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CHALLENGING THE COJUANGCO’S
 
14 May 1998 Sun Star

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     The public perception is that the Cojuangcos who had migrated and established an economic domain in Negros Occidental are unbeatable. The large campaign chest and a well-oiled machinery have intimidated many politicians within the fourth congressional district where the Cojuangco wealth are concentrated. Even in the entire province, the Cojuangco factor is always seriously considered. 
     The district’s two cities and four towns are controlled by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Alliance. The mayors of La Carlota and Bago cities are entrenched political Sa-Onoyfamilies who had ruled their cities for years. When Cojuangco established his political machinery for the 1992 presidential elections where Danding was the NPC standard bearer, most of the mayors of Negros Occidental ran under that banner. With its more than adequate finances, twenty of Negros Occidental’s 31 mayors were NPC.  Despite this formidable force, Danding lost in the province which went for Ilongga Miriam Defensor Santiago. 
     Danding, however, proved his capacity to make or unmake local politicians. In the 1995 local elections, Bacolod Mayor Alfredo Montelibano, Jr. and long-time governor, was trounced for the first time in his long political career, reportedly because Danding financed the campaign of Evelio Leonardia and Cong. Romeo Guanzon. It was rumored that Danding wanted to teach Montelibano a lesson for riding on two horses in 1992. All of Danding’s mayors won reelection. 
The crack in the Cojuangco fortress, however, was seen when his own son, Charlie, won the mayorship of Pontevedra with just a couple hundred of votes. Considering that Pontevedra is the locus of the Cojuangco economic empire in Negros Occidental, the small lead of Charlie was a big surprise. Moreover, when the selection for the chairmanship of the Association of Barangay Captains was held in 1997, Charlie’s critic and oppositor in Pontevedra won the election over Charlie’s choice. 
     Charlie, with his father looming ahead, however, remains a formidable force and when he decided to run for Congress to replace Cong. Edward Matti who could no longer run for another term, the leading politicians in the fourth district backed off. His reported opponent under Lakas-NUCD was Public Estates Authority chairman, Arsenio Yulo, Jr., but Yulo backed out, ostensibly because the President needed him to sort out the Amari deal.  What was believed was that Lakas-NUCD struck a deal with the Cojuangcos to leave the field alone to Charlie. This was confirmed when Lakas designated Charlie as its own official candidate over the objections of Gov. Lito Coscolluela. The governor was so angry with this stab that he bolted from Lakas and ran independent. 
     It would have been a cozy ride for Charlie to Congress, but businessman Alfredo “Dodo” 
Bustamante decided to fight as an independent. A neophyte in politics and without a party, 
Dodo is a stockbroker and an economic column writer of SUN.STAR Bacolod and SUN.STAR 
Dumaguete. He seemed to be a man with a mission. He said that he is running despite the 
Odds and a little money to make a strong political statement, to give people an alternative. He 
never attacked, rather presented his program of government, his concept of what a congress 
man should do. He campaigned single-handedly, driving and speaking at the same time before a microphone on the sound system installed on top of his jeep. Where he stopped, he distributed his handbills or sat down to talk with the people who, he was surprised, were all ears. After all he was the first congressional candidate ever to really sit down with the people and not rely on a party machine. 
     Many people in Bacolod thought him crazy or maybe he ran in order to get bought - a not so rare case. But he pounded the dusty roads in walking shorts or jeans and tee-shirt, campaigning in remote areas, shaking hands and even taking time to sit down in a sari-sari store to talk about his program. On a shoe-strong budget - he refused to ask for contributions from politicians or hacenderos - he had no other campaigners, no election watchers, no lawyers, no poster or streamers, except those hand-made by supporters.  Eventually, he joined Lito Osmeña’s group and he was taken in as PROMDI official bet in the district. He is the only official congressional candidate of PROMDI in the region, but PROMDI itself was on a tight budget and could help a little. But Dodo persisted.  By April, however, his persistence paid off and people took him seriously, some leading sugarcane planters group which considered themselves anti-Cojuangco, backed him up. A ground swell of support had turned Dodo into a one-man machine challenging the Cojuangco control of the district. So apparent was this support that there were talks just prior to the elections that an impossible could happen - Charlie could be defeated and the Cojuangco money could NOT prevail over the negative votes. 
     In the first two days after the elections, early returns showed Dodo leading Charlie. In La Carlota City, San Enrique, Pulupandan and even Pontevedra, early reports had Dodo on the winning side. On Wednesday, SUN.STAR and PROMDI headquarters received reports of planned shaving off in Bago City and late on the third day, amidst reports of irregularities and dagdag-bawas, Dodo’s lead narrowed. These reports are now being investigated.  It is highly possible that Dodo may lose, but the large number of negative, anti-Cojuangco votes indicated that with a little funding, persistence and good program, the formidable, well-funded Cojuangco machine can be defeated. 
     Dodo has now become a sort of hero, a man who dared to fight against the odds and people loved an underdog. Perhaps, in 2001, the battle could be fought in a more even field now that the chink in the Cojuangco armor has been located and tested. The result of this election will be a major consideration on how to handle the Cojuangcos who are believed out to get their foothold in Negros so firmly established as to become the only real political and economic force. 

Modesto P. Sa-Onoy


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