25-year-old ends 30-year Mondejar reign in Iloilo town

Erik Tenedero, ABS-CBN News

Christian Sorongon, the 25-year old mayor-elect of New Lucena, Iloilo with his young supporters during the campaign period. Photo from Christian Sorongon’s Facebook account.

(UPDATED) Christian Sorongon never imagined he would one day become the mayor of his hometown, New Lucena in Iloilo.

But more than becoming the town mayor, the 25-year-old Sorongon never imagined he would someday challenge a political clan whose rule started even before he was born. For three decades, New Lucena was ruled by someone from the Mondejar clan. 

In 1986, Buen Mondejar was first appointed officer-in-charge (OIC) of the town. Come 1988, he was officially elected and held the mayoral seat for a decade. 

His brother June Mondejar succeeded him in 1998 and ruled for another nine years. 

When his term ended, his sister Liecel Mondejar-Seville took over and was elected for three consecutive terms. Her term as a mayor is set to end this 2016 and it was her husband, Rico Seville, who was prepped to become the next mayor. 

But Sorongon, who became a city councilor at the age of 19, decided to step up and challenge the ruling family. 

ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE

Sorongon was on his way to becoming a lawyer when he decided to run for the town's highest seat. 

His mother was hesitant at first. He also admitted that he was scared. 

But young Sorongon said the “strong clamor of people” made him decide to set aside first his dream of becoming a lawyer and give in to his own dreams for his town. 

“I feel that I can make a change when I enter politics. To prove to the people that not all politicians are the same. That there are politicians who are sincere in serving the people and are incorruptible,” he said. 

As with the case of any political rivalry, mudslinging ensued the moment campaign began. 

Sorongon was accused of using drugs and of having an illness, allegedly the cause of his huge weight loss. He denied all these. Even his sexuality was not spared and was made an issue during the campaign. 

But Sorongon said what concerned him most was the alleged threat to his life and cases of vote buying.

“They would tell me that the people seemed to be really swayed by money. There were even some supporters telling me that I will not win if I will not buy votes,” Sorongon said. 

“The opponents were already celebrating. The night before the elections, I was ready to lose,” he added. 

THE OTHER SIDE

Mondejar-Seville, the incumbent mayor, denied all the allegations against her family. 

“Maybe he's hallucinating,” Mondejar-Seville said, referring to Sorongon's claim of alleged threats to his security. 

“Nagpapalabas siya ng mga istoryang ganyan na hindi naman totoo... Tapos sinasabi niya na may goons dito pero wala naman kaming nakikitang goons dito,” she said. 

She also dismissed the mayor-elect's claim that her family ruled with an iron-fist.

“That's a lie,” she said. “Hindi totoo 'yan na walang democracy. Sila nga free to talk sa entablado kung ano gusto nilang sabihin. They are free to talk to the media, wala bang democracy 'yan? Wala bang freedom 'yan?”

As with the allegation of vote-buying, Mondejar-Seville said it was Sorongon's camp who was engaged in using money in exchange for votes. She said funds for a cash for work program was used to influence people.

But Sorongon said the accusation is baseless. “The ‘cash for work’ is a program of DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment). I have no formal connection with this program,” he said. 

POLITICAL DYNASTY

For Mondejar-Seville, the long list of accomplishments that their municipality achieved under her family’s rule is proof of their effective leadership. 

But despite her family’s years of reign, she said she is not sure if they can be called a political dynasty.

“Ang intindi ko ng political dynasty is ina-appoint. Idinaan naman sa isang eleksyon,” she said. “Binoto tayo ng mga tao because they believe that we can deliver and serve the people.”

Mondejar-Seville said Sorongon also has relatives occupying elected positions. 

The mayor-elect admitted that his brother Noy Noy is an outgoing city councilor while his other brother, Edgar, is an incumbent barangay captain whose term is ending in October. 

“I don’t consider myself coming from a political dynasty or is building a political dynasty. The Sorongon family is in service for only six years in my town; the Mondejars are in position for 30 years,” he said.

Although the Constitution prohibits the establishment of political dynasties in the country, there is still no enabling law effectively banning it. 

MOVING FORWARD

Sorongon won after getting a total of 6,099 votes. Rico Seville, his opponent, got 5,107 votes. 

“My initial reaction was it was heartwarming. I cried. It's so heart-warming that when I was finally proclaimed as mayor-elect, the people were the ones thanking me because I fought for them instead of me thanking the people after elections as usually done by politicians,” he said. 

For the Mondejar clan, the outgoing mayor said they already accepted the decision of the people and Sorongon’s victory. 

“It’s their decision. We respect that. Natalo ‘yung husband ko,” Mondejar-Seville said. 

“Dismayado rin tayo kasi they did not consider the good performance na ginawa natin for the town. Mas naniwala sila sa mga issue at kasinungalingan na binato ng kalaban. It’s for them to face the consequences. Let’s just hope for the best of New Lucena,” she said.

For Sorongon, he said there is work to be done and he believes he can deliver the change that his constituents demand. 

He promised to work hard for the municipality, particularly children, farmers, the poor sector of their community, persons with disabilities, and the lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 

He said he may be young, but he has the genuine desire to protect his people and fight for a better community that they deserve. 

“This year’s election may have divided us but it’s now time for unity for the good of our community,” he said. – with Janina Carpio, Ruzzel dela Cruz, and Angelica Celine Tolentino

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