By Limuel S. Celebria
Iloilo is opposition country. At least according to the “old politicians” (like former Governor Rading Norada) who said that whenever there’s a national election, opposition candidates or those who run against the administration almost always won. But I guess this was before 1972.
Post Martial Law, every election was dominated by the ruling political party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, particularly in the Batasang Pambansa elections of 1978 when block voting was allowed. The opposition was wiped out. Sugar Baron Roberto S. Benedicto (RSB), FM’s regional czar for Western Visayas, called the shots.
But in the 1984 polls, after block voting was declared illegal by the high court, two opposition candidates did win in Iloilo – Fermin Caram Jr and a young Arthur Defensor who proceeded to carve a name for himself as a voice of the opposition in the national assembly.
With Ferdinand Marcos out, Iloilo started blooming yellow. This was largely due to the ascendancy of Franklin Drilon who was appointed Labor Secretary, Justice Secretary and Executive Secretary (in that order) by Cory Aquino. On the other hand, Defensor was appointed State Minister for Education and later Commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) where he was able to hack a compromise agreement with RSB.
Defensor Sr. is retired. Drilon will soon be out of office. But the yellow standard (now turned pink) continues to be held aloft by their proteges – now Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. and Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas whose father, the late Efrain Treñas was a protege of former Vice President Fernando Lopez. The elder Treñas was also a member (Chairman Committee on Style) of Cory Aquino’s 1987 Constitutional Commission.
According to the Smartmatic-led Commission on Elections, Iloilo provided the biggest margin of victory for Leni Robredo in the much-contested Vice Presidency race against Bongbong Marcos. BBM filed for a recount but the ballots in Iloilo turned out to be too wet to be scrutinized anew.
Is Iloilo pink, the color of Robredo? Or red, the color of BBM? With Gov. Defensor Jr and Mayor Treñas spearheading the pink campaign, there is arguably enough reason to believe so. The two are running for reelection almost unopposed and have the local political leaders at their command.
But recent developments are not that rosy. Former Congressman Ferjenel Biron who put up a stiff challenge to Gov. Toto in 2019 has stepped up to head the BBM-Sara Duterte (Uniteam) campaign in the province. Likewise, Iloilo’s vaunted Solid South under former congressman Richard Garin is now openly raising the Red and Green. The 2nd and 5th districts under Reps. Mike Gorriceta and Boboy Tupas are also seen to join the Uniteam.
Last December, the pinks and the reds in Iloilo tried to outdo each other in showing their support for their candidates with organized caravans drawing thousands of joiners. In the next two days, we will have an opportunity to see each camp’s vaunted political strengths. Tomorrow the BBM-Sara Uniteam will be rallying supporters at the Iloilo City Convention Center, at a stadium in Guimbal, and in Barotac Nuevo. On the 25th Robredo will be here for rallies in some out-of-town venues and also at the Iloilo Sports Complex. For sure, both sides will try to outdo each other.
But whether Pink or Red, it would seem immaterial which shade Iloilo will bathe itself in. Although there are still a few weeks to go until the elections in May, all surveys already indicate a BBM-Sara victory. According to surveys by the most credible pollsters in the country – both BBM and Sara are being favored by over 50 percent of the national electorate – an unprecedented feat in the history of Philippine elections post EDSA.