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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Baybay City in Leyte the microcosm of country’s rotten political system. Battle there between 38-year old political neophyte Malot Galenzoga and 83-year old reelectionist Mayor Carmen Cari, aunt of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, rakes up dynasty issue anew and--like it or not---it impacts on P-Noy’s daang matuwid. Would Comelec heed plea for failure of 2013 elections in Baybay and call for new elections?


Marilou “Malot” Veloso Galenzoga
Baybay City on Leyte’s west coast is the largest of that province’s three cities, the others being the capital, Tacloban City on the eastern coast, and Ormoc City northeast.  Baybay is an important port city from where ferries sail for Cebu and other parts of the Visayas. Among its claim to fame is its hosting one of Southeast Asia’s leading schools on agricultural research, the Visayas State University.

These facts, however, render quite incredible that so many political ills plague Baybay City, especially in the recent mid-term elections.  For the reality is that this component city of Leyte can be considered the  microcosm of our rotten political system today and all that ails it.

Not the least is the way a well-entrenched political dynasty has resorted to various ways to dig in even more, to preserve its tight grip on power.  Political dynasty raged as a national issue last May and well should it continue in elections to come until dynasties are dismantled.

But few places can rival Baybay City on this issue. 

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All the political ills brought out in the recent elections there resulted in an appeal for failure of elections and prayer for new elections, filed before the Comelec by the losing mayoral candidate, 38-year old businesswoman and political neophyte Marilou “Malot” Veloso Galenzoga, a De La Salle University management graduate who ran under UNA.

Malot ran vs. her 83-year old aunt, former three-term representative and reelectionist mayor Carmen Veloso Loreto-Cari, who ran under the LP banner. Malot’s mother, 62-year old Marlina Veloso Galenzoga, is Carmen Cari’s second cousin.

Because a member of the Cabinet of President Aquino, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla (who was a highly successful computer technocrat-executive prior to his appointment), belongs to the prominent and powerful Loreto-Cari/Loreto-Petilla clan of Leyte, the Comelec case filed by Galenzoga vs. Cari assumes a larger than usual political profile.

It would be interesting to see how P-Noy’s 'daang matuwid' would react to this raging controversy in Leyte.

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The Loreto-Cari-Petilla dynasty in Leyte has a political stretch perhaps paralleled by only a few others in the country.  Aside from re-electionist Baybay Mayor Carmen Cari, there’s her son, 5th district Rep. Boying Cari, and another son, Mike Cari, who ran as vice-mayor to his mayor-mom Carmen.  

Then there’s Carmen’s sister Remedios “Matin” Veloso Loreto-Petilla, former three-term governor of Leyte who recently won as mayor of historic Palo, setting of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's landing. Her son Dominic Loreto Petilla Secretary Jericho’s younger brother, won unopposed as Leyte Governor.

On the other hand, a “double-cousin,” Carlo Petilla-Loreto (whose mother is the sister of Jericho’s father, former Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Petilla, and whose father is the brother of Matin Loreto-Petilla and Carmen Loreto-Cari) won as Leyte Vice-Governor.

The Petilla-Loreto clan actually reaches out across the Visayas seas, for Iloilo Rep. Janette Loreto-Garin, one of the two principal proponents of the RH bill in the House, is the sister of Leyte Vice-Gov. Carlo Loreto.

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Then too, Rep. Boying Cari’s son and Carmen's grandson, Carl Cari, is the incumbent president of the Sangguniang Kabataan while the Association of Barangay Captains’ prexy is Margarita Cari, wife of Boying and Carmen’s daughter-in-law.

As is widely acknowledged, the SK and the ABC are the real vehicles of power for politicos in this country, and elections for them have been set by President Aquino for Oct. 28. Predictably the dynasty of Leyte would be totally involved in them.

An interesting but very notable sidelight: Carmen Cari’s husband, Felipe, who hails from Batanes, is said to be quite close or is even a relative of decidedly the most powerful member of the P-Noy Cabinet, Budget Secretary Butch Abad of Batanes.

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It’s said that since Baybay City is Leyte’s biggest city in population, whoever controls it controls the province (the Romualdezes actually control only the first district).

For the past 32 years Baybay has remained in the grip of the Loreto-Petilla clan’s political vise, virtually unopposed after an opposition leader was said to have been mysteriously felled decades ago.

In recent years, however, there has been a clamor for change emanating mainly from the academic community as well as the Leyte clergy, said to be encouraged by Maasin Bishop Proceso Cantillas.  

Last September 16, the clergy organized a “Blue Edsa” rally in the city and an estimated 35,000 people choked the major boulevard. In the ensuing months  they convinced the soft-spoken lady with an easy smile,  Malot Galenzoga, Carmen’s niece, to be their candidate for CHANGE@Baybay. Thus was pitted the "Malot Camp" vs. the “Cari Camp” in a David and Goliath battle. 

Many Baybayanons view Malot as their Joan of Arc, but would she be burned at the stake by the Comelec?

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From the petition filed by Galenzoga vs. the dynastic clan, it stands accused of various strong-arm tactics to perpetuate its decades-old political hold on the electorate. These include the usual accusations heard in every election around the country, such as the entrenched power co-opting BEIs so they withheld ERs from the opposing camp; alleged use of armed goons, barangay officials and even some PNP personnel within forbidden precinct premises to intimidate, harass and terrorize;  massive vote-buying inside precincts, etc.  

Galenzoga also asserted in her complaint that BEIs flatly ignored her complaints and prevented their being filed into the election minutes.

All her complaints were detailed and studiously accompanied by signed affidavits, photos and video-clips.

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But even more serious, Malot’s camp claims that last May 6, as she and her guards and supporters were observing the deployment of PCOS machines to an elementary school, two armed men approached Malot.  One of them was said to have drawn a gun and was about to move against her, were it not for her alert security people who were able to overpower the would-be assailant and his companion.

LP candidate Carmen Cari’s camp quickly denied involvement in this alleged assassination plot, but this episode heightened tension in the city, provoking massive rallies.

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But as far as the elections are concerned, the most serious charge of the Galenzoga camp is that the Cari camp allegedly frustrated the electronic transmission of 75 percent of the ERs to the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS), by jamming network connection. Instead, the complaint asserted, the ERs were physically brought to the canvassing site and either uploaded directly to the CCS by using REPLCAMENT PCOS MACHINES, or manually uploaded. 

On the basis of the above moves, asserts the Galenzoga camp, Carmen Cari was proclaimed winner---which is illegal. For as per Sec. 22 of RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, “The election returns transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of a candidate.”

This provision is reinforced by Comelec Resolution No. 8804, Rule 3, Sec. 1, which also provides that “The basis of the canvass shall be electronically transmitted results.”

Word of Cari’s proclamation floated around the city within days, but when her opponent’s camp pressed for a formal copy, the local Comelec couldn’t produce one---because only 25% of returns were electronically in.  

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Last Wednesday, Atty. Winston Chua formalized before Comelec in Intramuros Malot's May 16, 2013 “Petition to Declare Failure of Elections in Baybay City and Nullify Proclamation.” The accompanying prayer is to hold new elections as soon as possible.  

But this is all up in the air yet, and given the renowned inclination of Comelec Chief Sixto Brillantes to total obeisance to Malacanang, the prospects of such declaration are not hopeful. 

But a Baybayanon who wishes to remain anonymous poses this query: “Since the "Daang Matuwid" would not apply to allies, friends, relatives, classmates and shooting buddies of the powers that be, will the Sovereign  People of the Republic of the Philippines allow this travesty and mockery of the electoral process  in Baybay City to continue with impunity?”


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