped out 15,000 hectares of plantations mostly grown by small growers in Davao and Cotabato.  The banana industry of Panama was totally wiped out following the highly transmissible banana disease. 

The 2019 mid-term elections saw the reversals of political fortunes in Davao del Norte. Alvarez was jettisoned as Speaker of the House following a word war with Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte when he branded the Mayor’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago an opposition party.  

The ex-Speaker later mounted a campaign against his former colleagues - Floirendo and the Del Rosarios - presenting himself and his new recruits as the candidates of the poor. The truth was Alvarez outspent his opponents in every turn. The other truth was neither Floirendo nor Del Rosario was keen on coughing out their hard-earned money against Bebot’s. Besides,  Alvarez still has friends who were suspected to have bankrolled his candidacy for a possible come back as the 4th most powerful man in the country. 

Alvarez and his team routed practically all his opponents but the Speakership was nowhere within his reach. 

Towards the end of 2020, Bebot decided to call it quits with the Ruling Party. He staged a voter’s education program but with an overt agenda of discrediting the administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and taking a jab at  Mayor Inday Sara who was emerging as the talk of the town who would replace her father.  

Alvarez “In Search of a Leader - 2022 roadshow”, however, suffered a debacle when the dreaded coronavirus infected him. No medical bulletin was ever issued thus when he disappeared from the scene speculations had it that he had a serious bout with Covid 19. A couple of months after, his daughter Paula who works at the Finance Department,  issued a statement to Manila-based media that the Congressman had been released from hospital confinement and was recuperating in their Tagum residence. 

Hardly had the news reached the remote barangays in the province when Alvarez was again rumored to have been rushed anew to the hospital. This time the curious have lost interest. Even politicians ceased keeping an eye on him until he emerged, talking to representatives of Sen. Ping Lacson and Senate Pres, Tito Sotto,  somewhere in Quezon City. 

For the first time it was heard  that Bebot revived the moribund  Partido  Para sa Demokratikong Reporma.  In his next appearance he was in conference with the two senators and with former VP Jojo Binay and finally a photo of him and Lacson with the latter being sworn in as Chairman of Partido Reporma with the founder, Rene de Villa witnessing. 

Moreover, the photo-ops did not deliver the desired impact in Davao del Norte if these were meant to impress that his Partido Reporma now has Lacson and Sotto as its candidates for President and Vice President, respectively. The largely Cebuano and Boholano populace of the province instead coined derogatory and funny acronyms for the team: “PiSot” which means uncircumcised and “LacSot” meaning worthless or ugly. 

Bebot also came out with video clips shown on local cable TV in the province where he announced his intention to seek reelection as he still has one more term remaining.  Over two weeks had elapsed after his appearance but people are still talking about his very frail condition and the absence of bravado which, in the past characterized his public statements. 

So what’s the real score in the ground?  As we all knew Senator Sotto, in a statement issued to media after joining Reporma, boasted that the PPDR is the “ruling party” in Davao.  Coming from a former comedian, that claim was a rib-tickler.  District 2 Representative Allan Dujali has openly declared he will stay foot with PDP-Laban and will support the candidacy of Davao City Mayor Inday Sara for President. Likewise, he has announced that his faction will put up a complete slate of candidates in vote-rich Panabo City. The incumbent officials of the Island Garden City of Samal led by Mayor Al David Uy, just announced they will go full force for Mayor Inday Sara. 

In Tagum City, 20 of the 23  barangay captains who rallied behind Alvarez have joined the bandwagon pushing for Sara’s Presidential bid. Vice Gov. Rey Uy, who was with Bebot in the 2019 polls, and son Oyo Uy led the Tagum delegation in Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) launch of “Ituloy ang Pagbabago Movement”. The air in the provincial capital is rife with rumors the incumbent Mayor Allan Rellon, whose term expires next year, is also supporting Inday Sara. The HnP leadership has hinted it is willing to adopt him and even offered the plum post as its candidate in 1st District versus Bebot Alvarez.  

By the looks of it, only Gov. Edwin Jubahib, Panabo Mayor Jose Relampagos, and a mayor in a small mountain town of San Isidro had remained steadfastly loyal to Alvarez. The trio had joined Reporma with Jubahib sworn in as Secretary-General.  Some wags are saying Reporma is a celebrated party for winning only one post since its inception decades ago. I don’t know whether the “PiSot” or “LacSot” team with the lackluster mien of Bebot can break that chain of bad luck. 

The wheels of fortune, in the political career of Davao del Norte politicians, keep rolling. What goes up goes down. 


About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.