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Benguet politics:
ever so gentle, ever so peaceful
by Jimmy Laking

Gov. Nestor Fongwan was ill at ease. If he was feeling the same, the poker-faced Cong. Samuel Dangwa did not show it. He just stared at the proceedings as if Fongwan did not exist.

I was told that Fongwan was almost tempted to ask Baguio Rep. Morris Domogan to exchange places but dropped the idea. Not when they were at the center stage together with President Gloria Arroyo in the middle of the Philippine Military Academy graduation exercises.

So for an hour or so, the governor and the congressman, who sat side by side, ignored each other – their attention glued to what was unfolding before them. The monotony was broken when a change of venue was announced, and to Fongwan’s relief, the congressman departed when everybody was dispersing.

To some observant souls, this little game between the province’s top political leaders had been going on for sometime now.
One district engineer said it was rare that the two were seen together in provincial or municipal gatherings where both were invited.

One municipal mayor confirmed this, saying that in important occasions where both were invited, he would see to it that the congressman was asked to be present much earlier while the governor’s speaking slot would come much later.

In a way, this intramural between the two personalities mirrors the kind of politics that obtains in the province: peaceful and gentle to a fault.

In a way also, it reflects how its players and the citizenry perceive every political exercise that come their way as nothing more than a game to be played out to its logical conclusion.

“The peace-loving people of this province look at elections as an ay-ayam or a game where candidates are expected to behave and to abide by the rules,” said Nero Adian, a former barangay captain of Natubleng, Buguias. “You behave your best and the more chances you win people’s hearts and support.”

“That way when the elections are over and regardless of the results, everybody is a friend anew,” he said.

And as conducted in this province, there is no resort to guns and goons to ensure that the ballots would favor one candidate. It is one aspect of Benguet politics that baffles and impresses outsiders or lowlanders.

The difference does not end there. Unlike some of their city counterparts, politicians in Benguet consider it below their dignity to resort to gimmicks in a bid to trumpet their intentions.

Hence, you have not heard of a Benguet candidate announcing a perceived assassination attempt on his life or the imagined presence of armed men just to gain media mileage.

Also unheard of is a candidate in the province swearing or invoking the supernatural (“May the lightning strike me,” etc.) just to gain sympathy. The one exception was how one municipal mayoralty bet supposedly stumbled upon a snake in his household and of how he offered sacrifice to the spirits that eventually propelled him to victory.

But the second time he claimed he saw another snake, his constituents were suspicious, with a relative claiming he bought the snake from Divisoria, and his political fortunes were uneven from then on.

Nor could you come across a Benguet candidate waging a campaign on the Internet to promote his candidacy overseas and to seek financial support from overseas Igorots under the pretext of running to save his constituency from some imagined threat.

Notice also the absence of mudslinging and exchange of brickbats between and among the leading candidates, with each concentrating on discussing his or her platform to sway votes. The mudslinging seemed to have been assumed by some of their followers who are, however, largely ignored by the electorate.

Like any game, the results could be determined beforehand with the best of intentions. An example is the town of Kapangan where municipal elders by consensus came up with an agreement to let the incumbent mayor and vice mayor finish their terms, meaning incumbent mayor Roberto Canuto and vice mayor Lauro Lorenzo are unopposed for three straight terms till a new set of candidates take over.

The novel intention is to allow the implementation of programs and projects go unimpeded and completed, said Lizo Agpas who “graduated” as a three-termer mayor.

Some arrangements could be made, as in the “synchronized campaign” practiced in Buguias where all candidates for municipal positions travel as one in campaigning in the barangays. With each candidate given his chance to talk, no one is complaining.

In turn, the mayoral candidates must shell out P2,000 each while vice mayoral bets will fork out P1,500 apiece. Each council wannabe shares P1,000. The money is then used to feed the people who gather to hear the candidates.

The municipality of Sablan tried this for one political exercise but dropped it. Three-time Bakun councilor Fausto Labinio said that for this political period, the municipal candidates in his town have agreed to campaign together in four of the town’s isolated barangays to save on cost and time.

“The idea is to be able to present the candidates in one common gathering especially in the remote areas,” he said.

In Barangay Taneg in Mankayan, a common practice is for the community to gather days before the election to evaluate their candidates. “The discussion often guides the people to decide on whom to vote best,” said Joel Cervantes, an employee of the provincial Capitol who comes from the place.

The same practice, he said, is also done in the remote barangays in the province like Barangay Tacadang in Kibungan and Barangay Tawangan in Kabayan.

Some unexpected help is also welcome, as in the case of some candidates withdrawing or disappearing. A case in point is vice gubernatorial candidate Wasing Sacla who is nowhere seen in the campaign trail.

As his elder brother Bartolome told this writer, the younger Sacla went to the States to visit his family. But his family, alas, had other plans. His sons hid his passport so when he decided to return to the Philippines, he could not get his hands on a single piece of travel document.

That leaves Dangwa without a vice governor candidate and that leaves incumbent vice governor Crescencio Pacalso virtually unopposed.

The candidates for the coming provincial elections are: Liso Agpas (PDP-Laban), Ricardo Angluben (Ind.), Thomas Chamos (Ind.), Ronald Cosalan (LP), Jack Dulnuan (NP), Mario Godio (Lakas), and Bedis Guznian (Ind.) for congressman; Nestor Fongwan (Lakas), Samuel Dangwa (Ind.), and Raul Molintas (NPC) for governor; and Pacalso (Lakas) for vice governor.

The 26 candidates for the 10-member provincial board slots are: (District 1) Rimando Anguitay, Fernando Aritao, Albert Claro, Francisco Golingab, Johnny Waguis, Juan Nazarro, Jr., Romulo Polon, Ernesto Matuday, Philip Canuto, Alfonso Fianza, Benjamin Saguid; (District II) Catherine Casinto Poole, Florence Tingbaoen, Nardo Cayat, Apolinario Camsol, Loreto Buyaan, Rogelio Leon, Lolito Sarac, Concepcion Balao, Jaime Paul Panganiban, John Botiwey, Albert Martinez, Nelson Dangwa, Samson Paran, Jose Andiso, and Joseph Cosente.

The other mayoralty bets include P. Alos, P. Alumno, A. Mayos for Atok; F.  Bayacsan, M. Alipio, M. Diclas, R. Tindaan for Buguias; R. Celino, M. Macay, T. Wales for Bokod; E. Amuasen, O. Camantiles, I. Mamaril, L. Mirante, V. Palangdan for Itogon, E. Cambulo, M. Contada, and F. Labinio for Bakun; F. Aquisan and G. Todiano for Kabayan; M. Paayas and B. Siadto for Kibungan, G. Abalos Jr., A. Galwan, E. Tabanda for La Trinidad; M. Galuten and M. Luspian for Mankayan; E. Tacio, M. Inso, A. Baldo for Sablan; C. Akia, N. Baban, J. Baluda and F. Bentrez for Tuba; S. Becka Jr., R. Paoad, and W. Velasco for Tublay.

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