28 MARCH 2007
This May, Neric, who is completing his third consecutive term in Congress, will go for the Bukidnon gubernatorial post, which means he will be up against incumbent governor Jose Ma. 'Joe' Zubiri Jr., patriarch of the province's other political family and former ally of his mother. Coring Acosta, meanwhile, is running for re-election as Manolo Fortich mayor, although it had also been bruited that she was going to try for Congress again, if only to block the bid of controversial ex-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano for her son's old seat.
Both Coring and Neric claim a "reluctance" in swimming in the pool of politics, mostly because they do not enjoy the customary wheeling and dealing. They speak wistfully of other things they would rather do more of — teaching, studying, development work. But Neric says, "Politics attracts me because it is still the arena where you're able to engage people on new ideas and new ways of doing things and initiate a flow of inspiration. It's where I'm able to integrate the world of theory with the concrete, where the rubber hits the road." Coring, speaking of being in politics in her septuagenarian years, says simply, "I need to square off what I've started."
Which is probably why Governor Zubiri is unfazed by the news that Neric Acosta, a darling of the NGO circuit in Manila, will be among his challengers for the gubernatorial post in just a few weeks. "I will beat Neric even in his own district," declares Zubiri, who comes from a landed family in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.
At 66, Zubiri has been in politics for decades. He was a member of the Batasang Pambansa in 1984 after managing the Bukidnon Sugar Company owned by Marcos associate Roberto Benedicto. After Edsa 1, he was elected representative of Bukidnon's 3rd district. His son Juan Miguel or 'Migz' took over his congressional post in 1998 — the same year Neric replaced Coring in the Lower House.
AT THAT time, Congress was undergoing a "generational shift," as many three-term representatives gave up their seats for their kin. Most "replacements" were offspring of the former legislators, as in the case of the Acostas. Political scientist Julio Teehankee notes that in 1998, sons and daughters of 21 incumbent legislators facing term limits ran as representatives in their parents' districts. Eighteen of them won, a success rate of 85 percent. In its 2004 book The Rulemakers, the PCIJ observed that though generally better educated and more media-savvy, "the younger batch of representatives has often proved to be the same species of political animal as their parents and grandparents."
"As soon as he came in, he created his own niche," Patiño says of Neric Acosta. "Socorro had nine years, yet it took Neric just one term to establish his name, and beyond Bukidnon even." By the time the 11th Congress adjourned in 2001, Neric had steered to legislation the Clean Air Act, the only rookie legislator in that term to have passed a proposal into law. Neric has since been the principal author of laws on solid waste management, biodiversity, protected areas, caves resources management, coastal resources, and plant variety protection. He has also taken "unsafe" positions on controversial issues such as reproductive health.
Patiño calls Neric's style "progressive without being left" and marvels at his skills as a legislator. Patiño says, "Just proposing a bill requires a lot of research, and you also have to be able to articulate it. How much more if you're able to pass a law? That means you know the nitty-gritty of lawmaking, and those are completely different skills, too."
A "tightrope walk" is how Neric calls those skills — "learning not just diplomacy but to play hard ball, to ensure that you don't become a pushover but you are also able to take a knock or two when needed." Over the years, he says, he has learned the "balancing act" and is now convinced that "there is no such thing as a total victory. You learn to live with what is possible, not just with what is ideal."
Nine years after inheriting his mother's seat in Congress, Neric has made his own mark. In fact, in an advertorial aired over Manolo Fortich's local radio, Coring describes herself as "Neric's mother." A pleased Coring tells PCIJ, "He has a lot of achievements that were never done by the mother."
IPD says that Coring was "low-key" in Congress. Coring herself is most proud of having authored the Magna Carta for Small Farmers in her time in Congress. She also passed legislation for the establishment of national high schools in all eight towns of the first district.
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