FASTLANES: It’s Leni-Kiko for Bukidnon despite the Zubiris

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 04 April) – Some eyebrows were raised when, early this political season, Vice President Leni Robredo included in her expanded Senate slate Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri.

A commenter in one of the Bukidnon kakampink group chats said: Land Grabber.

Note that Robredo’s earlier work as a development worker had been on agrarian reform. In fact, her support for the Sumilao farmers has been one of the highlights or resibo of her service to the poor. And her projects as vice president for the emancipated farmers serve as a high note in her development interventions in the laylayan (margins) of our society.

The inclusion of Zubiri was quite ironic. Now, if her senatorial list will still contain a Z, that would be a tragedy – an unrequited love.

The Zubiris are yet another landlord and political dynasty. If you look at the sojourn of the Negrense Jose Maria “Toto Joe” Zubiri, Jr. in Bukidnon as a sugar industry executive and eventually as a sugar baron, it was through Marcos crony, then “sugar king” Roberto Benedicto.

After having built a fortune from the Bukidnon Sugar Company in the 1970s, Toto Joe started his own political dynasty in the province.

The Zubiris have created a political bastion in southern Bukidnon, with a political base centered in Maramag town. Incidentally, that area is the least developed compared to central Bukidnon which has two cities, Malaybalay and Valencia as well as northern Bukidnon which hosts plantations of Del Monte Philippines, one of the world’s biggest pineapple producer, and lies close to the emerging Metro Cagayan de Oro.

After the retirement of the late governor Carlos Fortich two decades ago, the Zubiris invaded the Capitol in Malaybalay. And a Zubiri even held the mayoralty post in the capital Malaybalay until it was reclaimed by the late Dr. Florencio Flores Jr. in 2019. His son lawyer Jonathan Keith Flores is now running for a second term as representative of the 2nd District.

Northern Bukidnon has always been Acosta country. Socorro Acosta, her son Neric and daughter Malou have occupied the congressional seat for the 1st District most of the time since 1987.

Neric is now trying to reclaim the House seat with her estranged sister’s husband Jose Manuel Alba as his opponent. Malou has held this post since 2013, but the family was divided after she allied with Gov. Zubiri despite stiff objections from her mother and brother. Both siblings however are certified supporters of Robredo and her running mate Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

Neric has not declared who to support for governor.

Leni, Kiko and Neric were prominent intellectuals and students at UP. The three met at UP while Leni was studying Economics, Neric, Political Science, and Kiko English. Kiko then was an activist and student leader, who became the first student regent of UP.

So, it is not a surprise why, by default, Neric would support the Leni-Kiko tandem. Leni and Malou Acosta-Alba developed friendship as “classmates” at the House of Representatives.

This means not all Zubiri supporters would turn red and green.

Meanwhile, the gubernatorial seat of Bukidnon is now contested by 3rd District Rep. Manuel Zubiri and 4th District Rep. Rogelio Neil Roque. Gov. Zubiri is on his 3rd and last term and is gunning for the 3rd District congressional seat.

The gubernatorial tiff promises to be a heated one. Rep. Flores of the 2nd district has allied with Roque and declared support for Leni. The 2nd and 4th districts are the most vote-rich districts. The 4th district may remain with the Zubiris, but it remains to be seen if they will retain hold of the Capitol considering that under the Zubiri dynasty southern Bukidnon is poorer compared to the central and northern towns.

Rep. Roque may not even declare his preferred presidential bet. Although rumored to support Bongbong Marcos, he has been prevented from declaring his support for him because a significant number of the mayors supporting him are pink. Even his wife is reportedly sympathetic to the Leni-Kiko tandem. Former Valencia mayor Jose Galario, who is trying to regain the mayoralty seat of the vote-rich city of Valencia, is also reportedly pink.

The 2nd and 4th districts can go either way, with the winner not leading by a wide margin. Down south, BBM may have an advantage as it is Zubiri country. But who knows, despite Bukidnon being one of the richest provinces in the country in terms of local government assets, it is also among the provinces with a high poverty incidence, with the southern towns poorer than those in the central and northern areas.

A Zubiri endorsement would not necessarily translate into a BBM victory in the province. In fact, the more basic question is whether Manuel Zubiri can survive Neil Roque.

Given this situation, save for the optics at the provincial capital Malaybalay City last March 31, the Leni-Kiko tandem has an advantage in Bukidnon. Add to that Leni’s 211,512 lead over BBM in 2016.

As for Senator Migz, well, he had not just caught the ire of the Bukidnon kakampinks, but the whole kakampink nation as well.(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. BenCyrus G. Ellorin is a former journalist and former consultant of the City Government of Cagayan de Oro. He is now chair of the advocacy group and think tank Pinoy Aksyon for Governance and the Environment / Pinoy Aksyon. FB: @NoypiAksyon; Twitter: @Paksyon.)