MAASIN CITY, Southern Leyte – Agriculture and fisheries were the top topics discussed in a forum at the Integrated Terminal in Maasin City on April 29.
The forum was attended by Liberal Party bets, mainly members of the influential Mercado clan, and candidates from United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Southern Leyte’s main sources of livelihood include coconut and abaca production and fishing.
“Whether we like it or not, agriculture will remain in Maasin City," said lawyer Gerardo Dator, a Maasin City mayoral candidate, emphasizing that government programs in the city and Southern Leyte should focus on the sector.
Maasin City ABC President Nikko Mercado (LP), mayoral candidate and son of incumbent Southern Leyte governor Roger Mercado, proposed to give alternative livelihood for farmers affected by El Niño. But Dator reminded him to check funds first before making promises.
Meanwhile, vice-governor Sheffered Tan (UNA), who is running for governor, said that while Southern Leyte has overcome the brontispa beetle epidemic, the province has yet to find solutions for the bunchy top virus affecting the abaca industry.
On fisheries, incumbent mayor Maloney Samaco, now a vice-mayoral candidate, claimed his administration made strides in apprehending illegal fishing and encouraged fishermen and wardens to monitor these illegal activities.
Culture of fear
The candidates also traded barbs on performance and platforms with the challengers criticizing the ruling Liberal Party bets.
Rentuza and Dator pointed out that the Mercados focused more on infrastructure than other projects.
But the younger Mercado defended their priorities, noting that “these are the projects you’ve been asking for.”
Asked about their views on contractualization in government, Mercado said the problem is difficult and complex, but admitted there are more job order (JO) personnel than regular employees because there are many projects that needed to be completed.
But Dator accused the Mercados of keeping JOs for patronage.
The UNA candidates also accused incumbent officials of using the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to whip votes for the Liberal Party's candidates.
In the past election, the Mercados were also accused of using the flagship poverty alleviation program of the government for electioneering. (READ: Did Liberal Party use 4Ps for electioneering?)
“They’re strong at intimidating barangay officials, they’re using them for this election,” Dator told Rappler in a mix of Cebuano and English.
“Barangay officials are supposed to be non-partisan. But they’re using them as instruments to buy votes, intimidate the people. Let’s correct that culture of fear.”
Empowered civil society
The organizers of the event – Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) and Government Watch (G-Watch) Southern Leyte – were surprised that the candidates participated and engaged each other during the forum.
“We thought we would have difficulty inviting the candidates. You know, we don’t have in our election the culture of candidates talking about their platform because they know they win election not through platform, they win it through many means – money politics, personality, etc,” said Joy Aceron of the Ateneo School of Government.
“I think it's promising," said Amelia Mancera of G-Watch Southern Leyte, adding that she looks forward to seeing "more empowered citizens in our city and province...and more organizations that are able to speak up.” – Rappler.com
Jeanie Rose Deluza, Faith Sinogaya, and Dionard Mendova are Rappler's Movers in Eastern Visayas.