ELECTIONS ARE months away but in Davao del Norte intense under currents are felt in not a few towns with the epicenter in District 1, the main battle ground that pits incumbent Gov. Anthony “AGR” del Rosario and ex-speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez in the congressional derby.
As we all knew, AGR and Bebot to include 2nd District Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo were a team. A formidable one. In Hiligaynon we describe that alliance as “isa lang ka tuhog”, in Cebuano “usa ra ka tuhog” while in Tagalog we say “isang tiklis lang”. But also not alien to us was the sudden and surprising exit of Bebot from that accord. While speculation was that the cleavage was about women, that rumor was and is farthest from the truth. Between Bebot and Tonyboy, women can never be a factor in their friendship. There was something which the walls that confined them record but I will leave that part to the readers to discern.
The “tiklis” or the cord that binds them snapped soon after Bebot became Speaker. He filed an information before the Ombudsman charging his intimate friend Tonyboy in the renewal of the half-a-century old Joint Venture Agreement between Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (TADECO) and the Bureau of Correction (BUCOR). The JVA comprehends of the development of what used to be a marshland in the Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL) which is under the supervision of BUCOR.
Bebot complained that Tonyboy had a share in Tadeco when the latter was congressman and alleged that he influenced the decision of the approval of the JVA. I will not comment on that either as the case is in the Sandigan. What I knew is that the prosecution rested its case. Bebot was no show in the last hearing and Tonyboy’s camp is moving to file a demurrer. A demurrer is used to challenge improper or irrelevant information. Abangan. What strange bedfellows have the two become, or, this is just another example of ‘familiarity bridge contempt’.
Somewhere in between the spat of the two, AGR was not spared by Bebot. He charged the del Rosarios of malfeasance and throwing everything on AGR including the kitchen sink. AGR became a collateral damage and resented the allegations of Bebot the Speaker. But the innuendos are all sound bytes. When AGR ran for governor he was personally endorsed by then Presidential Candidate Rodrigo R. Duterte. I should know because I was personally requested by Duterte to put on video his endorsement of AGR. Said Duterte in that message, “the political constituents in Davao del Norte will never go wrong if they vote for Anthony del Rosario. A hard-working representative Anthony has the most number of bills filed in Congress”. AGR won that election overwhelmingly.
(My readers in Luzon and Visayas might wonder how in heaven’s name can Duterte, a PDP candidate endorse Anthony del Rosario who was with the Liberal party. Well, in Region 11, politicians are not pregnant about party banners. They care about how they can push the development of the region. Bebot has become an exception.)
In the meantime, Speaker Bebot closed the spigots of the congressional funds of his friend Tonyboy and funding allocations for the province. He proceeded to terminate the membership of Tonyboy from the joint Congressional Committee on Appointment. Having done these he came about town, and distributed goodies to barangay captains in District 1 and food packs to some of his benighted constituents. Looked nice. But as the millennial would love to ask, “meron bang forever?”
Knowing how intimate they were, I cannot comprehend how all the ties that bound them culminated this way. I have to confess here that I called on Tonyboy first to ask why and all he can manage to say is “I don’t know, hindi ko alam kung bakit”. And so I called on Bebot and asked the same question. His answer: “Jun, this is no longer about friendship, this is about justice.” Period.
Too inconsequential as I am, I opted to stay away from the conflict. Tagalog has a more apt description for this: “nag-u-umpugang bato”. But the feud did not end there. TADECO, the region’s biggest employer and the major dollar-earning agricultural firm in the country became a casualty. Some congressmen, allied to Bebot, namely Rep. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao and Rey Umali of Mindoro whose respective provinces are among the most deprived places in the country crossed political boundaries and abrasively ordered the dismantling of quarantine stations on TADECO. The Chief of Staff of Bebot, a certain Hubahib who now wants to run for governor, led the demolition crew aided by some elements from DPWH and PNP.
Pimentel and Umali including Hubahib stupidly ignored the necessity of those quarantine stations. The burgeoning banana industry in Davao region and Cotabato had been under serious threat of the extremely fatal banana disease called Fusarium Wilt, a soil-borne virus that wiped out the entire banana plantations in Panama. The disease is also known in the industry as “Panama disease”.
If these congressmen and Bebot’s underlings thought that their actions will only affect the business of Floirendo and a
about 12,000 employees, they are fatally wrong. There are more than 50,000 hectares of Cavendish bananas in the entire Mindanao and exposing these farms to the dreaded disease will actually cause massive economic dislocations not only to small and independent banana growers but over a 100-thousands employees and laborers in the industry. And you will have trouble in Mindanao that cannot be contained by martial law.
Unlike the deleterious logging industry that thrived in Mindanao for several decades, export earnings from the banana industry circulate in Davao and Central Mindanao. I would like to stress that the unprecedented economic growth in Davao region for example is stimulated by the industry. Those recipients of small goodies like a kilo of rice and tinapa are not aware that without the job opportunities and supply of agricultural inputs and allied services that the industry also generates they would have been begging in the streets instead.
An ordinary congressman cannot provide funds even for small-time barangay projects. Let’s face the facts. When ex-President and incumbent Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was an ordinary member of Congress, she, just like Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo was not given the congressional allocations and deprived of Committee Chairmanships. Bebot had these clipped as he held the purse of congress. On the other hand Bebot was very generous to some barangay captains in his district. When PGMA became Speaker of the House, she restored the funds for all members of Congress and for her District in Pampanga the lion’s share of P2.4-billion!
Such is how the wheels of fortunes swing in congress. Bebot is now an ordinary member of the House he once lorded over. What will now happen to the funds he committed to his barangay captains? I do not think he will auction his properties to fund these projects.
In the meantime Hugpong ng Pagbabago, whose founder, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, is said to be the Chief Architect of the ouster of Bebot, had established a formidable alliance with Speaker Gloria. Inday Sara, whose popularity and toughness can only be equaled by her father, the President, is unopposed in her re-election bid. Her political teammates in the City are virtually unopposed too. I heard she will spend a long vacation in nearby Davao del Norte to campaign for her HnP colleague during the election season.
What of Tonyboy? Just a few weeks after he was restored to his positions in Congress when PGMA took over as Speaker, his bill for the establishment of Land Transportation Office in Panabo City and a corollary bill in the Senate had also been approved. Tonyboy had just returned from Istanbul where he headed a delegation of Philippine legislators in the Asian Parliamentary Forum. His political adversary pitted against him by ex-Speaker Alvarez is Alan Dujali, the incumbent Vice Governor of the Province. A pipsqueak actually given the fact that like Bebot, the political fortune of Alan had always hinged on the Floirendos. The creation of their barangay into a town and naming this after the late and former governor Gregorio Dujali were at the behest of the late Don Antonio Floirendo and former governor Rodolfo del Rosario. I need not say more for this is of public knowledge.
But some political figures in the province are enjoying their Christmas holidays this early. Rodney del Rosario who is running for Governor in lieu of AGR and former Tagum City Mayor Rey “Chiong” Uy are taking their campaign in stride or literally like a walk in the park.
The playful Fates that guide the destinies of the political characters in Davao del Norte will have their fun. And so shall we. (Jun Ledesma)
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