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Friday, 13 April 2018 14:30

BEHIND  THE  LINES

BY BOB JALDON

Los Angeles, CA. — In 1982, I threw a question at the great Cesar C. Climaco in one of our press interviews in his Sta. Maria residence: “Who do you think is capable of succeeding you?”

At the time, there were at least four qualified contenders: the late Attorney Susan Delos Reyes, the late former Mayor Vitaliano D. Agan, the late Attorney Asbi Edding and the living Attorney Abelardo “Tonggo” Climaco, Jr. They were the top four winners in the 1980 local government election for The city council. As it turned out, Atty. Agan succeeded Climaco after Climaco’s son, Julio Cesar “Rini”, opted to run for congress against the indomitable Mrs. Maria Clara L. Lobregat. The then overpowering Concerned Citizens Aggrupation, a local political party formed by two aging leaders - Climaco and the late former Mayor Hector C. Suarez, Climaco’s arch political enemy - crumbled after the demise of Climaco and never to be resurrected.

Mr. Agan appointed his successor: former Vice Mayor Efren Aranez. But Mr. Aranez was clobbered in the polls by Mrs. Lobregat in 1998.

Not that Mr. Celso L. Lobregat is aging, or that Madam Maria Isabelle G. Climaco-Salazar is ailing. When Atty. Agan accepted defeat in the hands of then youthful Celso Lobregat for the lone congressional seat of Zamboanga city, we witnessed the transfer of political power between rival families and opposing parties since Climaco and the CCA demolished the vaunted Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) in 1980.

Despite being one of the emerging cities in Mindanao, Zamboanga was under constant attack by terrorists, kidnappers, extortionists and the mighty Marcosian military. Zamboanga’s economy went into recession as small businesses started going in the red, thanks partly to the casino. The migrants from the southern cities and municipalities and job-seekers and students from the north poured into the city.

Heavily divided by the Marcos-decreed political institutions that employed politicians with the title of regional assemblymen, and the disillusioned majority that prayed for peace, Zamboanga became the permanent home of migrants. But that changed after the EDSA peaceful uprising that brought back democracy and restored our freedoms.

The elections of the Lobregats in 1998 boosted the optimism that Zamboanga’s economy would climb from a contraction caused by years of conflict and uncertainty.

And so it was that Mr. Lobregat became the worthy successor of his mother who, for a while, was reluctant to have her son join politics. How she consented to allow her son to join politics is a long story that need not be pondered.

After the demise of Mrs. Lobregat, a power struggle ensued even before her internment. Everybody wanted to run for mayor. Everybody hankered to be a congressman. In the end, Celso ran for mayor, Mr. Erbie Fabian ran for congress and Mrs. Climaco-Salazar became Celso’s runningmate.

The fact is that Mr. Lobregat is getting old and he knows it. Mrs. Climaco-Salazar can still swing around the ballroom floor non-stop if she wants to. But what if a vicious thing happens to either of them, or both? God forbid. In politics, everything is possible. When we replaced military rule with democracy in 1986, the Cory Constitution made it absolute that presidential power shall pass every six years between leaders. The incumbent chose his/her replacement. Luckily, and with the graces of the Almighty, both Madam Climaco-Salazar and Mr. Lobregat are healthy. For how long?

We all agree that to tackle our security and economic concerns we need strong and healthy leaders, people who can stand up to El Presidente and say “no” to federalism that will surely realign the country’s administrative regions. We lost the capital of Region 9 when President Cory issued Executive Order No. 429. Could you imagine if under a federal form of government Zamboanga becomes part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) through presidential fiat?

Still and all, Mr. Lobregat and Madam Beng should score the field for worthy successors, just in case they’re eased out by whatever manner. Right now, I see only two: the young and vibrant incumbent Congressman Mannix Dalipe who scored an upset in 2016 by defeating a powerful patriarch from Ayala and Taluksangay and former councilor, vice mayor, mayor and congressman Erbie Fabian.

If, as it was in 2016, Mr. Lobregat and his party fail to win convincingly in 2019, it will signal that he has lost his grip on Zamboanga and that finding his successor would be the most sensible thing to do.