Laoagueños saw a number of firsts in the recently concluded local elections. First time Fariñases clash. First time a woman was elected mayor. First time the city is ruled by a wife-and-husband tandem.
Roger, a full-blooded Fariñas, lost to Chevylle, a Fariñas only by affinity, in the mayoralty race. She is wife of Roger’s nephew, three-term mayor Michael, who also won as vice mayor. During the campaign, Roger positioned himself as an anti-graft crusader by exposing anomalies and excesses allegedly committed by the couple. In campaign rallies and media interviews, he presented documentary evidence apparently showing ill-gotten wealth–foremost of which is an P80-M house–and mismanagement of the city’s coffers.
Naturally, Michael and Chevylle denied these allegations, but without delving into sufficient details. They basically just let Roger spill whatever beans he had at hand. The couple focused on the basics: press as much flesh as they could, solidify their hold on barangay captains, and intensify their exposure in the various forms of media.
But if Chevylle and Michael were indeed corrupt as Roger claimed, why the overwhelming win? Are Ilocanos really ready for negative campaigning? Personally, I gave value to what Roger did: raise issues that we normally would not have any chance to learn about and probe into. Many people, however, took it against the self-styled crusader. They dismissed everything he was saying as “pamerperdi” (paninira). Indeed, exposés made during the campaign period bear lesser credence than usual, and this is because the crusader himself is bent to benefit from whatever damage his revelations could possibly inflict his opponent. Why didn’t he speak about all those before? Why did he keep mum? Roger argues that he came to know about those alleged shenanigans only recently. Hmmm… Let us, dear karikna, give him doubt’s benefit while carefully watching his next steps. What will Roger do now? Where does he go from here?
He can opt to be silent and quit his “crusade”, a move which will only confirm suspicions that his exposés are for election purposes only, or he can carry on, strengthen the graft cases he has filed against Michael, and file new ones, if necessary. By doing the second option, Roger might risk being called a ‘sore loser’, but successfully proving his allegations in the proper venues may actually deliver him redemption.
If he still intends to run in the next elections, however, there is a lot of image overhaul he has to undergo, though I am not sure if and how this can be possible. In the common tao’s mind, Roger’s name conjures aggression and rudeness. It does not help that the former mayor has neither denied nor expressed regret for having slapped people, including common folks like tricycle drivers. Instead, he implicitly justified those violent tendencies—and I am tempted to say he is even proud of them—by contrasting himself to Michael under whose tenure some prominent officials have been murdered. In every barangay he went to, Roger asked rhetorically, “which would you prefer, a slapper or a killer?” But such question never inspires. It is, in fact, depressing; and it lets the people ask themselves, and perhaps God, what things they may have done that made them deserve the terrible, terrible fate of not having a non-violent leader. Where are the good men?
Kris Ablan comes to mind. He is a brilliant, well-meaning young man who has my respect. In the last few weeks leading to May 13, his showing in surveys showed an upward traction. I suspect that if the elections were held two weeks later, he could have won. It still puzzles me why Kris started his campaign rather late. Until early April, I was still wondering if he was really serious about running and winning. Yet Kris won in some Barangays, especially within the poblacion. The votes for Kris may not necessarily be anti-Michael votes; I have this strong feeling that they are votes against the idea of a conjugal leadership.
I must admit that I felt gloomy Monday night after it has become clear that the couple will rule Laoag City in the next three years, and probably more. I know this has happened in many other local government units. In the province, there is also Badoc, San Nicolas, Dumalneg, and Nueva Era. Still, I felt sad that we have arrived at this point. The first problem here is checks and balances.
But, as I write this, I no longer feel as pessimistic, dear karikna, and it is because I choose not to. At this point and always, better for us to choose hope over despair. And better for us to pray for serenity for things we cannot change, yet. Indeed, let us give Chevylle and Michael a chance. If you are religious, pray for them. If you are secular, just wish them well. What good citizens should do is to help their leaders be good. This we can collectively do by exercising vigilance, by speaking up against abuse, and by supporting our city government in worthy causes regardless of who we voted for last Monday.
As for Chevylle who has gone down in history as the first lady executive of this city, burden is on her shoulders to prove that her triumph is of women at large more than hers. But this the mayor-elect can do if and only if she comes out of her husband’s shadow, which she has tried to do in the past, with some success I hope, and show the overwhelming majority of voters (37,513 over Roger’s 16,189) who believed in her, that she is more than just a politician’s wife.
Our burden, dear karikna, is to assert, constantly and without blinking, that Laoag is still our city, yours and mine. Laoag as conjugal city? Only if we allow it to happen. Meaning, only if allow Chevylle and Michael to become sinister masters and not the “walang iwanan” servants they promised us they would be.
You see, I have been thinking very positively these days, not mainly because of politicians, but due to my über-charming dog, Lady Jaja Colleen. Politics has gone to the dogs, many say, but that is an insult to my thick-furred best friend.