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In Sorsogon, political clan patriarch takes on ‘Justin Bieber’

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FACE-OFF Sorsogon Gov. Raul Lee and his young challenger, Eric Dioneda, during the debate of gubernatorial candidates in Sorsogon City. JAN REV DAVILA/CONTRIBUTOR

With signature bangs and dance moves, Eric Dioneda, 29, cuts an image of Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber.

The son of Mayor Leovic Dioneda of Sorsogon City is neither competing in a talent show nor aspiring to be the next big thing in entertainment. He is running for governor of Sorsogon province as an independent candidate against the incumbent, Raul Lee, the 72-year-old patriarch of the well-entrenched clan.

Sorsogon is a second-class province (annual income: at least P360 million and population: 740,743 as of 2010), known for butanding (whale sharks) interaction and the hometown of reelectionist Sen. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero.

A college undergraduate, Dioneda has been a member of the provincial board since 2010, and has been known to have sponsored ordinances on cooperatives, health and education.

With his candidacy, the gubernatorial race has become a three-way fight among rising and familiar political clans in a province that remains a stronghold of communist guerrillas, according to a top Army official. The third aspirant is Renato Laurinaria of the Liberal Party (LP), a retired policeman and former mayor of Castilla town.

A Dioneda win could deliver a bruising blow to the Lees’ 15 years of political domination. Lee was governor for three consecutive terms (1998 to 2007), before he was succeeded by his wife Sally (2007 to 2010).  Sally served for two terms (2001 to 2007) as mayor of Sorsogon City.

In 2010, Lee ran again and defeated former Rep. Jose Solis (second district), who died last month while seeking to regain his old seat.

Leovic Dioneda is running for reelection against Sally in the city’s mayoral race. Considered a rising political star in Sorsogon politics. Leovic was the mayor of Bacon before the town was merged in 2000 with the then municipality of Sorsogon to form Sorsogon City.

A defeat for Sally could spell trouble for the political career of the Lees and validate the meteoric rise of Leovic, who has reportedly set his eyes on the congressional seat in the first district, or the top post in the province if his son fails in his election bid.

A boat operator in Calintaan, an island village in Matnog town, still sees Raul Lee winning, praising the governor for doing good things in Sorsogon, including the paving of roads.

However, in the seashore village of Camcaman, also in Matnog, a store attendant says he will not vote for Lee for allowing mining operations “which has damaged the environment.”

Laurinaria

Laurinaria, who is running on a good governance platform, has been credited for turning Castilla around.

A US-based blogger from the coastal town says in her website reynaelena.com that she will vote for Laurinaria because he has a track record in ensuring peace and order. “Our local economy depends much on peace and order,” she says.

The fight between the Dionedas and the Lees, in particular, has been bitter. For one, the Dionedas have accused the Lees of graft and corruption. The Lees counter, charging the Dionedas with incompetence and nepotism.

Caught in the middle of the skirmishes are the Escuderos, who have tempered what could have been rough provincial politics.

The family has wielded power in the province, especially in the first district which covers Sorsogon City and the municipalities of Magallanes, Casiguran, Castilla, Pilar and Donsol.

Escudero’s father, Rep. Salvador Escudero III, had forged a loose alliance between the Dionedas and the Lees, which was breached when the lawmaker died last year.

To keep the agreement, Salvador’s widow Evelina, who is seeking the congressional seat once held by her husband, has endorsed both Raul and Leovic—a move not welcomed by both camps which are seeking no less than a full endorsement of the Escuderos.

 

Escuderos

The Escuderos still command respect in the province, where they remain formidable politicians, but the chink in the armor is beginning to appear.

At least three Escuderos are vying for local positions. Aside from Evelina, Salvador’s brother Kruni wants to become vice governor and his son Jun, board member.

Laurinaria says Evelina, a college professor, has no experience in making laws.

A 21-year-old woman in Sorsogon City, said to be the bailiwick of the Escuderos, says she might vote for Evelina’s rival, lawyer Anel Diaz.

In the second district, Rep. Deogracias “Ding” Ramos Jr. has endorsed Eric Dioneda. Incidentally, Ramos was the first to refer to him as Justin Bieber.

His endorsement may boost Eric’s chances, especially in Bulan town, which is second only to Sorsogon City in voting population.

But Eric is not assured of winning. The coastal towns of Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan and Santa Magdalena still lean heavily toward the Lees, their campaign manager claims. In addition, the Lees may pick up votes in Juban and Irosin, he adds.

In Sorsogon where vote-buying remains rampant, the cash-strapped Dionedas, especially Eric, may not break into provincial politics.

In the end, the political savvy and machinery of Raul Lee could be too much for political rookies who still have to sing and dance to win public office and gain public trust.

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