A VICE GOVERNOR’S DEADEND

Reflected glory is all the vice governor has, observed the former mayor of Sampaloc, Agnes Devanadera. She was describing the stature of Robert Racelis, belittling in fact, when he vied for the Governorship ten years ago, by pitting himself against his former patron, the owner of Enverga University where Robert taught Law and Theatre.

In that electoral contest, five provincial heavyweights awash with cash squared off in the gubernatorial contest. One of them was the now Solicitor General soliciting the office of a Supreme Court Justice. She gave Willie Enverga a hell of a fight, battering the latter in his own hometown Mauban.

Prior to that election, vice governors were gofers of governors. Candidates for vice governors relied heavily on the gubernatorial bets. They were no known independent candidates who can stand on their own in search of the one-heart-beat-away position. Either he’s a fading politician looking for resurrection like Adiong Caliwara or loyal partner like Robert or a King’s Court jester like the late Jovy Talabong.

When Cleto Alcala ran in the 1980 local elections, he paired himself with the retired Adiong Caliwara of Alabat and Tayabas, to blunt off the threat of the crusading Oca Santos. Oca had no time to woe a running mate. He was all bent in wrestling the post from the ailing Cleto. No independent aspirant for the vice governor surfaced as it was not the centrepiece of the exercise. Adiong, at that time, was in retirement having been beaten by the former mayor of San Narciso, Goding Tan. When Adiong was summoned to the Mansion, he was all too honest to tell Cleto forthright that he had nothing to plunk in the campaign kitty. Not to worry, said Cleto, everything was taken care of. Geographical balance was what Cleto had in mind. Besides, Adiong had national stature being a former congressman and staunch Marcos critic before martial law.

All Adiong had to do was to be a reliable filibuster on the campaign trail, divulging the personal secrets he learned of his townmate, fellow Alabatin, Oca.

Cleto and Adiong were victorious when the dust all cleared up. Cleto won by a slim couple of thousand votes. That was the first dagdag-bawas device, cried Oca. When all the votes from all over the province, except Tiaong and Dolores, were tallied, Oca won overwhelmingly with 25,000 votes over Cleto. When the returns from the two remaining towns were tabulated, Oca practically was zeroed, while Cleto had 27,000 votes.

Geographical balance and usefulness and not financial potential are the outstanding criteria a governor looks for in a likely running mate. “Kapag kandidato kang Bise Gobernador ng Quezon, alam na walain ka.”

Adiong had it when Cleto tapped him. He was an eloquent speaker and nobody, not even Oca, could hold a candle with the glib Adiong. Adiong can hold a crowd by his crisp baritone and exceptional talent in words embroidery. When the duo barnstormed the length of the province from Tagkawayan, down to San Andres, then up to Baler, the crowd lapped it up with Adiong.

Cleto was governor since 1964, was re-elected a number of times, and by 1980, he was at his popularity’s end. Oca, being a constitutional convention delegate from the former second district, was, at that time, the rising star of Quezon politics. Without the support of local political leaders of South Quezon, he won along with industrialist Jun Puyat, businessman Cezar Caliwara, and the banker Ben Campomanes. He prided himself as legal warrior championing the lost causes of tenancy in Bondoc Peninsula.

Oca campaigned by his lonesome, hiking the vast distance of Upper Calauag, riding the ferrocaril skits of Manato and Kinatakutan, crossing the turbulent seas of Burdeos and Jomalig, bivouacking the trails in Ulong Tao and Mangero in Bondoc Peninsula. He was Ramon Magsaysay incarnate. His campaign sorties were unorthodox. Whereas, Cleto and Adiong hopped from town to town, in relative comfort and in conventional style. They had an array of home-grown speakers. But once Adiong mount the stage, people began gravitating towards the town square, blaring with the state-of-the-art public address system. Adiong spoke short of bombast. His style was conversational, but it was one continuous monologue, never boring as it was interspersed with personal anecdote or encounter with a revered local leader of the place, hence, he lent it with the familiar. He would call a resident political adversary by his nickname and regale the listeners with their personal experience. He would punctuate his piece with his signature personal plea: “alam kong nariyan ka lamang sa dilim at nagmamatyag. Umakyat ka na dito sa entablado at samahan mo na kami!” True to form, his plea would be heeded and the person called would clamber up the stage and raise the hands of the pair. To be requested by Adiong to join them in public was enough to melt the heart of a recalcitrant former ally. The crowd by then was incredulous, yet amused. But the size of the throng was legend. Cleto counted on Adiong to work up the crowd. It could not be said, Cleto remarked, that their miting de avance was deserted. By the size of the crowd Cleto was establishing his electoral victory.

Enter Eddie Rodriguez. In 1988, when he ran for governor, he teamed up with Robert Racelis. Robert was a known thespian in a university in Lucena being its foremost cultural performer. He is a good speaker, funny and with a good command of English and Pilipino. As a college professor and a brilliant lawyer, he has good training in public speaking. He first dabbled in local politics in Sariaya as a top-notch councilman. Of course being short of the proverbial campaign money, in 1987, he lost his first foray in district politics when he was trounced by the likes of Mario Tagarao of Lucena and Ed Escueta of Tiaong. His university patron paired him off with Rodriguez in the 1988 local elections as part of a political arrangement between the group of Oca and Jhalmar Quintana on the one hand and Benny Marquez and Cezar Bolanos on the other. It was Benny Marquez, who for the most part, bankrolled the run of his erstwhile ally Rodriguez, and Enverga protégé, Racelis. Stumping the whole province, Robert provided the entertainment part. He cajoled the crowd with his own sewn jokes, and danced down the stage with his version of “si Tessie o si Tina o si Fe“. His presence on the dance floor with his mean boogie/cha-cha/tango/reggae/ foxtrot was a bestseller. In the next three elections, he was undefeated as vice governor not leaving a whit the governor’s company.

In 1998, he had nowhere to go except to slug it out with his patron, the university owner where he taught for decades and who picked him out from obscurity fresh from congressional defeat in 1987 to run in tandem with Rodriguez. Although he was uncomfortable in his gubernatorial run against Enverga, he looked at it as pure political decision and he should not be faulted for it. Unbeknownst to Robert, Enverga’s political lieutenants cooked various political propaganda against him by spreading false announcements that he was withdrawing in favour of Enverga and was ready to fly out of the country with copies of plane tickets to boot. After the elections, the authors of the muck disowned its provenance and argued that the stories after all were true because not soon after, Robert migrated to the US and never looked back.

Benny Marquez relied on the late Jovy Talabong for his genius in humor. Jovy had a way with any situation and made it something to be laughed at. Jovy and the late Johnny Mendioro had famous humorous exchanges. Meeting Jovy at the entrance of the Hall of Justice, Johnny noticed that Jovy’s hat was somewhat tight. Jovy was quick to retort that “ah Johnny baka gusto mong sabihing dahil nanalo lang akong Vice Governor ay lumaki na ang ulo ko.” Jovy lost in his third re-election. When his companeros heard of Jovy’s death, they broke the news to Johnny. Johnny was furious. “Pambihira talaga yang mga kalaban ni Jovy sa politika, natalo na nga sinisiraan pa!”

Jovy was a hit among the barangay folks. His folksy approach to politics was original. He had his cheap plastic wares that he distributed to voters. He said that his tabo distribution was his way of teaching the barangay folks the virtue of cleanliness. He said that he could provide housing materials like wood for example. When asked where, like a magician, saplings of sturdy trees materialized and distributed, courtesy of the provincial agriculturist, telling the recipients that if these seedlings were planted and guarded, in the future they would mature into majestic trees and help protect the environment. Years after his death, thousands of trees sprouted and became part of our landscape.

When Enverga learned that JJ Suarez was running as Vice Governor in 2004 without a partner, the former distanced himself from Jovy. Enverga made it a point that Jovy did not get any help from the Office of the Governor for fear of retaliation from the Suarez family. In Poctol, Enverga never acknowledged the presence of Jovy on stage. He greeted Aleta Suarez who had already left two hours before. Many believed that his bitter loss to JJ and the infamous Enverga jettison, contributed to his early demise. Yet, Enverga made full use of Jovy’s company in the 2001 elections. Jovy performed his role as a crowd pleaser, and that satisfied Enverga. Outliving his utility, Enverga kept to his own campaign schedule, leaving Jovy by his lonesome on the road.

After JJ, the run for the vice governorship was never the same again.

JJ’s foray in the second post had all the trail marks from his father, the sitting congressman of Bondoc Peninsula. Looking ahead from the legal term disqualification of the wheel-chair bound former governor, the old man Suarez manoeuvred to have his son capture the attention of the province. Of course a congressman’s aquarium is his district as the old man Suarez knew that by his last term, RPN, shall naturally fidget in every which way to get out of his 1st district embryo. The old man Suarez thought that by his son’s stranglehold on the vice governorship, they were sideswiping RPN from provincial sight, a familiar cut from the maxim, “out of sight, out of mind.” But RPN was no pushover. Right from his oath taking on his third and last term as congressman, he embarked on an unprecedented campaign that dislodged the sitting vice governor. The rest, of course, was history.

But the Suarez Formula romanticized the position of Vice Governor. It was the first time when a candidate for the position never bothered to have a running mate. This was the reverse of the Pampanga Experience, where Among Ed joined the contest with no partner as vice governor. The latter situation was a political statement that later evolved as an intelligent option.

But the case in Quezon was different. JJ ran as Vice Governor precisely with the governorship on his mind. Running for the No. 2 post, the Suarezes altered the landscape. The old man Suarez provided his son with High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee) in full tank literally. Naturally, the Jovy Good Fellow was demolished. (“All my political foes die,” JJ was heard saying echoing the favourite slam-bang words of David Emralino). It was, to the Suarezes, an intelligent parking lot. Just a short three years banging the gavel was enough investment for the highest position. They know that the post is inconsequential in the funding department. The vice governor is no executive officer, as no voucher follows him unlike the governor. Theirs was a political hibernation with ostensible game plan. In other words, the governorship was there for the taking. As always, however, the best laid plans for mice and men sometimes go for naught.

In 2007, the Suarezes and the Envergas conjoined by the hip to demolish RPN. A Suarez-Portes tandem was a dream team in the cashamacallit. With the Enverga and the Talaga machines churning in the 2nd and the 1st district, Kelly Portes rode the bandwagon and duplicated what JJ did three years before. With millions from Enverga pocket, Kelly surpassed JJ’s feat. Again, the run for the vice governorship was never the same again. Political leeches masquerading as political leaders no longer look at the gubernatorial or congressional bets as source of grease but the vice-gubernatorial as well. With JJ and Kelly in the capitol, it looked like business as usual for Enverga. But Suarez was waylaid along the way. Enverga had a modus vivendi.

As Vice Governor, Kelly is a lost sheep. His options are limited. He is never talked about as an alternative to Romar Portes as Pagbilao Mayor or Ramon Talaga as Lucena top honcho. Pagbilao, with its annual land tax take in millions of pesos, courtesy of Team Energy coal power plant, is an attractive parking lot. Kikita pa, ika. But Romar, the protégé of Kelly, is now well-entrenched in Pagbilao. His wife bench warmed for him. Or Lucena, understandably the richest equivalent of the province. The Talagas hold the franchise in Lucena. Kelly could not venture into the district of Procy Alcala, because the Alcala Franchise is waiting in the wings as well. Kelly could transfer his voter’s registration from Pagbilao to Lucena easily because he lives in Isabang. With RPN as his governor, he is yet to earn his ROI from his investment as vice governor.

Kelly’s dilemma is his lack of option. Enverga knows that Kelly wants to run as congressman. It is the post that would define Kelly’s personality as a political figure in Quezon. His ambition is to be a congressman, right after his one-term provincial board membership. He could have easily trounced Dingdong Llamas and Ely Pasamba. But his ambition is frozen by the equally freezing ambition of Enverga to continuously rule the province until kingdom come. The son of Enverga stands in the way. Enverga was heard saying that anyway they were simultaneously elected as congressman and vice governor. By the time they are legally disqualified, Kelly and Enverga’s son can switch posts, the former as 1st district representative, while the latter picks the gubernatorial plum. Kelly knows that his patron is only humouring him. Enverga believes that all’s well in the Portes household as he does not smell insurrection.

In the meantime, Kelly waits for the manghihingi, ready to shed some pounds from his pockets. As vice governor, he laments the good old days of able and gallant board members within the mold of Vizcocho, Tumagay, Talabong, and Rosales. Now, his colleagues in the Sangguniang Panglalawigan are steeped in absenteeism and openly quarrel on CDF or what remains of it.

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