Lakas defections start in South, Gov. Ace led NP oathtakers in Surigao

The exodus of administration allies to the opposition camp has begun in a key province in the south.

Surigao Del Norte Governor Robert Ace Barbers, a stalwart of the old Lakas-CMD party, on Tuesday led more than 200 local officials in defecting to the Nacionalista Party, a move cheered by a crowd of 25,000 Surigaonons.

Senator Manuel Villar Jr., NP president, swore in Barbers, his brother Robert Lyndon, a former governor who is seeking the Surigao City mayoral seat in 2010, Mayor Alfonso Casurra and congressional bet Constantino “Banjo” Navarro III as the newest members of the country’s oldest political party.

“I deeply value your support, which comes at a time when strong partners are needed in helping rebuild the lives and restore the hopes of our people lashed by calamities,” said Villar, who was mobbed by the crowd soon after he arrived at the sprawling provincial sports complex at 10 a.m.

Villar worked the crowd after the oath-taking, causing a security nightmare to his security detail as he climbed the grandstand to shake the hands of the adoring crowd.

There was shoving and pushing as people jostled each other to get near Villar, who gamely posed for pictures all throughout his three-and-a-half-hour stay in the city. Surigao del Norte, home to renowned surfing island of Siargao, is a gateway to the Caraga region which has combined votes of over a million.

Ace Barbers told the Inquirer this signaled what he described as an “exodus” of administration allies into NP, which will field Villar as its standard-bearer in the 2010 polls.

“This is the start of the exodus of leaders from Mindanao who believe in the leadership of Manny Villar,” said the governor, who presides over an administration turf with 300,000 voters.

Villar said in an interview later that the defection showed that local officials believed in the vision of the NP.

“They agree that poverty is our biggest problem now in our country, and they believe in my capacity to solve this problem,” said Villar, pointing to an efficient, transparent and accountable government as key to solving the twin evils of poverty and hunger.

Wearing white t-shirts, the Surigaonons turned up in full force for the oath-taking ceremony.

Lyndon Barbers said he was surprised by the crowd turnout, saying local officials merely asked the Surigaonons to wear white—representing “purity” of leadership—if they believed in Villar.

Six mayors, seven vice mayors, provincial and municipal board members and barangay officials, many of whom are members of the local party Abante Surigao, also took their oath of allegiance to the NP in what Villar aides claimed was the biggest mass defection so far to the Villar camp.

Villar was accompanied by NP spokespersons, former Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo “Rimpy” Bondoc and lawyer Adel Tamano, a native of Mindanao who is strongly pushing for Mindanao representation in national political scene.

Before the oath-taking, Ace Barbers said he had obtained the permission of former Speaker Jose de Venecia and former President Fidel Ramos who co-founded Lakas-CMD.

De Venecia is himself supportive of Villar’s candidacy.

An official of NP who asked not to be identified by name as he was not authorized to make the announcement, claimed that former Sen. Ralph Recto was just waiting for the right time to join the NP as well.

“Expect more to follow,” said Barbers, who was chair of the influential House committee on accounts when he was still congressman.

Barbers, a member of the now disbanded “Spice Boys” in the House of Representatives, had entertained the idea of running for senator in 2007 following the death of his father, Sen. Robert “Bobby” Barbers, but postponed it amid a widespread clamor from Surigaonons for him to continue serving his provincemates.

Lyndon Barbers said local leaders resented the decision of the new Lakas-Kampi-CMD leadership to strip party stalwarts who lost in the 2007 polls of their positions in the merged party.

“So we did not go along with the merger,” said Lyndon, explaining the impossibility of political mergers at the local level.

“Imagine Mayor Duterte and Speaker Nograles, will they join forces? In Cebu, will the Garcias and Osmeñas unite? I don’t think so..." said the former governor. (Michael Lim Ubac, inquirer.net)

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