BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Natives versus interlopers and tradition versus change were the main political themes here on Saturday, March 26, as thousands turned out for the kickoff campaign rallies of Bacolod City Mayor Evelio “Bing” Leonardia and his opponent, billionaire and former Negros Occidental 3rd district representative Alfredo “Albee” Benitez.
The Leonardia-led Grupo Progreso bathed the public plaza in red, its main political color, while Benitez’s Team Asenso brought throngs of white-shirted supporters to the Paglaum Sports Complex.
Team Asenso claimed more than 70,000 people attended their event on the site of the historic rally of Vice President Leni Robredo, main rival of Benitez’ presidential candidate, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Organizers of Robredo’s rally said the 70,000 number would have to include people crowding streets outside the sports complex, which has a capacity of 35,000.
Leonardia’s camp on the other hand, claimed to have a 45,000-strong crowd, but critics noted that he did not fill the entire plaza.
Bacolod City has 327,403 voters.
The mayor’s group, meanwhile, started with what they claimed was the “longest caravan” in the city, stretching more than seven kilometers with 600 vehicles, over 500 riders, hundreds of PUJs, trikes, e-bikes, and trucks.
“We made history. This has never happened before,” said Leonardia, thanking supporters who waited on the streets despite the heat.
The mayor and Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran are gunning for their third and final terms.
Leonardia is Bacolod’s longest serving chief executive, with a total of six terms: 1995 to 1998, 2004 to 2007, 2007 to 2010, 2010 to 2013, and 2016 up to the present.
Leonardia urged his supporters not to give Bacolod to a “pangayaw,A Hiligaynon term for a stranger, alluding to his rival Benitez.
The former three-term representative of Negros Occidental’s 3rd district filed a transfer of voter’s registration from Victorias City to Bacolod in April 21.
The mayor’s camp contested this several times but local courts and the Election Registration Board ruled in favor of Benitez, the founder of publicly-listed Leisure and Resorts World Corporation.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Leonardia said of his administration, which banners the slogan “Ipadayon ang Serbisyo kag Progreso (Let’s continue the service and progress).”
The mayor said he was overwhelmed by the number of supporters who attended their opening salvo despite not having celebrities.
It was an obvious dig at Benitez, who parlayed his ownership of media and entertainment companies by bringing in bands and stars from the capital.
Benitez’s Paglaum rally was capped with fireworks and a concert from Bamboo and Silent Sanctuary.
Leonardia added the fight against the opposition is between “kwarta (money)” and “gugma (love).”
The mayor also claimed Benitez brought in out-of-town folks to his opening salvo.
“May report kami, verificado, damo gin hakot makadto sa ila (We have a report. It’s verified. They gathered people to attend),” he said.
His supporters posted photos of Benitez’s rally audience coming down from green buses. But buses are not necessarily a sign of ‘hakot‘. Volunteers of Robredo and Pangilinan consolidated resources to have convenient rides to the opposition tandem’s March 11 Paglaum rally.
While Leonardia chided his rival’s showbiz rally, implying entertainment trumped Benitez’ governance platform, videos of the challenger’s rally showed that he, running mate Caesar Distrito, and several council bets expounded on their alternative vision for Bacolod.
More than 2,000 shared Team Asenso’s livestream, which showed 177,000 views, compared to 50,000 on the Grupo Progreso page.
Distrito, a former councilor, accused the incumbent in the Hiligaynon language of giving out substandard rice fit for pig food and expired noodles during the COVID-19 pandemic surge.
“I’m surprised to see many Bacolodnons who are clamoring for change. I don’t know what to say,” Benitez said in his rally speech.
He promised the residents change because “dugay na na perwisyo ang Bacolod (Bacolod had been pestered for a long time).
Benitez said healthcare is his top priority.
“We will have health cards so residents, in case of emergencies, can go to the hospitals right away without worrying about the payment,” he said.
He also promised to bring the government closer to the people for faster delivery of services.
Benitez’ other top priority programs are housing, flood control, and improvement of public markets “to bring food security” to the city. – Rappler.com