Seares: Naga City’s Val Chiong, 59, quits, ‘a concession’ to young politicians

Pachico A. Seares

FEW elected public officials resign when they have still legal basis to stay on their job. In latching on, some even cite moral reason or “matter of principle” when they get no support from the law. After all, it’s not easy or inexpensive to get elected. Why give up political power before one is compelled to discard it? Naga City (Cebu) Mayor Valdemar Chiong still has the legal right to stay on for the rest of his term. And yet he has resigned, long before the end of his term. He was charged with violating the anti-corruption law when he granted in April 2014 mayor’s permit to Petronas Energy Philippines, a wholesaler of liquefied petroleum gas, even though it had no fire safety permit. Chiong allegedly gave “unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference” to the LPG dealer, a “clear case” of “inexorable negligence and neglect of duty.”

On appeal, not final

True, the finding of gross misconduct and grave neglect of duty, contained in the Aug. 4, 2017 ombudsman ruling on his administrative liability, would bar Val Chiong from public office. But that ruling is on appeal and the criminal aspect is still to be decided by the Sandiganbayan. He can still keep the mayor’s seat before the decision becomes final and executory in the highest court. Yet, Mayor Chiong submitted last Monday, Feb. 24 his letter of resignation to Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, which takes effect on March 16. In effect, he has prematurely terminated his term. What’s up and what gives?

What gives, what’s up?

The reason in his letter to Governor Gwen is not made public. The publicized explanation is about “resting” and giving way to “the young generation.” Time for the young to “take over” Naga politics, he told SunStar. Why, how old is Mayor Val to have decided to rest early? Does he have a health problem? Former news reporter Garry A. Cabotaje, now on the other side of the fence working as publicist, told me Mayor Val is 59, going on 60 (this Sept. 5). Garry said he has “no idea about his over-all health condition” but he must have some problem with his knee, the mayor being a tennis player. Mayor Chiong needs to explain; he owes that to the voters whom he wooed in the 2019 election with the promise he’d serve them until 2022. His “pass-the- torch” explanation sounds noble and unselfish but it won’t stand alone, given the general nature of politicians.

What critics may say

is critics most likely will say the nobility and generosity in yielding power for the youth loses force in the face of the fact that the young officials to whom the turnover is made are his own children: his daughter Vanessa Chiong who’s the vice mayor and his son Virgilio Chiong, the No. 1 councilor. By the law of succession, VM Christine automatically takes over as mayor and first councilor Virgilio becomes vice mayor. Unavoidably, the “sacrifice” will be suspected as a neat, carefully-arranged strategy to confine political power within the Chiong family.

Law, the system allow it

That perception may be cynical and unfair but since when has criticism from political adversaries been optimistic and kind? Chiong’s enemies will paint the mode of succession as dynastic and selfish, not really an abdication for the sake of all the potential young leaders of the city but for perpetuity of the clan’s dominance in the local government unit. But the family’s adversaries can eat their heart out. Because, guys, the law allows it. The system stays in force as long as Congress continues to fail to implement the constitutional mandate against dynasticism or the Constitution remains unchanged, which leaves enforcement of the ban to the legislature. Until the Constitution is overhauled, the voters are the judge of who should be their leaders. And the voters are limited to the candidates that the structure allows, often members of one family or clan.