Editor’s Note: Political dynasties currently occupy 29% of local posts, up from only 19% in 1988. They hold 80% of the country’s gubernatorial posts, compared to only 57% in 2004. In Congress, they now control about 67% of seats from 48% in 2004.
This means that most of our provinces are governed by leaders who come from families or clans that have dominated local politics for years, and the country’s laws which citizens are subjected to are mostly crafted by them.
In this series on political dynasties in 2022, Rappler takes a close look at the persons and families who wield tremendous power and continue to have a firm grip on their respective localities. Their brand of politics and exercise of their political clout influence not only the outcome of local elections, but also the choice of our national leaders.
ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Visitors to the first congressional district won’t miss the in-your-face signs of the most dominant clan in Iloilo province.
Across towns in the province’s southern flank, one name screams from the facades of gymnasiums.
“Garinasium” is a classic example of a family honoring itself.
That stamp of ownership may have prompted the clan’s misstep during this year’s commemoration of the EDSA People Power revolt that threw out the Marcos dictatorship.
On the eve of the main celebration, where Vice President Leni Robredo got a big share of the spotlight, the Garin clan scheduled a Uniteam rally in one stadium on the grounds of a Guimbal public high school.
The outcry that ensued forced the powerful clan to call off the event, although 1st District Representative Janette Garin claimed that a gym within the school was not a DepEd property.
The Garin political dynasty has ruled the district for more than two decades, buoyed by the political cunning of its late patriarch, Oscar Sr., a veteran congressman with a record for backing winners in presidential races.
Oscar Sr., then-mayor of family bastion Guimbal town, died of COVID-19 in 2021. His daughter, Vice Mayor Jennifer Garin-Colada, replaced him.
As the country heads into the homestretch of the 2022 elections, Oscar’s widow and a bevy of offspring and in-laws are set to expand the family’s hold.
Four of the clan’s incumbents are reelectionists: Janette Loreto Garin, also former health secretary, Vice Governor Christine, San Joaquin Mayor Ninfa, and the Guimbal mayor who uses the nickname Jennifer to avoid confusion with her sister-in-law, the legislator.
Sharon, the AAMBIS-OWA party-list representative on her fourth controversial term, is taking a break. But replacing her as first nominee is Lex Anthony Chris Colada, husband of the Guimbal mayor.
The patriarch’s namesake, Oscar Jr. – nicknamed Richard, also former mayor of Guimbal – moved his residency in 2021 to Miag-ao town, where he is running for mayor.
Guimbal and Miag-ao are part of Iloilo’s first district, which also includes San Joaquin, Igbaras, Oton, Tigbauan, and Tubungan towns.
Oscar Sr. or Oca entered politics in 1987, defeating Batasang Pambansa assemblyman Salvador Britanico in the district the Garins have since been controlled.
Oca liked to call his clan stewards of Iloilo’s 1st district.
Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) records show progress in Guimbal, a fourth-class municipality. The town’s poverty incidence, at 30% in 2000, dropped to 26.13% in 2003, 15.83% in 2009, and only 11.46% in 2018.
This downward poverty trajectory is reflected across the 1st district. In San Joaquin, where the matriarch rules, poverty incidence fell to 26.15% in 2018 from 57.76% in 2000. But the district struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of Typhoon Odette and poverty levels could rise in the next PSA report.
A shore protection project for vulnerable Guimbal coastal barangays is near completion and could provide a buffer against future storm surges.
Despite the trappings of progress, long-running battles for land and water resources continue to fuel conflict and insurgency woes in the Garins’ district.
San Joaquin, Guimbal, Miag-ao, Tubungan, Igbaras are in the Armed Forces’ list of towns with insurgency problems. In December 2020, government troops killed a former communist leader and his wife in Oton, Iloilo.
The Garins don’t present as old-style warlords controlling vast landholdings. But Oca and son Richard have displayed abusive behavior.
Police slapped them with criminal complaints for mauling a cop in December 2018.
Oca sat in Congress until 1998 when his wife, the former Ninfa Serag, replaced him.
He was not sidelined for long. President Joseph Estrada appointed him in 2000 as Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas. But he had hardly warmed his seat when People Power II ousted the actor-politician.
Oca, however, found an ally in Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA). She appointed him chief of the Philippine Coconut Authority and later, concurrently as presidential assistant on agriculture.
Oca backed winning horses: Fidel V. Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo. This allowed his political dynasty to thrive even after his failed 2001 bid to defeat then-Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas, also patriarch of a powerful clan.
Oca’s only other miss was initially backing then-senator Manny Villar’s 2010 presidential run. Under former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III, he lost his PCA post.
But in 2012 the Liberal Party welcomed Oca back into the fold in the name of “unification.” His wife and children won local polls. Daughter-in-law Janet became health undersecretary and then health secretary.
Come 2016, Oca parted from the family, backing then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte as kin campaigned for Mar Roxas.
In 2022, his family is again switching political alliances. They are now supporting Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
Richard’s wife Janette has also figured in several controversies.
Her former colleague in Congress, the acerbic Walden Bello, described her in a Rappler opinion piece as a “smooth operator” and a “politician’s politician,” who “easily shifted loyalties from GMA to Aquino after the elections of 2010.” She served in Congress from 2004 to 2013.
The former health chief at one point faced 30 complaints related to deaths alleged linked to the anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine that she pushed.
After the Supreme Court declared the pork barrel illegal, Janette, then health secretary, told legislators she would still allow them control of the health department’s Medical Assistance Program.
Outside of the province, few people know of Janette’s ties to Leyte, the home turf of the Marcos dynasty. She was born to the province’s ruling Petilla-Loreto clan.
Janette started politics in Leyte right after college, serving as provincial board member from 1993 to 1995. Relocating to Iloilo, she sat in the provincial board from 1998 to 2004, chairing the health committee.
Janette succeeded Oscar Sr. as legislator in 2004. In 2010, shortly after winning her last term, she switched to the Liberal Party and became senior deputy leader.
Her position in the 15th Congress entitled her to ex-officio membership in all committees, as well as a seat on the Boards of Regents of the West Visayas State University and Western Visayas College of Science and Technology (now Iloilo Science and Technology University).
Vaccine and pork controversies notwithstanding, Garin was among the advocates of what is now the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.
She returned to her old House seat in 2019, this time under the Nacionalista Party (NP), getting 81.45% of the total vote count.
Janette and sister-in-law Sharon were among the 70 representatives who voted to reject ABS-CBN’s franchise application.
In 2022, Janette is running for reelection under the National Unity Party (NUP). But while she is currently in the same party as Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr., she is somewhat of an outlier in terms of her alliances.
Unlike the governor and NUP politicians in the province who are backing Robredo, she joined her husband in endorsing the Marcos-Duterte tandem.
In Tigbauan, she also leads the One Tigbauan team, which is composed mainly of Lakas-CMD members, against NUP’s own ticket led by board member Renee Valencia, who is now seeking the mayoral post.
Mother and son
Oscar Jr., or Richard, has the most government experience among Oca’s children.
Manyrs, however, say the Garin women are better students of politics than Richard, who may have enjoyed receiving perks handed to him on a silver platter at too early an age.
He entered politics as Kabataang Barangay of Guimbal in 1982. After the Marco regime crumbled, he was elected provincial president at the age of 24. In 1998, he was elected Guimbal mayor, a post he held until 2007.
In 2010, Richard retired to the provincial board as vice governor under Lakas-CMD. He succeeded wife Janette as district representative in 2013, under the Liberal Party.
He was one of the first representatives to switch to PDP-LABAN after Rodrigo Duterte’s victory in the 2016 elections. In 2019, he returned the seat to his wife.
He has since returned to his old party Lakas-CMD, and is now running for Miagao town mayor in the 2022 elections.
Garin matriarch Ninfa has served as San Joaquin mayor since 2016 after serving on the provincial board from 2010, succeeding Richard who successfully ran for the vice gubernatorial post.
She was succeeded in her provincial board seat by her nephew, Marcelo Valentine Serag, who is now running for his third and last consecutive term in the post.
It’s Sharon who can brawl
Sharon is the chairperson of the committee on economic affairs and vice-chairperson of several related committees. Sharon was instrumental in the passage of the Public Service Act that opens more local industries to control by foreign investors.
In her own words on a Facebook post, the new law “practically allows foreigners to own up to 100% in many businesses.”
She claimed her vote against ABS-CBN’s franchise was on orders of then-speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, whom she later helped oust on behalf of now-speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco.
Just recently, she had a spat with Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas over the name of the in-development Uswag Iloilo City Hospital.
Oldest Garin daughter Jennifer is the political neophyte.
She won as Guimbal vice mayor in 2019 unopposed and succeeded her mayor-father who died in September last year. She is running for her first full term as mayor under NUP.
The most senior family member in terms of provincial politics is Christine or “Tingting.”
She served as Guimbal mayor for 9 years from 2007 to 2016. She first ran for the vice-gubernatorial post under NUP as running mate of then-incumbent governor Arthur Defensor Sr., winning by over 100,000 votes against Junjun Tupas of the Liberal Party.
In 2019, she broke her family’s nine-year alliance with the Defensors and aligned with NP chair and gubernatorial candidate, then-4th District Representative Ferj Biron.
She won’t reelection but found herself with another Defensor as governor, this time, Arthur Jr Biron’s opponent.
She is now running in her last consecutive term under NP, unopposed, due to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Biron and Defensor Jr. – Rappler.com
Joseph BA Marzan is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship. Inday Espina-Varona is Rappler’s head of Regions.