The last decade has seen the emergence of young political leaders in Cebu. Among our city mayors, the youngest is Talisay’s Samsam Gullas who is only 36; he was 29 when he was first elected to Congress, representing the first district in 2013. Last time I heard, he is doing very well as Talisay’s chief executive.
A little older than Samsam, Mayors Kristine Vanessa Chiong of Naga and Carlo Martinez of Bogo are barely in their forties. Mandaue’s Jonas Cortes and Lapu-Lapu’s Ahong Chan are comparatively older, but they’re only 54 and 53 years old, respectively.
On the other end of the spectrum, another Gullas holds the distinction of being the oldest and currently longest-serving public official in Cebu. With the death of former senator Sonny Osmeña early this year, of former representatives Tony Cuenco and Tito Calderon last year, and the retirement of former representative Pablo Garcia in 2013, Eddie Gullas, Samsam’s grandfather, is the last man standing of the politicians of his generation.
Eddiegul will be 91 in October. More than half of that period has been spent in elective public service. He was 39 when he burst into the political scene in 1969 edging Cuenco in a tight contest for congressman of the old third district. Cuenco was the incumbent congressman of the old fifth district but instead of running for reelection tried his luck in what is now the first congressional district.
The declaration of martial law cut short Gullas’ term as Ferdinand Marcos abolished Congress. Four years later, Marcos appointed him governor of Cebu, a position that he held for 10 years until the Edsa Revolution. Significantly, the OIC governor appointed to replace him was the same man whom he replaced in 1976.
When the schedule of the first post-Edsa local election was announced, Gullas was urged to again run for governor by the so-called Group of Four consisting of Reps. Sol Abines (2nd district), Junnie Martinez (4th), Ramonito Durano (5th), and Tingting dela Serna (6th). He demurred, saying he was done with politics and would devote his time running the University of the Visayas.
The private life proved to be short-lived. When Eduardo Cojuangco returned from self-exile in the US and launched his bid for the presidency in the 1992 election, one of the first allies that he called was Gullas. I want you to lead my team in Cebu but you have to run for Congress, Cojuangco told Gullas. He said yes.
Thus Gullas defeated the incumbent, Antonio Bacaltos, by a comfortable margin in the restart to his political career. Since then, he has suffered only one defeat, an upset in the hands of JVR delos Reyes by a slim margin of 736 votes in the Talisay mayoralty election in 2013. Eddiegul avenged his defeat three years later, clobbering Delos Reyes by a whopping 35,213 margin.
The first district is firmly in Gullas control with the grandfather-grandson tandem beating back one challenge after another since the 1980s. If Eddegul runs for re-election next year, he is likely to win again.
What could hold him back is his age. Compared to his peers, Eddiegul is healthy, but can he withstand the rigors of a district-wide campaign? It is a question that he and his family will have to seriously consider. With his legacy secure, is it time for him to reward himself with a well-earned rest or will he go for one last run and write his name in Cebu’s history as the unchallenged record-holder in terms of political longevity?