Malilong: City Hall or Congress

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

In 2013, the Liberal Party wanted Mayor Mike Rama to not seek re-election and instead give way to his predecessor and political mentor, Tommy Osmeña. The party asked him to run for Congress instead, representing the city’s south district. Rama balked. Why wouldn’t the party offer the congressional seat to Osmeña instead?

Rama’s (and Osmeña’s) intransigence threatened to destroy LP’s dominance in the city. The conflict escalated swiftly, drawing national party leaders into the maelstrom. At one point, it was reported that Osmeña and Mar Roxas had a shouting match in a coffee shop in Banilad.

In the end, the LP sided with Osmeña. One day, Roxas called Rama around midnight to inform him of their decision, prompting Rama to ask what he, a loyal card-bearing party member, had done to deserve the treatment. He also reportedly swore to regard Roxas as his enemy from then on. Little surprise, the two ignored each other during the blessing of lawyer Gus Go’s UC Medical Center in Mandaue two years later.

Rama went on to win re-election by a narrow 5,928 margin but lost the rematch to Osmeña three years later by a much bigger lead, 33,894.

Rama was raring for a third bout with his archrival in 2019. But fate intervened in the form of an accusation by President Duterte of involvement in drugs. Rama vehemently denied the charge and sought to clear his name with the president before the election but failed.

In the end, he agreed to “slide down” to being Edgardo Labella’s running mate after he refused another offer to run for congressman. It was a supreme act of personal sacrifice, he said but it paid off because both he and Labella won.

Rama continues to cast a moist eye on the mayorship, that is evident, but cannot publicly admit it because Labella is an ally even if the alliance has become tenuous because of his continuous sniping at the mayor. A repeat of 2013 is a possibility, this time with Rama as the outsider looking in, that their Barug partymates are trying to avoid. The conventional wisdom, reached in 2019, is that in a three-cornered contest, Osmeña will easily drub both of them.

My sources in Barug say that they are trying to again sell the idea of a congressional run for Rama if he does not want to continue to be Labella’s second-in-command. He is open to the idea, Rama told me by phone before the pandemic on one condition: both he and Labella run for Congress, he in the South and Labella in the North district. Labella promptly thumbed down the idea.

Last Saturday, Rama called, as he does every now and then, and, after saying that he will not abandon the mayor, mentioned Congress as a possible destination in 2022. I did not know if he was serious but I nevertheless told him that his career would flourish in the national scene because of his matinee idol looks and his love for oratory. He could become a senator, filling a vacuum in Cebuano representation in the Upper House since 2016.

As in the past, the choice of office to aspire for is entirely Rama’s without anyone influencing him but with barely 16 months before the elections, he would have to make that call sooner than later.