With the filing for the Certificates of Candidacies less than two weeks away, many of our political parties are currently busy finalizing their official candidates for their Senatorial slate as well as their local candidates. For those who don’t know yet, we will be electing 12 new Senators and our local government leaders (e.g., Governor, Mayor, Councilors, etc.) in the coming May 2013 elections.
Two provinces that will be worth watching in the coming polls will be Pampanga and Pangasinan because both are known to be bailiwicks of jueteng operators in our country. In fact, the present Governors of these provinces, Gov. Lilia Pineda of Pampanga and Gov. Amado Espino of Pangasinan were both implicated in jueteng investigations which were held at the Senate last 2010. It is also an open secret that jueteng operations continue to flourish in these provinces up until today despite repeated denials by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Currently, the administration party, Liberal Party is still finding it hard to look for candidates that would put up a brave fight against these two incumbents. At the rate things are, any candidate would find it almost impossible to win against Pineda or Espino unless jueteng operations are stopped fully which would then give any challenger at least a fighting chance. As we all know, money from jueteng and illegal gambling operations which run up to the millions per day are used to finance the campaign and even illegal electoral operations of some candidates during the elections. Then again, it is still a good 8 months before the May 2013 elections and anything can still happen from now until then especially if President Noynoy Aquino should decide to really clamp down on jueteng and other forms of illegal gambling in our country but time is running out especially since many of the possible challengers are now discerning if they will run or not.
Despite the fact that the Aquino administration has been in power for more than two years, Pampanga still continues to be under the control of the Pinedas and of course, their close ally, former President and now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The province will be a test case for the present administration if indeed it has made any headway in bringing down to the local level its battle cry of “Matuwid na Daan”. Sadly, no viable candidate in Pampanga seems to be willing to take on the challenge given the huge war chest of the former President and Pineda. As one local government official in Pampanga lamented, “At the rate things are, it would even be easier to win the lotto than to win an election over Gov. Pineda especially since jueteng operations in the province and in Central Luzon never ceased even in this present administration.” Some civil society groups as well as current local members of the Liberal Party in Pampanga are again urging former Pampanga Gov. Among Ed Panlilio to run but Panlilio who is currently active in promoting microfinance and giving talks on good governance has also been hesitant given the current scenario in their province. The only way the present administration can liberate Pampanga from the clutches of Pineda and Arroyo would be for the President to immediately put an end to jueteng, strongly endorse whoever the administration candidates will be and provide much needed national support to its candidates in the province. Without these three essential elements, then Aquino will most likely end his term in 2016 without being able to tear down the last bastion of his predecessor. The danger in this is that the Arroyos can then use Pampanga as their vehicle and main base of operations to get back into power just as the Marcoses had used Ilocos Norte to bring themselves back into the national political scene as evidenced by the recent election of Senator Bongbong Marcos. If this happens, this will be a big political disappointment especially for those who had hoped that Aquino’s promise of delivering the “Matuwid na Daan” would eventually reach the local level before the end of the Aquino administration.
Given that this is a mid-term election and that Aquino still has more than 3 years in office, this is the best opportunity for him and the ruling Liberal Party to put an end to the reign of jueteng politics especially in Pampanga and Pangasinan. Doing this would send a strong signal to other local government officials that the administration does not tolerate shenanigans and other forms of illegal operations that have become the norm in many provinces in our country. Being one of those who actively campaigned for him in the last 2010 elections, I hope that the President will not pass up on this opportunity that will help further cement his legacy as a leader that champions and practices good governance and leadership with integrity.
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Harvey S. Keh is the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership and is also the Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government.