Only one vote to win

By Jesus F. Llanto,

Posted at May 01 2010 01:03 AM | Updated as of May 01 2010 11:34 PM

Yes, unopposed candidates still campaign. Find out how.

Only one vote to win 1MANILA, Philippines—Navotas City mayor and congressional candidate Toby Tiangco makes the rounds of the houses and stores along Apahap Street near Agora market this particular Saturday afternoon.

It's the usual house-to-house campaign with bands, vehicles playing political jingles and supporters distributing leaflets. But unlike the campaign of other candidates, Toby seldom mentions his name and the position he is seeking while talking to the residents.

“Erap po uli tayo at 6-0 po,” the outgoing 3-term mayor says as he shakes the hands of sewers in a small tailoring shop and urges them to support former president Joseph Estrada’s attempt to regain the presidency, and his party's 6 candidates for the city council.

Toby, who is the Metro Manila chair for Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), is wearing a shirt marked “Erap Pa Rin.” At one point, Estrada’s 1998 campaign jingle, “Jeep ni Erap,” plays on the background as the congressional aspirant goes around.

On the other side of the street, Toby’s younger brother John Reynald, who is entering politics for the first time to replace Toby as mayor, is introducing himself to residents, giving high-fives to the children. John Reynald, sporting an Erap tattoo near his right wrist, also asks Navoteños to support Erap and their local slate.

The Tiangco brothers do not need to campaign for themselves. They and their vice mayoral bet Patrick Joseph Javier are among the at least 278 candidates for the congressional and local elections who are running unopposed.

Newsbreak research, which is based on the official list of candidates posted on the website of the Commission on Election, showed that at least 14 congressional, 3 gubernatorial, 3 vice gubernatorial, 123 mayoralty, and 135 vice mayoralty candidates have no opponents in the 2010 elections.

“There will still be election [for the positions], but they only need one vote to win,” Commissioner Rene Sarmiento told

The 14 unopposed congressional bets represent 6.3% of the 222 seats allocated for district representatives. The 123 uncontested mayors represent 8% of the total municipalities, while 135 unopposed vice mayors accounts for 9% of the total municipalities.

(See "Unopposed Local Candidates, 2010")

The provinces with too many unopposed bets

What do the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, and Maguindanao have in common?
The 4 provinces have the most number of unopposed mayoral and vice mayoral bets in this year's elections.
Based on Newsbreak research, around 20-30% of the cities and municipalities in these provinces have mayoral candidates with no challengers in the polls. read more

Apart from Toby, other unopposed congressional candidates are former agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, who is running for congressman in Bohol’s 4th district, re-electionists Erin Tanada of the 4th district of Quezon, Simeon Datumanong in Maguindanao, and Mandaluyong’s Neptali Gonzales II; and third-term San Juan City mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito, who is running for the post to be vacated by Rep. Ronaldo Zamora.

Three gubernatorial candidates do not have opponents either: Davao del Norte’s Rodolfo del Rosario, Leyte’s Jericho Petilla, and Compostela Valley’s Arturo Uy.

Unopposed vice gubernatorial candidates, meanwhile, include Joel Almario of Davao Oriental, Ma. Mimieta Bagulaya of Leyte, and Ramil Gentuya, Uy’s runningmate in Compostela Valley.

Unopposed candidates claimed that their good track record as government officials is the reason why they have no opponents.

Re-electionist Mayor Alexander Pimentel of Tandag City in Surigao del Sur claims that his previous stint as a government official is the reason nobody challenged him. He said: “I performed well, that’s why I am running unopposed.”

“The people already loved me because of my track record and performance,” said Laoag City Mayor Michael Fariñas, another unopposed re-electionist.

Sarmiento, meanwhile, offered a different explanation: “This happens because the candidates may be too popular or too hard to beat.”

Bargaining, negotiations

Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, says that unopposed candidacies happen in the Philippines because there are politicians who are perceived to be strong and well-entrenched.

“If the opponent is perceived to be strong and has lots of money, his rivals will think that it is pointless to challenge him,” Lim told

Bargaining among aspirants also happens at the local level, he added. Some candidates will back out of the race but will ask for a reward from the other politician in exchange for not challenging the latter.

This scenario is similar to what happened to Malabon vice mayor Arnold Vicencio. Vicencio tells that he was supposed to challenge re-electionist Malabon mayor Canuto Oreta, but the latter asked him to instead run for a House seat. Vicencio threw his hat in the congressional race and Oreta became unopposed. The mayor, however, didn't keep his word and threw his support to re-electionist congresswoman Josephine Lacson-Noel.

“They asked me to join their line up, asked if I could be their congressional candidate,” Vicencio said. “After I file my candidacy, I don’t know what happened and I was not included in their slate.” (Oreta, meanwhile, told us in a separate interview that he does not know why he has no opponent in the mayoral race.)

University of the Philippines professor Prospero de Vera says that unopposed candidacies happen because some politicians can pay their rivals and ask them to abandon their plans to run.

“How much they pay is a function of how powerful their opponent is,” De Vera said.

A weak opposition, he adds, can also give way to unopposed candidacy. “If the opponents cannot unite with each other, there is a possibility that nobody will challenge the politician because his rivals are divided.”

Campaigning for allies

Without opponents, the unopposed candidates instead campaign for their local slates and their national candidates.

Mayor Pimentel said he is still campaigning not only for re-electionist congressman Philip Pichay and for his younger brother Johnny, who is running for governor of Surigao del Sur, but also for administration presidential bet Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

“It would be embarrassing if we appear like we're on a vacation while our party-mates are campaigning,” Pimentel said.

“As head of the [local] ticket, I still need to campaign for my councilors,” Mayor Tiangco told during a short break from his house-to-house campaign with the rest of the candidates of his local party, Partido Navoteños.

The mayor, however, says that unlike previous elections he does not need to organize too many campaign rallies because he has no challenger in the polls.

“Since I’m unopposed, it’s better that we conduct this (house-to-house) rather than force our councilors to sit on the stage during rallies and be given only a few minutes to introduce themselves and their platforms,” Tiangco added.

De Vera says that unopposed candidates who are showing solid support and loyalty to a national candidate can be a good source of command votes. “His command votes have bigger impact because he is campaigning actively [for a national candidate].”

Despite being assured of victory, the unopposed candidates say they still shell out money for the campaigns.

“As head of the ticket, I still need to share the expenses and the allowance of poll watchers,” Laoag City’s Fariñas said.

Tiangco, meanwhile, still contributed to the funds of Partido Navoteño to be used for the house-to-house campaigns. –with a report from Maria Althea Teves (