Election in Samar is all in the family

The Inbox

by Vicente Alejandro, VERA Files

CATBALOGAN CITY – The political family currently in power in Samar is digging its heels into the province by fielding all its members as candidates, although they are facing a challenge from other emerging dynasties.

All four children of re-electionist Representative Milagrosa T. Tan, as well as her brother-in-law, are running for various positions in the province, its two cities and two congressional districts.

Tan herself will face lawyer Eunice Babalcon of the Liberal Party (LP) and Villareal town Mayor Reynato Latorre of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) in a three-cornered fight.

The 55-year-old Tan, a widow who became board member in 1998 and served three terms as governor from 2001 to 2010, will be running for her second term as congresswoman under the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC). She represents the province’s second district which is composed of Catbalogan City and 15 towns.

Babalcon is a scion of a political family in Paranas town. Both her parents have served as Paranas mayor. Her father Felix is a former provincial board member and is now seeking a third consecutive term as Paranas mayor.(See Babalcon political dynasty)

Latorre, on the other hand, is a three-term mayor of Villareal, Samar. His sister Marilou is now running for Villareal mayor under the NPC banner.

In the 2007 elections, Milagrosa let her second daughter Sharee Ann run for congresswoman in the second district of Samar. Sharee, then a political neophyte, won.

Then in 2010, when Milagrosa was already in her third and last term as governor, she switched places with Sharee Ann and ran as congresswoman. Also in 2010, Milagrosa fielded Stephen James, her third child who was then also a political neophyte, to run as vice governor.

All three won the elections.

This year, three more members of their family will be joining them. Milagrosa’s oldest and youngest children, as well as her late husband’s younger brother, will all be seeking public office.

Milagrosa’s brother-in-law, businessman Arnold Vasquez Tan (NP), 37, is challenging the re-election bid of incumbent Representative Mel Senen Sarmiento (LP), 50, a former vice mayor and three-term mayor of Calbayog. They are battling it out for the first district of Samar, composed of of Calbayog City and nine towns.

In Calbayog City, Milagrosa’s 32-year-old businesswoman daughter, her eldest Angelie, is running against both the incumbent city mayor, Ronald P. Aquino (LP), and the vice mayor, Rey James R. Uy (Independent). Aquino and Uy were elected vice mayor and councilor, respectively, but moved up after the assassination of Calbayog Mayor Renaldo Uy in 2011.

The slain Calbayog mayor's eldest daughter, Rosa Jessica “Aika” Uy, 30 and a registered nurse, is now the official Liberal Party candidate for Samar governor. She faces Sharee Ann (NPC), 31 and a pharmacist by profession.

Sharee Ann is seeking re-election, with her younger brother, James Stephen “Jimboy,” 29, still her running mate. Jimboy faces Wilfredo Estorninos, the long-time mayor of Basey, Samar.

Milagrosa’s youngest child Reynolds Michael (NPC), 24, is seeking the mayoral post of Catbalogan. A culinary arts and hotel management graduate and a political neophyte, he is pitted against his former sister-in-law, 29-year-old Stephany “Step” Uy-Tan (LP), who is the estranged wife of his vice governor-brother.

Step, currently city councilor, once served as barangay captain and ex-officio member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Samar. She is the eldest of the four children of Coefredo Uy (LP), a three-term mayor of Catbalogan who is now running as councillor under the LP.

Step's running mate is Sherwin Art Gabon, 34, a former councilor and incumbent vice mayor of Catbalogan City. On the other hand, Reynolds Michael has Manuel Van Torrevillas, 44, a former vice mayor of Catbalogan, as his running mate.

The third man in the three-cornered mayoral fight in Catbalogan City is Jesus Redaja (Independent), 72, a former Catbalogan mayor and Samar vice governor.

In the forthcoming elections in Samar, many political families fielded their kin. But many people, including some politicians, civil society organizations and the Catholic Church, are very much opposed to political dynasties.

Local political analyst Ananias M. Leona explained the proliferation of dynasties by pointing to Congress, which “has not (yet) defined what is a political dynasty, its scope or limitation or who are qualified (to run) and who are not qualified.”

Leona, who teaches political science at the Leyte Normal University in Tacloban City, pointed out that Filipinos like holding on to power.

“That is the trait of Filipinos, because we want to be recognized and be given authority...(and) to perpetuate our name,” he said.

He admitted though that there is something advantageous about a political dynasty.

“If a person (belonging to a political dynasty) has a strong political will to do things for the betterment of the country, that is good," Leona said. "Let us say he has a strong desire to do good to the country and do not have a vested interest, that is a good advantage.”

He quickly added, though, “But who would do that?”

Article II, Sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution prohibits political dynasties. It states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

But the Commission on Elections has no clear basis to enforce this constitutional prohibition  Until now, Congress has not passed its implementing legislation.

When asked about the issue of political dynasties, Governor Sharee Ann Tan pointed out that the election is not an appointment to a position. “It's up to the people if they would like me, my siblings or my mom, the congresswoman. It's up to the people if they would like us because the voting is not by pacquiao system (wholesale),” she said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)