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.
ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – Only two ruling families have continued to dominate local politics in Zamboanga Sibugay, and it’s just a question of who will call the shots in the provincial capitol after the May 2022 elections.
Representative Dulce Ann Hofer of the province’s 2nd District has launched her bid to snatch Zamboanga Sibugay’s leadership from the powerful Palma family that fielded a scion, 1st District Representative Wilter “Sharky” Palma II, as a bet for governor, a position being held by his father and namesake.
Hofer, however, is also a scion of a political family that led the province until 2010. She is the daughter of the late George Hofer, the founding father and first governor of Zamboanga Sibugay.
In this year’s elections, the two political families share one thing in common: they have yet to be clear about who among the presidential candidates they are supporting.
Sharky has thrown his support behind the vice presidential bid of presidential daughter Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, but added that the town mayors under his group were free to choose their bet for the presidency.
The Hofers too have yet to announce their choices for president and vice president.
Zamboanga Sibugay is a relatively new province with 16 towns that, until late 2000, was part of another province.
A new relative province in the Zamboanga Peninsula region, it was 19th in the list of 20 poorest provinces in the country in 2015. Although it managed to rise above that, Zamboanga Sibugay still has over a third of its population of 600,000 living in abject poverty – A challenge those seeking to lead it in the next three years face.
The elder Hofer was behind the law that carved Zamboanga Sibugay out of Zamboanga del Sur. He was elected as the first governor of Zamboanga Sibugay in 2001 and was re-elected twice until he retired from politics in 2010.
The elder Hofer died at 80 in 2019.
The Hofers lost the province’s leadership in 2010, when Dulce Ann, then a congresswoman, attempted to succeed her father.
She lost in the gubernatorial race to Rommel Jalosjos, now a mayoral candidate in Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte.
She staged a comeback in 2013, reclaiming her old congressional post from then-governor Jalosjos’ brother Romeo Jr., now the representative of the 1st District of Zamboanga del Norte.
The brothers are children of former Zamboanga del Norte Romeo “Nonong” Jalosjos, a local political kingpin barred from running for public office in 2013 because he was convicted for child rape.
Now, Representative Hofer is up against the son and namesake of Governor Wilter Palma, whose family has solidified its political grip on Zamboanga Sibugay since 2013, after a successful campaign to end the three-year-old administration of Rommel Jalosjos.
The elder Palma earned the moniker “Giant Slayer” after he delivered the blow to the Jalosjos family by unseating Rommel. Their 2013 face-off was seen as a David and Goliath political battle.
The Jalosjos patriarch’s political career suffered because of his child rape conviction, but he attempted to expand his political influence in the region, particularly from Zamboanga del Norte to Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City. In 2013, his two sons ran for reelection in Zamboanga Sibugay while he tried to seek Zamboanga City’s mayorship.
Palma, a lawyer by profession, was a successful businessman. He served as town mayor for three terms and dared to challenge the Jalosjos family that was attempting to expand their political influence outside their turf, Zamboanga del Norte. He was short of being a token candidate against one of the Jalosjos children in 2013.
At that time, the Jalosjoses already succeeded in controlling the Zamboanga Sibugay capitol with Rommel as governor and Romeo Jr. as representative of the 2nd District. The siblings lost their seats in Zamboanga Sibugay while their father was disqualified from running for mayor in Zamboanga City in 2013.
The Jalosjoses kept off Zamboanga Sibugay politics following that defeat and has since stayed in their turf in Zamboanga del Norte.
With the Jalosjos family out of the way and the Hofers weakened following the retirement of the family’s patriarch, the Palmas began carving their political name in the province and were able to dominate local politics for nearly a decade.
A lawyer like his father, Sharky is bent on being the next governor and ensuring that the Palmas would continue to be in political control of Zamboanga Sibugay.
But Hofer said she was banking on her family’s name and legacy, as well as her experience and track record as a lawmaker, to end the Palmas’ almost a decade of control of the province’s seat of government.
Zamboanga Sibugay would not be a province in the first place had it not been for her father George when he served as the representative of the 3rd District of Zamboanga del Sur.
It was also during Hofer’s governorship when Zamboanga Sibugay emerged as the “Rubber Capital of the Philippines.”
Dulce Ann’s brother, George II, is running for congressman in a bid to keep the province’s 2nd District a political bailiwick of the Hofers.
A businessman, George II never served in government as an elected official, although he served as provincial administrator when his father was governor. He challenged Governor Palma’s reelection bid in 2019 but lost.
Dulce Ann’s fellow legislator and opponent Sharky is bent on keeping his family’s hold on the province’s leadership. He said he decided to seek the governorship so he could continue his father’s programs and lead the province toward the same direction the older man had taken.
“Continuity,” Sharky told Rappler.
His father started his political career as a mayor of the town of Diplahan, a position he held for nine years before he challenged the Jalosjos family’s leadership.
Wilter Palma became governor in 2013, the same year Hofer also took back her old congressional seat.
Governor Palma is now seeking the congressional seat that would be left vacant by his son in the province’s 1st District. His son Sharky was first elected as the district’s representative in 2016, against representative Belma Cabilao, the first congresswoman of what used to be the lone district of Zamboanga Sibugay.
The governor, however, is not running for congressman unopposed. Palma has found a challenger in Cabilao’s daughter, physician Apple Yambao.
In 2019, Dr. Yambao failed in her bid to unseat Sharky, who sought a second term as representative of the 1st District.
Her brother, Jonathan Cabilao, is serving as a member of the provincial board and seeking reelection in the province’s 1st District.
Three lesser-known Sibugaynons don’t come from established political families, but have dared to challenge the Palmas and the Hofers, according to records from the provincial office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec):
- Ronel Alisoso – seeking the gubernatorial post under the Cebu-based Progressive Movement for the Devolution of Initiatives (PROMDI)
- Independent Peping Gani Tu
- Independent Jose Caambel Policarpio Jr.
Policarpio acknowledged that his chance of making it is slim.
A development management graduate of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Policarpio said he was just keeping his hopes up as “an alternative Christian candidate.”
Just like in most areas in the country, many Sibugaynons see the present political landscape in the province as “traditional” and unfriendly to those who don’t come from established political families.
Danilo Alonzo, a 65-year-old pastor, said she didn’t look right to him to see ordinary citizens, who are qualified but don’t represent wealthy and influential families, not standing a chance.
“Morag na tradisyon na nga sila ang modaog sa eleksyon,” Alonzo said. (It has become a tradition for these famlies to win in the elections.)
Another resident, Raul Gatinao, said such a political landscape discourages many who are qualified to govern from joining politics.
“It does not give everyone a fair chance to participate in the electoral process. It is as if only these political families are deserving to be elected,” Gatinao said. – Rappler.com
Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship