Dissecting Antique’s politics

By Herbert Vego

THE decision of Rep. Loren Legarda (lone district, Antique) to abandon her constituency in order to run for senator on May 9, 2022 was unexpected. She had been very vocal about rejecting many attractive and lucrative positions in the national government because she was thinking of her home province that had remained one of the poorest in the country.

“I have always marveled at our natural beauty and the richness that abounded our province but what struck me was that amid its natural bounty, many of our kasimanwas have remained very poor,” she said in her inaugural address. “I just could not simply turn my back on my beloved Antique.”

By aspiring to go back to the Senate, she has stirred up a hornet’s nest among her political allies. And by urging her brother Antonio Agapito “AA” Legarda Jr. to run and replace her, she is attempting to launch a new political dynasty.

Dynasty was one of the issues that she raised against her opponent, former congressman Exequiel Javier, whose son Paolo (another former congressman) also lost to re-electionist Governor Rhodora Cadiao in 2019. The Javiers had been winning elections for three decades since 1987.

Running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Legarda might have lost had she not aligned herself politically with Cadiao of the National Unity Party (NUP).

It’s now the male Legarda who is running for congressman under the NPC, hence could not be classified as a party mate of Cadiao. In fact, he is being touted by his PR men as an ally as well of Cadiao’s gubernatorial opponent, seaman Vicente Fedelicio, even if the latter belongs to another party, PDP-Laban.

Oh la la, he wants to be paired with both of the two contesting gubernatorial horses!

Anybody in Cadiao’s shoes would be offended by his “pamamangka sa dalawang ilog.”

Cadiao’s running mate, incumbent Vice-Governor Edgar Denosta, is pitted against Julius Caesar Tajanlangit, who belongs to PDP-Laban, just like Fedelicio for governor and Paolo Javier for congressman.

Take note that Paolo lost to Governor Cadiao in 2019.

It would therefore be an oddity for Cadiao to keep her alliance with a “strange bedfellow” in the person of congressional candidate AA Legarda (NPC), who also enjoys the support of her opponent-challenger, Vic Fedelicio.

Wasak na ang so-called “LDC triumvirate,” which used to stand for “Legarda-Denosta-Cadiao” unity team.

Incidentally, also adding to Denosta’s woes is popular Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Vincent Piccio, an independent candidate who is also vying to unseat him.

Going back to AA Legarda, if the clashing gubernatorial candidates Cadiao and Fedelicio both adopt him as their common House candidate, well and good for him being a political newcomer. He needs them, but they don’t need him.

If truth be told, the Antiqueños see Legarda as a stranger with questionable residency in Pandan town, where sister Loren had bought a house to qualify for a congressional seat in 2019. We have no idea about his educational and professional or vocational attainments. He has yet to learn the Kinaray-a dialect of the province.

If I heard Antique-based broadcaster Roger Tamon right, most of the Antiqueños, would root for a tumandok (native) for their next congressman. No, he does not refer to Tagalog-speaking Paolo Javier; he finds lawyer Abdiel Dan “Toto Ade” Fajardo of the Liberal Party (LP) as the tumandok and the most qualified to be the voice of Antique in the House of Representatives.

Fajardo — 51, married and dad of two children — made a name for himself as the national President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) – the government-accredited association of Philippine lawyers — in 2017-19.  It was he who filed a case against three Philippine National Police officers of Caloocan City for the high-profile murder of teenager Kian delos Santos. The court eventually sentenced them to 40-year imprisonment.

His climb to the top of the legal profession remains unprecedented. Within the second quarter of 2015, he won three coveted positions at the IBP – first as president of its Antique chapter, next as Western Visayas governor, and as executive vice-president for a term of two years.

Fajardo – a law graduate of the University of the Philippines who was admitted to the bar in 1998 – made use of his IBP ascendancy to provide free legal assistance to the less fortunate who could not afford adequate legal representation in the courts of law.

Whenever I see Toto Ade Fajardo, I remember the first time I saw him as a two-year-old baby in 1973 or 48 long years ago inside a bus running from San Jose, Antique to Iloilo City. He was with his dad Daniel and his mom Maria.

He was still a UP-Law student when he first worked at the office of the late Senator Blas Fajardo Ople.

After passing the bar, he joined the law office of a fellow Antiqueño, Atty. Pope Solis.

In 2012, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III appointed Ade Fajardo chief of the legal department of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

In 2014, he resigned that government position to return to active law practice in Metro Manila.

The last time we met, he had already filed his certificate of candidacy for congressman. Knowing that he had never before aspired to play politics, I asked him what triggered his change of heart.

“I have reached the top of my career,” he answered. “It’s time for change. A lawyer is meant to make laws. If elected, I would file bills aimed at helping the poor rise above poverty level.”

The poor hear you, Toto Ade.