Monday, September 19, 2011

Political Developments for the Third Quarter of 2011, Part V: Manny Pacquiao and Migs Dominguez Kiss and Makeup

Boxing legend Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao is the quinessential Filipino success story. Born in Mindanao's General Santos City, or "GenSan" as it is more popularly known, he grew up as most Filipinos do, dirt poor and often hungry. Manny's father left the family while he and his five siblings were still quite young forcing Manny into dropping out of school and into the streets. By age 14 he had decided that he had enough of life as he knew it and caught a ride north to Manila aboard one of the tramp freighters plying the waters around the Philippines many thousands of islands.

Certainly an international celebrity, enough has been written about Manny's boxing career so that I can rest assured that most reading this are well enough aware of that part of Mr.Pacquiao's life so that I can simply fast forward to 2006. Having achieved an incredible amount of fame and fortune by his late 20s Manny set his sights on a different type of fight, the much more violent bloodsport known as "Philippine Politics." That autumn Pacquiao filed his Certificate of Candidacy in a bid to unseat the incumbent Congresswoman for South Cotabato Province's First District, Darlene Antonino Custodio.

Celebrities entering the political arena are nothing new, certainly not in the Philippines where a third rate Charles Bronson knockoff actually won the Presidency (hey, if a man who made his best movies while co-starring with chimpanzees can become the President of the United States, a bootleg Dirty Harry like Joseph "Erap" Estrada can sit in the Philippine's Presidential Palace). Intuitively people often assume that such household names would be an easy sell in any election. Notiriety is a given, money is no object, but the Filipino psyche refuses to be typecast. This is a nation that not only refuses to illegalise nepotism but actually holds it up as the emblematic Filipino virtue, the bettering of one's family. Mindanao fufills that Filipino stereotype more than any other of the nation's 7,107 islands.

So it was that Manny Pacquiao entered the running for the First District of South Cotabato Province's Congressional seat I n the 2007 Election. There were few suprises to be had in what was one of the island's more tamer competitions. Predictably Pacquiao got his as* handed to him on a silver platter as Ms. Custodio taught the Pacman that in Philippine Politics one's surname is a person's most valuable asset. In Darlene Magnolia Recasa Antonino Custodio's long winded case the "surname" in question would be "Antonino." Her clan's roots lie in Nueva Ecija Province on Luzon where her paternal grandfather Gaudencio Embuscado Antonino was born and raised.

In 1961 Gaudencio Antonino won election to the Senate. In 1965 his wife, Magnolia Welborn Antonino won election to Congress. A native of Luzon's La Union Province Ms.Welborn Antonino was the daughter of an Irish-Australian father and Filipina mother. When, in 1967 Gaudencio died on the eve of the Senatorial Election Magnolia vacated her Congressional seat and ran in Gaudencio's stead, winning election to the Senate.

Gaudencio and Magnolia's son, Adelbert "Adel" Welborn Antonino, moved south to Mindanao and founded the Western Mindanao Lumber Company Incorporated as the cornerstone of a commercial empire. In 1987 Adel won election to Congress representing the First District of South Cotabato Province, a seat that would remain with his immediate family until May of 2010. In 1992 Adel decided to run as Mayor of General Santos City and had his wife Luwalhati Recasa Antonino run for his vacated Congressional Seat. Ms. Recasa Antonino won and retained her seat until reaching her term limit in 2001. Likewise, Adel won the 1992 Election for Mayor.

Unfortunately for Adel however he was defeated in the next election, in 1995. Not one to just throw in the figurative hat Adel mounted an aggressive campaign in 1998 and managed to re-gain his position as Mayor. Meanwhile, Adel and Luwalhati's daughter, Darlene, as in Darlene Mangnolia Recasa Antonino Custodio, managed to win the 2001 Election and assume her mother's seat in Congress. Which naturally brings us to the 2007 Election in which Darlene faced off with Pacman.

Much to her credit Congresswoman Custodio remained gracious from start to finish in her first and only time going mano to mano with Manny. Indeed, prior to the race she and Manny had been on good terms, as close to "friends" as any sycompant and celebrity can ever be. It would be nearly impossible to find a local politician who didn't try to wrangle some form of profit from the accident of geography that had allowed the Philippine's finest boxer to enter the world in their own backyard. The harshest words Ms.Custodio offered were to intone that Filipinos aren't ready to lose such an admired and well loved boxing icon as Manny Pacquiao. So it was that within days of her re-election Ms.Custodio and Manny were once again side by side at various public functions smiling and giggling as if the election had never happened at all. Indeed both gained praise and accolades for setting an example that all Philippine politicians should aim to follow.

More than a few observers believed that Pacquiao had finally scratched that itch and would now concentrate on his career and his growing portfolio of property and business interests. Yet, only two years later, here was Manny once again bogarting the public stage and entering yet another political deathrace, running for the Congressional seat in the Lone District of Sarangani Province. Sarangani entered existence in 1992 by virtue of Republic Act #7228, authored by the late Congressman James L.Chiongbian, of South Cotabato's Third District.

Chiongbian, a Tsinoy, or Filipino of Chinese descent, was a business magnate who although being born in Negros Occidental Province in the Central Philippines' Visayas Region, was from a family that had emigrated from Southern China to Misamis Occidental Province at the turn of the 20th Century. Like so many from China's Fujian Province the man who would change his name to Victoriano Chiongbian headed to the Philippine frontier which was then, as now, in Mindanao. Settling in a relatively large Chinese Community in and around the municipality of Plaridel Victoriano was soon able to begin carving a niche for himself as a copra trader. Then, after saving a bit the family patriarch began chartering boats to serve as small ferries and freighters to service the plethora of tiny inhabited isles dotting the waters off of the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Though Victoriano was able to appear successful, even gaining the honourific "Don" in front of his name, he was buried under a mountain of increasing debt. When he suddenly died in 1939 his 25 year old son William was stunned to discover that much of his father's successful verneer was merely a facade. With little choice William and his younger brother Alex set about paying their father's many debts and supporting the rest of their family. As is so often the case fate stepped in to lend the two brothers a helping hand. By December of 1941 the Philippines were under assault from Japan.

William Chiongbian was soon renting sailboats to smuggle cigarettes, alcohol, and other luxury goods in very short supply because of the war. Surviving the travails of Japanese Occupation and heavy guerilla fighting that did its best to defeat it William had just about breathed a heavy sigh of relief that he had lived to see the Americans regain control of Mindanao when those same Americans inadvertantly fired on the lone sailboat he had finally been able to buy. Unfortunately the rounds connected and Chiongbian's lone vessel lay on the bottom of the sea along with the uninsured load it had been carrying. All was not lost however when generous compensation for the mishap allowed William to purchase of two Amerfican "F-Boats" from surplus war stock. With those two refurbished military craft William Chiongbian entered the legitimate business world as "William L.Chiongbian Shipping."

By 1949, with a total of seven surplus American vessels Chiongbian incorporated as "William Lines Inc." His growing momentum stalled however when the Philippine maritime authorities refused to allow him to register some newly bought vessels. The hold up was contrived because Chiongbian refused the demands for greater bribes. The officials then moved to shut down William's operation under the contention that he lacked Philippine citizensip, a pre-requisite to incorporation and many of the necessary registration procedures. Again fate lent William assistance when he so badly needed it; in researching Philippine Case Law his attorneys discovered that Wlliam's father Don Victoriano had served as a municipal councilor in Plaridel. The law provides automatic citizenship for the children of Philippine Elected Officials IF the election occurred prior to 1933. As luck would have it this loophole awarded William citizenship and so by 1950 Chiongbian was declared "Shipping Man of the Year" as his company became the most profitable of the hundreds of shipping companies servicing the nation's many islands.

In 1953 William followed Don Victoriano's steps and won election to office. However, unlike his father William aimed high and began serving his first term as the Congressman representing the lone district of Misamois Occidental Province. William L.Chiongbia would continue holding that position until 1972 and the declaration of Martial Law by then-dictator Fidel Marcos in which Marcos dissolved Congress. As William's star waned his son James' was in ascendancy. Sarangani Province and GenSan are the proto-typical Mindanowan frontier locales. GenSan was named after General Paulino Santos who in 1936 disembarked from a steamer in Sarangani Bay and led 60 "pioneers" from Luzon in settling amongst the B'laan Lumad (Mindanowan Hilltribesmen) who had long called the plains bordering the bay home. If an ambitious youngman was looking for a brand new environment in which to stake a claim with which to make his name
then he need look no further than Sarangani, neigh, the entire southern portion of what was then Cotabato Province.

In 1966 the southern portion of Cotabato Province seceeded from Cotabayo proper and was christened South Cotabato Province. By the time Congressman James Chiongbian authored the Bill that created Sarangani Province he was representing but one of three Congressional Districts in South Cotabato Province. His district, the Third was then used to create Sarangani Province. GenSan, although physically within Sarangani Province, was a Chartered City and in the Philippine scheme of things this meant that counter-intuitively the city was NOT part of the province surrounding it. Instead, GenSan was attached to South Cotabato Province's First District.Creating Sarangani Province Congressman Chiongbian became its first congressman and had his wife Priscillia Lopong Chiongbian made its first Governor. Together the couple earned the grand titles "The Mother and Father of Sarangani Province." Though Priscilla merely served until 1995, as did her husband, their son Erwin Lopong Chiongbian succeeded his father as province's only Congressman, a position he held until reaching his 9 year term limit in 2010...enter Manny Pacquiao.

Not having been sated by his dalliance in 2007 Pacquiao had brainstormed with his political advisor, Mayor Reynaldo "Bong" Constantino of Sarangani's municipality of Malungon and perhaps more importantly, local businessman and would be politician Juan Domino. Domino had had the audacity to dare and try to run against Lucille Chiongbian Solon, sister of James, in the 1998 Election for the "family's" Congressional seat, Lone District of Sarangani Province. Amazingly Domino edged out Chiongbian-Solon and emerged victorious but then the predictable happened...The Chiongbian Clan sicced their ravenous pack of attorneys on Domino by swamping the national electoral authority COMELEC with petition after petition. As is nearly always the case COMELEC sided with the party that slipped them the most cash - I mean filed the most persuasive petition(s) and nullified Domino's stunning victory. How frustrating it must have been for Domino to fund his miraculous victory slip away simply because an incompetent civil servant had neglected to file Domino's change of address when he changed his voter registration information to reflect his move to Sarangani Province from Quezon City in Metro Manila.. The important point though was not lost on Pacquiao, namely that contrary to popular opinion, nobody was above defeat when it came to the rough and tumble world of Philippine Politics.

Pacquiao and his two mentors decided that South Cotabato's political establishment was much more deeply entrenched than that of the much newer province, Sarangani. Though the Chiongbian Clan was nothing to trifle with Constantino noted that Congressman Erwing Lopong Chiongbian would be forced to vacate his seat due to his having reached that aforementioned term limit. Word was that the clan was going to field Erwin's younger brother Roy as his "seat warmer" until the 2013 Election when Erwin would be free to once again occupy the province's only Congressional seat.

Roy Lopong Chiongbian was an unassuming executive in the clan's mainstay, Eastern Shipping Lines (formerly Williams Lines). A political neophyte who just turned 60 he was as vulnerable a candidate as Pacquiao could hope for. Still, Roy would be no pushover. In the years since the province was created the Chiongbian Clan had exerted firm and nearly total control over the province. From Provincial Governor Miguel "Migs" Dominguez and his Vice Govenor, Steve Chiongbian Solon (a cousin of Roy's by his aunt, the aforementioned Lucille Chiongbian Solon), down to the municipal level where six of the provinces seven municipalities were controlled by hand picked Chiongbian candidates. Still, Domino himself had managed to snare the province's only Congressional seat against a Chiongbian and did so on a shoestring budget after spending several years in Quezon City. If a man unfamiliar to the Sarangani voting public could do THAT, imagine what someone like Manny Pacman Pacquiao could do.

In his 2007 campaign against Ms.Custodio Pacquiao had spent P140 Million ($2.5 Million at that time). Ratcheting it up a whole lot Pacquiao budgeted himself P400 Million ($6 Million and change) and intended to spend every centavo of it. Forming a political party, "Peoples Champ Movement," or PCM they vetted and groomed their own stable of candidates for the other six mayoral races in the province, Malungon Mayor Bong Constantino giving them a full roster. Domino himself would run for Governor against Chiongbian's incumbent Governor Miguel Rene "Migs" Alcantara Dominguez, a growing political force in his own right as a member of the Alcantara Clan. Finally, PCM slated an entire roster for the Provincial Board race. Then, cinching an important sponsor Pacquiao forged an alliance between PCM and Lakas-KAMPI-CMD, the ruling party. The 2010 Election would truly be a race between two political brands, both shaping to be jugganauts.

The Election Season for both camps was without the usual drama that marks most Philippine campaigns until the evening of Sunday, April 25th, 2010. After supper that night Mayor Enrique "Yoyong" Yap Jr. of G'lan, a municipality in Sarangani Province drove across town to discuss the upcoming election with his campaign workers. Reaching his term limit Yap was running for Vice Mayor and having wife Ami keep his seat warm. Finishing his meeting at 1015PM Yap climbed into his SUV for the short ride home. As Yap entered G'lan's Barangay Pangyan when he saw two Toyota Hi-Ace vans pull into the street trying to create a roadblock. Recognising an apparent kidnapping attempt he weaved in between the vans and grabbed for his cellphone as he sped away and tried to escape.

Calling the G'lan MPO, or Municipal Office and directed the shift supervisor to immediately try and interdict the two vans and whomever was in them. With the assistance of the AFP, or Armed Forces of the Philippine's 73IB (Infantry Battalion) both vans were sighted inside a residential compound belonging to the Iban Clan, in Barangay Pangyan. The joint AFP/MPO force then entered what turned out to be the G'lan Headquarters for Pacquiao's PCM, or Peoples Champ Movement. Inside the house slash campaign headquarters five men were placed under arrest:

1) Alfredo Macabayao

2) Jimmy Mier, aged 39, from Zamboanga del Sur Province

3) Freddie Mendes, a resident of GenSan's Barangay Calumpang

4) Ronald Elorde, also a resident of Barangay Calumpang in GenSan

5) Renante Bangkas

in searching both vans one was found to contain AFP combat fatigues and a pair of combat boots. Inside one boot was a loaded 45 caliber pistol with a loaded clip. In the second van a loaded M16 with a full clip was discovered under the seat. Moreover, both vans were full of Pacquiao and PCM campaign materiel. What is more, one of the vans was registered to none other than Jinkee Jamora Pacquiao, wife of our man of the hour, Manny.

Almost immediately Pacquiao went on the more ways than one. The next morning, Monday, April 26th, Manny and his lead attorney Orlando Salatandre Jr. held separate press conferences (Pacquiao being in Manila as he usually is and Salatandre in GenSan) with both men adamantly denying any connection to the attempted kidnapping (and fair to say what would have been his murder). In fact, Manny said, such accusations were manufactured by the Chiongbian Clan because with the election being only two weeks away they had finally come to the realisation that the public adored Manny and therefore they were desperately attempting to smear him. Manny then went even further and accused Yap of attempting to kidnap himself for attention. Mr.Salatandre kept his comments a bit more believable in that he simply denied Pacquiao or his campaign's involvement in the sordid affair as well as denying that the van belonged to Manny's missuz'.

It didn't take long for the facts to speak for themselves. By that afternoon the Provincial Prosecutor had obtained a mimeographed copy of the LTO, or Land Transportation Office, registration of sale for one of those Toyota Hi-Ace vans and indeed, as the paperwork in the van had maintained, that van (at least) belonged to Ms.Pacquiao. Even more interestingly, one of the five men arrested, Alfredo Macabayao, turned out to be Jinkee's personal driver. Yet, in a curious twist, none other than Mr.Salatandre represented all five of the arrested men! The van is Pacquiaos, it is full of his campaign materiel AND his lead attorney is representing ALL the defendants BUT Manny had no involvement in the attack...right. That makes ALMOST as much sense as running for Congress on an Anti-Poverty platform in one of the nation's poorest provinces while spending P400 Million (cough).

Salatandre was present at the arestees' initial court appearance and was overheard counseling the men to deny even knowing each other, and of course that is exactly what happened. Being the trooper he obviously is, Jinkee's driver, Alfredo Macabayao, claimed that he had been delivering Pacquiao campaign materiels the night before- alone- when Jimmy Mier had walked into the road and pointed an M16 at him. Upon stopping Macabayao says, the other three men emerged from the shadows and off they went. However, a member of the Iban Clan, a clergy man to boot, Pastor Omborino Iban, swore that he recognised all five arrestees as regular visitors to his brother's home in their compound which serves as the local PCM headquarters. Salatandre then tried telling the court that indeed the van actually is owned by Jinkee but that Jinkee owns a van rental company as one of the Pacquiao's many local businesses. Fine said the court, produce her franchise certificate, a necessity in such businesses. Of course that was the point where the masks came off and they began talking bribes.

As it turns out Mayor Yap was in his third term and therefore was vacating his seat in favour of running for Vice Mayor. His wife Ami was filling in as his seat warmer and THIS had created a major rift in the heretofore unified Yap Clan. Younger brother Victor James "Tata" B. Yap Sr. Had been next up to bat by family consensus. However the brothers had gone for each other's throats soon after Enrique won his third term as Mayor back in 2007. Their elder sister Vivienne Yap had tried to placate both men but Enrique thumbed his nose at the family and named Ami as his seat warmer. Enrique was a loyal Chionbian poodle as indeed the entire family had been since the late patriarch, the three sibling's father, had first assumed the leadership of the newly created town at the beginning of the 1960s.

The rift in 2008 put the family through major changes. Vivienne and Tata, who was already serving on the Sarangani Provincial Board began mulling over greener pastures when Juan Domino came a courtin'. It didn't take much to cause the two disaffected Yaps to jump ship and jump they did, coming aboard the good ship lollipop, the Peoples Champ Movement. The move against Enrique was meant to remove an incredibly and strongly placed Chiongbian puppet knowing that IF they removed Enrique, his wife Ami would fall by the wayside post haste. In addition, such an act would serve as a very real reminder that PCM was willing to take it to the mat.

Hearing of the attack against Mayor Yap Governor Miguel Rene "Migs" Alcantara Dominguez, an ally and partymate in the Governor's recently created Sarangani Reconciliation and Reformation Organization [sic], or SARRO (allied with the then-ruling party Lakas-KAMPI-CMD), decided to drive out to G'lan from the capital municipality of Alabel as a show of support and ticket strength. Arriving a bit after 9AM the men took the obligatory photos, walked around the town's few streets and called it a day by 11AM. The Governor was due to appear at GenSan at Mindanao Polytechnic College for a campaign rally being held for Presidential candidate Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro, standardbearer of that just mentioned ruling party.

Heading north from G'lan the Governor's motorcade entered the adjoining municipality of Malapatan en route to GenSan. As the convoy entered Barangay Jun Masla they turned onto a road leading to Jun Masla Bridge and had just gotten onto the bridge itself when a red Yamaha Krypton motorcycle blew up at the bridge's entrance. Very stupidly and contrary to proper security protocols the motorcade came to a total stop with half its vehicles still on the bridge, before collecting themselves and moving to a much more secure area. Luckily for the Governor and those around him the IED in the motorcycle's toolbox had failed to detonate properly. Constructed from a 105MM Howitzer shell with a Motorola two way radio as the trigger, only the blasting cap had detonated, the shell's wiring having come undone. The obvious culprit again played "who me?" and Governor Dominguez proceeded to GenSan and the Teodoro Rally.

Then, almost anti-climatic, came the Election itself on Monday, May 10th, 2010. Pacquiao won by a landslide, as did his mayoral candidates in everyone of the province's seven municipalities. Likewise, CMP now controlled the Provincial Board with a majority of its seats. However, quite notably, Juan Domino failed to wrest the Governor slot from Migs Dominguez. Dominguez remained in the province's top slot along with Chiongbian clansman, Steve Chiongbian Solon, son of Lucille who had snatched Domino's Congressional victory away from him in the 1998 Election.

The very small and isolated camp sitting in the provincial capital of Alabel struggled on trying to keep up appearances that they were secure and that it was business as usual. By New Year 2011 though cracks began appearing in the Governor's calm and cool exterior. Being on his third term he began considering his options for the 2013 Election and anyway he looked at it it was looking extremely poor. In the second quarter the Governor departed for a 6 week junket to the United States, oficially billed as an "academic fellowship." Beginning in Hawaii Dominguez would tour 9 American cities before ending his get away in Boston, a city with which he is more than familiar having attended Boston College in his younger years. With Vice Governor Chiongbian Solon in his stead everybody got some much needed breathing room. Mayor Constantino of Malungon, one of Pacquiai's two mentors and now the Vice Chairman of PCM, counseled his protoge to let bygones be bygones and try to make amends with Governor Dominguez. His selling point was that it would not only give Pacquiao total control of the province (the Vice Governor would then be entirely impotent because of PCM's majority on the Provincial Board, the Vice Governor's only avenue of power) but would also fit into Manny's longterm political objectives. Pacquiao has his eye on the prize as he always has. Who cares about the accolades from a single boxing match when you can gain the glory of a world title belt? Likewise, what was a Congressional seat in a backwater like Sarangani Province when he could be sitting in the Presidential Palace? If Manny and Dominguez allied with one another he could offer to switch seats with the Governor thereby allowing Dominguez to circumvent the brickwall posed by his term limit. Meanwhile, if Manny becomes Governor in 2013 he will be able to retain the slot until the 2022 Election at which point he would be past the Constitutional threshold for President (in his early 30s Pacquiao needs to wait awhile whether he wishes to or not).

So it was that upon his return from America Governor Dominguez drove out to Manny's ranch in the town of Malungon and the two men hashed out whatever resentments remained from their heated pre-election rivalries. When the Governor arrived back in Alabel that evening the alliance had been sealed. The two men would trade seats in 2013. By July every mayor in the province was on board. G'lan didn't pose any problem at all because Enrique "Yoyong" B.Yap Jr. Lost his race for Vice Mayor to his estranged sister Vivienne. Enrique's wife Ami failed to win the mayoral race with Enrique's younger brother Victor James sitting where he should have been all along if, Enrique had kept his word.

In mid-July Governor Dominguez and Congressman Pacquiao spent a long enjoyable day spear fishing on the reefs off of Saragani and both men managed to go home at the end of the day. Now THAT is the kind of progress and development this island really needs...politicians spearfishing without killing eachother.

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