By Johanne Margarette R. Macob, VERA Files
Dagupan City – Who’s the better man? Or who’s facing fewer charges?
It’s a battle all the way to the top for Pangasinan gubernatorial candidates Amado Espino Jr and Hernani Braganza in their race to claim Urduja House, amid plunder charges filed against them.
Just last week, both candidates were endorsed by political heavyweights, both of the same clan. On April 21, former President Fidel Ramos endorsed his nephew Alaminos mayor Braganza.
“If Nani Braganza will be elected governor of Pangasinan, I am sure that foreign and domestic investors will take a second look at our province and pour in the much-needed investments to jumpstart the local economy,” he said during his reunion with the Braganza family in Asingan.
Meanwhile, Ramos’s sister, former senator Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani and her son re-electionist Board Member Ranjit, officially announced their support for Espino.
"My candidate is Governor Amado Espino Jr. for governor of Pangasinan,” Shahani said during the April 23 barangay night in Asingan.
“We are supporting Espino because he is the better man,” Ranjit said, citing Espino’s achievements in his term. Ranjit did not get the LP nomination for his bid for vice governor. He then sought a reelection bid supporting Espino, who is running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).
And while Liberal party bet Braganza was endorsed by no less than President Aquino himself during the Team PNoy’s visit to Pangasinan in February, mayoralty rivals in Ramos's hometown Asingan and Bragaganza's city Alaminos have teamed up to back Espino. Even village chieftains in Alaminos are supporting Espino.
Local surveys also show that Espino is leading by a wide margin. Espino was congressman in Pangasinan, 1st district, from 2001 to 2007 before he was elected governor.
Espino, however, faces a slew of charges. In October last year, a group called for Espino’s suspension due to alleged illegal black sand mining operations in Lingayen. In January, the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) issued the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the Lingayen Gulf Course Project, to be built on the supposed mining site. The case is pending with the Ombudsman.
In December, an LP mayor filed a plunder case against Espino for allegedly receiving protection money from jueteng operators in the province.
The National Bureau of Investigation also charged Espino and 1st district Representative Jesus Celeste for the murder of Infanta Mayor Ruperto Martinez. The family of Martinez, however, stated its support for them and filed a murder charge against a certain Atty. Florante Miano. Both cases are also pending.
Despite these charges, Espino, who is on his last term if he wins this year, has not been suspended. He dismissed all allegations to be “politically motivated.”
Braganza, who has been Alaminos mayor since 2004, has faced as many setbacks. In November, Braganza was accused by 11 Alaminos City village chieftains of allegedly withholding funds from his non-allies and confiscating their village patrols.
Also, 11 incumbent and four former barangay chiefs have filed in January 11 a 300-page plunder charge against Braganza and other city government officials for alleged ghost projects, including a P300 million loan for a city hospital, hotel, and building for a local university.
Braganza has denied and denounced the charges. All cases against him are still under investigation.
Pangasinan, which is made up of six districts, 44 municipalities, and four cities, is a top vote-rich province with about 1.6 million registered voters. NPC has 43 mayoral candidates, as opposed to LP’s 29. NPC has 28 candidates running for re-election while LP has only three.
(VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for true.)