Opinion: What does Erice want?

 

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Caloocan second district Rep. Edgar Erice. Image from the House of Representatives website.

Caloocan City second district Representative Edgar Erice was accused of being the attack dog of the Liberal Party (LP) when he criticized what he called as Vice President Jejomar Binay’s “two-faced” attacks against the ruling party in a privileged speech in June 10.

Erice was fuming, challenging the vice president to resign from his post in the cabinet and be “the true leader of the opposition.” He even asked Binay, of all things, to show his true colors.

The speech was repeatedly described as fiery, although I would rather call it a waste of plenary time – which could have been instead used to discuss relevant legislation – for political and personal purposes. The content might have been different, but I view it as something similar to the ones given by Senator Bong Revilla in the past months.

In subsequent interviews, Erice denied being the attack dog the LP. He even revealed that he did not get the permission of the President or his party to deliver the said speech, apparently entitled “In Defense of the Grand Old Liberal Party.”

While it may seem impossible that no one from the party leadership knew of his speech, I am inclined to agree with his claim that his actions were not on the orders of the President or someone from LP.

Erice designated himself as the party’s attack dog – the counterpart of UNA’s Toby Tiangco – because he wants something from the leadership.

It all boils down to the political climate in Caloocan City, currently headed by the opposition Mayor Oscar Malapitan, who was personally endorsed by Binay during the tense campaign period in 2013.

2013 polls

Malapitan, who was outgoing three-term representative of the first district, won against the son of outgoing three-term mayor Recom Echiverri, Ricojudge.

Meanwhile, the elder Echiverri ran against the son of Malapitan, Along, for the position that will be vacated by the elder Malapitan. Echiverri won in the congressional race.

The Echiverris, former allies of President Arroyo, ran under LP, which has been their party since the 2010 elections.

But where was Erice, who was vice mayor from 2010 to 2013, in all of this?

He earlier expressed intention of running for mayor in 2013, but with the younger Echiverri endorsed by LP as the official candidate, he was – for lack of a better word – shunned by his party to run as second district representative.

The rift between the Echiverris and Erice was evident. While LP campaign materials in the first district show the faces of all candidates (younger Echiverri for mayor, returning Tito Varela for vice mayor, and older Echiverri for representative), the same is not true in the second district.

Despite running under the same party, Erice was never with the younger Echiverri or Varela, whom he replaced as vice mayor in 2010 after the latter stepped down after finishing three terms. Instead, Erice’s campaign materials featured the President raising his hands.

Friends and foes

Change seems the only thing that is permanent in Caloocan City politics. While Erice sometimes fashions himself as the original LP politician in the city, history shows otherwise.

When he was first elected as second district representative in 2001, he was with the ruling Lakas-CMD of then President Arroyo. The elder Echiverri, also with Lakas, was then the first district representative.

The political schism happened before the 2004 elections, when then outgoing Mayor Rey Malonzo (also with Lakas) announced that he will field his wife Gigi to be his replacement.

Erice bolted from Lakas, and ran for mayor under LP. Echiverri also bolted from Lakas, and ran for mayor under KNP/LDP. Echiverri won in the 2004 elections.

The decision of the two congressmen to run in the free-for-all mayoralty race allowed Malapitan (then with Nacionalista) and Luis Asistio (NPC) to secure the congressional seats in 2004.

In 2007, Echiverri returned to his old party Lakas and secured re-election as mayor. He defeated returning mayors Macario Asistio (Liping Caloocan) and Rey Malonzo (no longer with Lakas, ran under local party Kabaca), and then second district Rep. Luis Asistio (NPC).

Erice, meanwhile, tried to reclaim his congressional seat in the second district, but lost to another LP candidate, Mitzi Cajayon. LP was having an internal dispute at the time, with Erice running under the Drilon wing and Cajayon running under the Atienza wing.

Malapitan, still with Nacionalista, secured a win against his closest rival, the younger Echiverri who ran under Lakas like his father.

More changes in the political climate occurred in 2010, with Arroyo stepping down from power and the Liberal Party starting to gain traction.

Echiverri, along with his allies, again bolted from Lakas and this time transferred to the Liberal Party. He ran for a third term, with Erice (the “original” LP politician in Caloocan City) as running mate. They defeated the Luis Asistio-Rey Malonzo tandem, among others.

Cajayon (now with Lakas) and Malapitan (still with Nacionalista) secured their congressional seats in 2010, with the latter defeating outgoing vice mayor Varela.

It seemed that everything was in order, at least in the city hall, where the LP has secured the majority.

Unfortunately, Echiverri – who was stepping down as mayor in less than two years – found himself in hot water when Erice filed case after case of graft and corruption against him starting 2011.

LP was in a rather awkward position as both parties involved are its members. Malacañang had no other recourse but to distance itself, issuing a neutral statement as it decided neither to side with Echiverri, the one who wields greater power, nor Erice, the “original” LP member in Caloocan.

Elections came, and LP had a decision to make: Erice wanted to be mayor, but Echiverri wanted to field his son. Malapitan, now with former President Estrada’s PMP (which later became UNA), also announced his candidacy.

A rather embarrassing situation was averted when the LP apparently convinced Erice to instead retake his congressional seat and challenge Cajayon (now with NUP, a party composed of former allies of former President Arroyo). Erice won, perhaps because of the intensive endorsement provided to him by the no less than the President.

But the tables have turned. While LP secured both congressional seats, the city hall is now controlled by opposition politician Malapitan. The vice mayor is independent Maca Asistio, who now appears with the face of Malapitan in various tarpaulins in the city.

LP will try to retake the city hall in 2016, but they need a strong candidate. Front runners include the usual names: the Echiverris, and of course Erice.

All about 2016

So no, the privileged speech of Erice was not just about defending LP from the supposed attacks of UNA and the Binays. It was all about the local elections in Caloocan in 2016.

If it is true that he was asked not to run for mayor in 2013, then the LP leadership owes him something, especially considering that the party’s candidate in 2013 lost to Malapitan. By showing himself as a loyal supporter of the president, Erice is trying to fashion himself – as he had always done – as the real ally of the party in Caloocan City.

As early as 2004, he had already shown his intention of becoming the mayor of Caloocan City. Perhaps he is testing the waters, or even already sending a subtle message to the LP leadership.

What does Erice want? I say he wants the city hall in 2016.


Disclosure: The author is a Caloocan City first district resident. He has voted for Erice (vice mayor) and Malapitan (first district representative) in the 2010 elections. He did not vote in 2013. He met Erice in 2011 when he was still a student, for an assignment in a broadcast journalism class. He produced a report on Erice’s graft allegations against Echiverri, whose comment on the issue was a written statement.

The author is currently a reporter for the Philippine Star assigned to relieve in the CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) beat. He did not cover the Caloocan City elections in 2013, except for an article about a candidate for councilor declared by Comelec as a nuisance bet.

Views expressed in this blog post are of the author and do not reflect that of his employer.

 

 

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