THE apparent attempt of Quezon City Mayor Herbert “Bistek” Bautista to break the alleged iron grip hold of the Belmonte family over the city’s organs of power by fielding candidates close to him in the recent national elections is said to be the cause of a crisis that now threatens his leadership.
Just nearly three months after the elections, Mayor Bautista’s younger councilor brother, Hero Clarence Bautista, was cornered into admitting that he is an illegal drugs victim, which many believed is an allusion to his being a drug user, and the Bautista family was forced to be on the defensive thereby greatly limiting their political options now and in the future.
Out of the blue and officially in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war, the head of the city’s Anti-Drug Abuse Advisory Council, Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte-Alimurong, on August 1; suddenly ordered a surprise drug testing for all of the 36 city councilors, even before their opening session have started. The vice mayor’s sudden move surprised Councilor Bautista, who has yet to perform his duty as a newly elected city legislator.
In a bid to control the growing damage caused by the result of the surprise drug test, Coun. Bautista, publicly admitted that he is a “victim of illegal drugs” in his first privilege speech at the city’s spacious session hall. At the same time, he announced his plan to take a leave of absence and go on a “retreat to find his true self.” He also vehemently denied speculations, especially on social media, that his mayor brother is a protector of illegal drugs.
The young Bautista’s condition as a drug victim is a not so well kept secret at the city council that the vice mayor’s decision to have a sudden drug test of the city councilors is hard to be interpreted any other way except that it was a deliberate subtle act to publicly humiliate and discredit the Bautista family.
However, a source close to the Belmontes, denied Hero was a target of the surprise drug testing saying that the vice mayor has no choice since she is mandated by law and Malacanang to hold a drug test. The source, at the same time, insisted that there is no existing feud between the Bautista and Belmonte families for her to act so deliberately.
“Hindi totoo na nag-aaway yung dalawa. Pinag-aaway lang sila ng media,” the source said.
Political pundits frequenting the Quezon City Hall agreed there is no feud but insists that Mayor Bautista’s decision to support loyal candidates in the last election is the reason for the blow back because that was seen by the Belmonte clan to be a direct challenge by Mayor Bautista to their dominance in the city’s political scene.
One such candidate who lost the elections is Tates Gana, mother of Mayor Bautista’s two children, who ran for the city’s 6th district. It is said that she is being groomed to rival the vice mayor who is reported to be set on becoming the city’s next chief executive but with her loss, it now seems unlikely that she would beat Vice Mayor Belmonte-Alimurong in the next election.
The Belmonte clan has been entrenched in Quezon City politics since 2001 when former House speaker now Rep. Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, patriarch of the Belmonte clan, became city mayor for nine years replacing the late Ismael Mathay Jr.
Currently the Belmonte clan has six family members in political office.
Starting with the Belmonte patriarch himself as the current congressional representative of the city’s fourth district, the family has VM Joy Belmonte-Alimurong, the city’s sixth district Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, and city Councilors Oliviere Belmonte (1st dstrict) and Irene Belmonte (4th district), and Serbisyong Bayan (SB) Party-list Rep Ricardo Belmonte Jr.
Even some key reporters covering the QC Hall seems to be under the thumb of the Belmontes, something that the lady vice mayor unwittingly revealed when she recently spoke before a gathering of media members. In it, she “reminded” them of the dangers of losing their objectivity because of their being “too close” to their government sources. Apparently, the vice mayor is becoming very uncomfortable with the regular favors being sought by some reporters covering the city government.
Another source, who asked not to be named, said the Belmontes made sure that none of Mayor Bautista’s strong candidates would win by conducting a determined but low-profile campaign against them in barangay’s perceived to be sympathetic to the Bautista’s.
“By exerting political muscle, none of Bautista’s strong candidate, except the young Hero, made it to the city council,” the source said in an interview inside one of the popular malls along North Avenue, Quezon City.
“But the former House speaker is not worried even if Hero won a council seat because he can easily be taken care of due to his being a victim of illegal drugs,” the source added.
The timing of the drug testing could not have been worse as it came in the heels of Pres. Duterte’s allegations that two former Quezon City Police Department chiefs, Superintendents Joel Pagdilao and Eduardo Tinio, are among the five alleged police officers coddling drug dealers. The two are now the subjects of government administrative cases.
Moreover, 72 QCPD personnel were recently relieved from their posts over alleged engagement with the narcotics trade and other illegal activities, giving rise to speculations that the youthful mayor of Quezon City, who is now on his last term, is somehow involved in illegal activities despite the vehement denials of the`city’s chief executive.
As a consequence, Mayor Bautista is now on the defensive making it very difficult for him to truly assert his leadership of the city government in the remaining three years of his last term as the city’s chief executive.
It is believed by many that Mayor Bautista’s decision to join the government peace panel in Oslo, Norway as it negotiates with the communist led National Democratic Front in ending the decades of communist led rebellion is primarily meant to avoid the political fallout of his vice mayor’s action and to earn points that could somehow save the political fortunes of his embattled family.
Whether deliberate or not, the result of Vice Mayor Belmonte-Alimurong’s drug test led the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption on Friday to file multiple administrative and criminal charges against Mayor Bautista and his city councilor brother before the Office of the Ombudsman.
However, it is not known if the Belmontes had a hand in the VACC’s decision to seek the prosecution and ouster from office of the Bautista brothers.
* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.