MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/28May) — For practically a century, the Fortich family lorded over Bukidnon politics. They entrenched their grip on power by expanding their landholdings which they turned into ranches and plantations, venturing into logging operations and cozying up to whoever sat in Malacanang. At times, some homegrown leaders managed to occupy the Capitol and other high posts. But on the whole, the previous century belonged to the Fortiches, they of Spanish ancestry whose forebears hailed from Negros.
During the martial law era, businessman Ernesto Tabios had always tried to dislodge archrival Carlitos Fortich from power. All his attempts failed. Carlitos had all the odds stacked in his favor the most significant of which was Palace support and his slyness as a politician. Tabios, in contrast, played it rather too clean, an aberration in an electoral system marked by corruption, treachery and ruthless pragmatism.
Fortich was unable, however – or did not bother – to stop another political star from rising in Bukidnon’s southern district.
Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., also a Spanish mestizo from Negros, built his political base on the fortune he amassed as then executive vice president of the Bukidnon Sugar Company.
Like Fortich, he aligned himself with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and got elected to the Batasan Pambansa. He also obtained more lands for his sugar cane plantations. And in addition to acquiring vast economic resources, he endeared himself to ordinary folk by doling out a few thousands of pesos every now and then and mingling with them during cockfights. (Zubiri said he had stopped going to cockfights.)
Their rivalry, however, never ripened into a head-on clash. For whatever reason, they were content with proxy war.
Unfortunately for the Fortich family, their political genes stopped with Carlitos, who resigned as governor in 2001, shortly before his last term ended. He ran as mayor of Valencia City but lost to Jose Galario Jr.
Weakened by that unexpected debacle and bowing to Mother Time, Bukidnon’s legendary politician has since opted to fade away.
With the Fortiches gone, the province looks headed for another long dynasty, this time Zubiri’s. Zubiri, whose term as governor ends on June 30 won as vice governor against token opponents. His protégé, Vice Governor Alex Calingasan, won as governor.
Zubiri’s son and namesake was reelected congressman of the 3rd district. Another son, Juan Miguel, will sit as senator until 2013, i.e. if he does not get ousted owing to the protest filed by Koko Pimentel. A nephew, Malaybalay City Vice Mayor Ignacio Zubiri, won as mayor.
But the Zubiris’ hold on local politics appears at best tenuous in relation to the outcome of the May 10 elections for the national positions.
Having endorsed Lakas bet Gilberto Teodoro and later Nacionalista Party’s Manuel Villar for the presidency, it remains to be seen if the elder Zubiri can manage to rub elbows with President-apparent Sen. Benigno Aquino III, the Liberal Party’s candidate.
It will take more than skills in transactional politics for Zubiri to get past at least two obstacles – former Bukidnon 1st District congressman Nereus Acosta who lost in the Senate race, and Bukidnon 2nd District Rep. and senator-elect Teofisto Guingona III. Both ran under the LP.
Acosta in particular is expected to block Zubiri’s attempts to curry favors with the incoming administration.
But the more significant development is Guingona’s increasing political influence with his election as senator and being an Aquino ally. It would be worth watching if this would cause realignments in Bukidnon politics.
By the way, Guingona’s ancestors also came from Negros. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])