MASBATE - The name Antonio Kho is familiar to almost everyone in Masbate.
A veteran in politics, his career spans decades. He has been a mayor, governor, and recently, a congressman.
“He is the reigning political kingpin,” says Dr. Prospero de Vera of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance.
Kho, however, is a veteran in another thing: being accused of using violent means to silence his political opponents.
|Masbate gubernatorial candidate Antonio Kho. ABS-CBN
Kho had been incarcerated for more than two years for allegedly ordering the murder of Rep. Tito Espinosa in 1995. He was later acquitted.
He was also charged for, but later absolved of, the killing of Rep. Moises Espinosa Sr. in 1989.
The Lanetes blamed him as well for the ambush of the late Rep. Fausto Seachon Jr., and the attacks on incumbent Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete.
“I’m wondering,” Kho told ABS-CBN News in an interview. “Do I look criminal?”
An engineer by profession, Kho first entered politics when he ran and won as mayor of Cataingan town.
Years later, in 1992, he won as congressman of the third district.
“That was the first time Espinosa tasted political defeat,” he says, referring to Moises Espinosa Jr., whose father was murdered years back.
Kho’s winning streak continued in 1998, when he won as governor shortly after winning his election protest against Gov. Emilio Espinosa Jr. in connection with the 1995 gubernatorial polls.
Kho often considers himself the “liberator” of Masbate from the Espinosas, who used to be the most powerful family in the province.
In 2007, after three terms as governor, Kho became congressman of the 2nd district. His wife, Olga, replaced him. They both defeated the Espinosas who ran for the same positions.
After Kho versus Espinosa, the main battle in Masbate is now between Kho and the incumbent governor, Lanete.
Armed no more?
His political career may have been tarnished by murder accusations, but Kho insists his conscience is clear. He says he never killed anyone to advance his political career.
Kho admits that for security reasons, his group used to be armed. But it’s a thing of the past, he adds.
“In the last election exercise, I surrendered high-powered firearms,” he says. “There is no use, because the people’s clamor is change. Why would you scare the people?”
|Kho is the incumbent 2nd District Representative of Masbate. ABS-CBN
Today, Kho still has security escorts, but says all of them were provided by the police and are thus legitimate.
Kho has not yet reached a third term in Congress, but he wants to be governor again, claiming that the people want him back at the capitol.
“They are disgusted … at the performance of this administration. They need change, but they haven’t seen any,” Kho says. “That’s why I was forced to run for governor.”
He believes he has nothing more to accomplish as a lawmaker, after having cemented many national roads in the province.
Marikina-born Olga, his wife, is running to replace him as the 2nd district representative three years after she lost to Lanete in the gubernatorial race.
Like her husband, Olga says the people want her back in Masbate politics.
“It’s our political strategy. He will be governor, and I, congresswoman,” she says.
Among the couple’s priorities should they both get elected is boosting Masbate’s tourism industry. Kho owns an island and several resorts—-including one named after him, “Khokak”—-but these are closed because of lack of funds.
Masbate is rich in natural resources and scenic spots, but the couple says the tourism potential has not been maximized.
Their return to power will open Masbate to tourism, the Khos say.
“We want to show that Masbate is beautiful and that it’s not scary here,” says Olga.
Despite their plans, the couple continues to be hounded by accusations of being behind the province’s violent political atmosphere.
Lanete also claims the two left behind a provincial government in shambles after their respective terms as governor.
‘Now or never’
Whatever his critics say, Kho says he will win, confident of the support of many local candidates.
“This election is very important. This is all or nothing,” he says. “It’s now or never.”
“The moment I win this fight, I think they will be softened and discouraged to continue their political career.”
Lanete is up for the challenge: “May the best man win.”
Months before the polls, Masbatenos are already concerned about Kho’s face-off with Lanete. Because of their deep-seated animosity towards each other, some fear it could spark a fresh wave of violence.
Another newcomer in politics, however, emerged to challenge them.
Can he wage a good fight against two of Masbate’s political giants?
(To be continued)