Sonny Belmonte’s pride and joy
Can a self-declared reformist get elected as mayor of the largest city in the Philippines, which has had a string of mayors that allowed it not only to grow by leaps and bounds but also to become a model of traffic gridlock, street crime and urban blight?
Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, candidate for mayor of Quezon City, is a good subject to study. Sitting with Inquirer editors and reporters, she responds to a question quickly, diverges on many fronts, and then doubles back to try to address the original query. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes not. She’s no Chinua Achebe who, it was said, “answered every question with the precision of a sniper,” but that’s cool. She tries. She appears unmindful of the possible repercussions of her words; there is no measured attempt at being diplomatic. Her pleasant tone serves to take the edge off her statements, as when, for example, she says her opponent has “brainwashed” certain people into thinking that it was she who had “murdered” Barangay Captain Crisell Beltran last Jan. 30.
Her manner is easy, even chatty. There is hardly a pause to indicate, say, a pained irony in avowedly distancing herself from the ways of traditional politics yet switching parties to beef up her chances at being elected. The way she explains it, her switch from the Liberal Party to the ruling PDP-Laban and its umbrella alliance Hugpong ng Pagbabago was not only advice from her father, the seasoned politician Sonny Belmonte, but a pragmatic move as well: eyes on the prize.
She has just come from delivering a speech to mark International Women’s Day and, the noontime traffic notwithstanding, she comes to this next social commitment prepared to talk. And fresh-faced, as though she hasn’t been in politics for close to a decade; in other people in public office—for example, the feminist manque who is taking another crack at a senatorial seat and who thinks being in politics is family business—the strain of pretense, of putting on the obligatory face to meet the necessary faces, indubitably shows.
It appears that the vice mayor has learned much from her years of playing second fiddle to the main man in City Hall, with whom she is not on speaking terms. She talks about a scandal involving questionable signages in the city and the hearings she conducted to get to the bottom of it “in aid of legislation.” Her inquiry apparently proceeded without benefit of full cooperation from the major parties concerned, but she managed to get it done and to arrive at a proper conclusion. And? And so she has pinpointed where in the protocol leaks should be plugged and gaps should be bridged. She and her people have also identified those taking liberties with and making money off City Hall processes, and decided that they would be removed from their sweet spot if and when she and her people get on the saddle.
No filing of charges? She will apparently take such a step or raise a hue and cry only when the issue directly impacts her and her administration, if and when. It’s a stance that suggests an aversion to confrontation, a seeming nod, despite her claim to being his opposite, to the enduring style of her old man—a “sweet man” with no enemies, she says. (Sonny Belmonte was, among other posts, himself mayor of Quezon City in 2001-2010 and speaker of the House of Representatives during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III. According to an aide, he no longer thinks of his own political career and is actively campaigning for his youngest child, his pride and joy.)
If elected, the candidate will bring her “own brand of leadership” to Quezon City Hall. But it looks like she will not unnecessarily rock the boat, will not apply bombast when there is (yet) no need for it. If and when, according to the chatty vice mayor, she will not radically alter the landscape where the “SOP” (standard operating procedure, or the skimming off the top of project funds), is concerned. She will take charge of project contracts, but will turn over the SOP—5 percent, 10 percent, whatever—to the person expecting it.
No ironies for this reformist, the attentive observer could say, but a hard-nosed view of surviving the political system—and perhaps getting a bit of things done.
Still she will say her piece. In a direct contradiction of the startling pronouncement of her friend and patron, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, that all candidates are liars, she attests to the importance of honesty in those aspiring for public office. Can, will, others say as much?
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