30 MARCH 2007
A sweep by the Garcias in May would signal a tectonic shift in Cebu's political landscape and could establish them as the province's premier political family. Indeed, the ascendance of the Garcia clan would not only highlight the continuing waning dominance of the Osmeñas in local, if not national, politics. It may also herald the Garcias' assumption of the role the Osmeñas have traditionally performed: that of deciding the political fate of Cebu, which rivals Manila in economic importance.
For now political observers like Dr. Resil Mojares still think the Osmeñas remain the most dominant family in Cebu. But Mojares says that it would be interesting to see how far the Garcias will go.
Aside from the governor, clan patriarch Pabling is coming out of retirement to run as congressman in Cebu's second district. Gwen Garcia's younger brother Pablo John, who serves as her consultant at the Capitol, is also eyeing the congressional seat their father held from 1987 to 1995 in his erstwhile turf, the province's third district.
Political observers say the possibility of all three Garcias winning their respective electoral contests, though tough, isn't remote. The 81-year-old Pabling has the edge over a less seasoned opponent, Carmiano Kintanar, who is determined to make an issue out of the ex-governor's age. An incumbent provincial board member, Carmiano Kintanar is the cousin of Rep. Simeon Kintanar. Now on his third consecutive term, Simeon Kintanar is already barred from seeking reelection and has not declared his intention to seek any position in May.
Pabling's youngest son is expected to face rough sailing in his bid to become representative of the third district where the undefeated Rep. Antonio Yapha, who is likewise on his last congressional term, is fielding his wife to replace him. The Yaphas, like the Kintanars, enjoy the backing of Cebu's preeminent political clan of old — no other than the Osmeñas, and in particular former Senator John Henry 'Sonny' Osmeña, the Garcias' most bitter critic. But Osmeña may have already expended his political luster when he failed to win a Senate seat in 2004, ignominiously losing in Cebu and barely making it to 12th place in his own precinct in Camputhaw.
The Garcias, meanwhile, are close to Malacañang, which guarantees privileged access to continued state patronage. Pabling himself does not deny this, although he also says, "This is also true with other leaders in Cebu."
In her frequent visits to the province, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
has not kept secret her feelings about how she is more at ease with Cebu
and its political climate, punctuating this with "a strong province...a
model for a strong republic" compliment. Many political observers have
read this with the assumption that Arroyo owes her controversial 2004-election
victory in part to the Garcias. But Pabling Garcia, who was then Lakas-CMD
provincial chairman, rejects the allegations of massive cheating that
attended the elections in the province. He argues that despite the bickering
among local administration candidates, they all threw their support behind
Arroyo while the late Fernando Poe Jr. did not have a serious candidate
at the local level to campaign for him.
Sidel attributes the longevity of multigeneration dynasties, notably the Cebu City-based Osmeña clan, to their ability to maintain alliances with urban commercial interests and to build a political machine centered in the provincial capital that also radiated out into the province. Beginning with family patriarch Sergio Osmeña Sr. who went on to become President of the Commonwealth from 1944 to 1946, the Osmeñas, says Sidel, enjoyed preeminent status in Cebu by using their "close ties to the urban commercial elite in the city, office-based discretionary powers over the local state apparatus, and linkages to national-level patrons in Manila."
The Osmeña family's fortunes began to wane when Marcos imposed martial law in 1972, but third-generation members have been able to revive a modicum of dynastic clout in the post-Marcos era. Serging's son, Tomas III, is Cebu City's incumbent mayor, and has already previously won three, including two successive, terms. Another son, Sergio III (Serge), won a Senate seat. A nephew, Emilio Mario 'Lito' Osmeña, became governor from 1988 to 1992, though he was unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency in 1998. Another nephew, Sonny Osmeña, was elected congressman and later senator. Sonny Osmeña's son, John Gregory (John-John), occupied the vice governorship during Pabling Garcia's last term but placed third to Gwen Garcia and Celestino Martinez Jr., the former congressman of the province's first district, in the tightly fought 2004 three-way gubernatorial race.
Of present-day Cebu politics, lawyer and political commentator Frank Malilong Jr. remarks, "We used to have an emperor (referring to Sergio Sr.). But now, the province is controlled by several kings who rule over their respective little kingdoms."
Cebu's six rural districts serve as political and economic spheres of influence over which the following political families have continued to hold sway:
As Malilong sees it, nobody has as yet staked a claim to the title of quintessential leader of Cebu in the sense of a Sergio Osmeña Sr. Apart from being perennially wracked by disunity, the modern-day members of the Osmeña clan, he says, are also content with just managing their respective fiefdoms, like Tomas Osmeña who is seeking a third term as Cebu City mayor. Add to this the lack of worthy heirs as in the case of John-John Osmeña, who, says Mojares, "did not amount to (anything) much."
But Malilong does acknowledge that the ascendant Garcias, of all the political clans in Cebu, are better positioned to steal the thunder from the Osmeñas. Originally from Dumanjug town in the third district, the Garcias are now trying to annex the second district with Pablo Sr. running for congressman there.
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