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Lipa City's interesting dynamic: Reelected, former mayor to work in tandem

Outgoing Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto was sworn in by provincial Comelec officials as the first representative of the newly-created sixth district of Batangas, found in Lipa City. Santos-Recto’s victory in the recent May 9 national and local elections sustains her unbeaten streak in Batangas’ elections. The Filipino Connection/Marlon Alexander Luistro

LIPA CITY, Philippines (The Filipino Connection) — This city as a new congressional district is awaiting an interesting political dynamic: how will an unbeatable local political figure work with a sitting, reelected mayor whose wife just conceded to the local powerhouse.

Vilma Santos-Recto sustained her unbeaten streak in Batangueño elections by being Lipa City’s first representative to the Lower House. The outgoing provincial governor beat Bernadette Sabili in the May 9 elections with a 23,020 vote win.

In contrast, embattled Mayor Meynard Sabili got a fresh mandate for his last term as Liberal Party (LP) bet and Recto ally Fiscal Gary Mendoza wasn’t near Sabili given a 46,609 vote deficit.

Meynard Sabili is expected to continue his city government’s seven-point development thrust called IHELP: infrastructure, information and communications technology, health, education, environment, livelihood and peace and order. During the campaign, Sabili also vowed to continue to improve the services of the Ospital ng Lipa, which includes increasing its capacity from 75 to 500 beds, and continue giving scholarships to poor but deserving students.

Plans to reconstruct the decades-old city hall building funded by a Malaysian firm were also unveiled as well as to continue the building of the unfinished Sports Academy to potentially host sporting events like the Palarong Pambansa.

But these platforms became hot topic during the course of the campaign. The Sports Academy, for one, is remarked to be “useless” and allegedly being a white elephant project.

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Last May 4, the Lipa City Public Market Parking Building also formally opened, which was supposed to resolve lack of parking spaces for vehicles going to the public market and at the same time ease the traffic flow in the area. Plans to install traffic lights along the traffic gridlock at the STAR Tollway Tambo Exit were also revealed.

Plans

Interestingly, Santos-Recto governed the province for nine years under an acronym called HEARTS: health, education, environment, economy and employment, agriculture, roads, tourism and safety and security.

As an incoming legislator, Santos-Recto said among her priority programs would be that of promoting the welfare of women and children and empowerment of barangay functionaries by giving them regular salaries.

A barangay health worker from Tanauan City told The Filipino Connection they’re only being paid P38 daily for all the services they render, which may include having to monitor pregnant women in their area. They’re not as optimistic though as to such promises which they claim many legislators have failed them in the past.

“We should increase the budget of the barangays so that they would be able to pay these people and accord them the right benefits and salaries,” Santos-Recto told in an ambush interview at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan session hall shortly after she was proclaimed congresswoman on May 10.

Accessibility issues and the matter of not being a full-time public official have hounded her through her 18 years in politics. But for Recto, election is already over and she’s not paying attention anymore to those issues.

“I think I lasted for nine years (as mayor) and I did something good in Lipa,” Santos-Recto said.

Asked how often people would see her in Lipa, she retorted, “Definitely I will have an office here in Lipa. Usually the session is Monday to Wednesday. Maybe ThursdayFriday I will be here. Believe me, I will return to all the 72 barangays so that I will know directly their needs."

"And if me and Senator Recto can contribute something, why not?” she adds, pertaining to her husband and reelectionist Sen. Ralph Recto who's currently in the Magic 12 of bets for senator.

Recto is known for providing a sizeable portion of his budget as a senator to Batangas province while the wife's a governor.

The campaign trail

During the campaign, Pahayagang Balikas reported that Bernadette Sabili alleged Santos-Recto of spreading flyers surrounding the “big” loans of the city government for public projects that were under the auspices of Meynard

Bernadette dared Santos-Recto to release documents and, if releasing these is not possible, Santos-Recto should give way to Bernadette. She also accused Santos-Recto of massive vote buying using the capitol’s resources.

Santos-Recto’s alleged flyers listed down the city government’s current loans and reported privatization of government services such as water utilities and even constructing a new city hall.

Pahayagang Balikas reported that Bernadette responded with point-by-point explanations on the listed loans for the city hospital, public market, a sports academy, new patrol cars, and constructing a new city hall.

They also said that contrary to the allegations, the city government has only loaned P100 million and not P300 million thus far for the city hospital and that the new city hall building won’t be financed by loans.

But apart from the loans the city government of Meynard and the city council had approved in the last three years, Lipa City faces urbanization problems such as traffic gridlock, waste segregation, reported drug trafficking and rising jueteng (an illegal numbers game).

Bernadette had conceded to Santos-Recto. “This (electoral) journey gave me a deeper meaning,” she said in her May 10 Facebook post.

Reelectionist vice mayor Eric Africa is 37,055 votes ahead of Raul Montealto. Africa (then Bernadette’s partymate who jumped to Recto's camp this year) was a councilor in 2011 who voted to let the city government borrow some P300 million for the city hospital.

However, Africa criticized the sitting mayor during the campaign for the loans, with the former saying “won’t allow Lipa to be buried in debt.”

Independent and neophyte bet Camille Lopez (76,921) topped the race for members of the city council.

As for working with the newly-elected congressswoman of Lipa, Meynard said he is willing to cooperate with the outgoing provincial governor.

Marlon Alexander S. Luistro is the editor and Jeremaiah M. Opiniano is the publisher of The Filipino Connection, a regional partner of Philstar.com. 

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