By Alfred G. Gabot
The “giant” killer of Pangasinan did it again.
Ramon “Monmon” Guico III, congressman, mayor, university president, pilot, businessman, among others, defeated incumbent Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino III in the biggest upset in Pangasinan politics during the hotly contested May 9 gubernatorial elections.
Governor-elect Guico, the outgoing congressman of the fifth district which includes our hometown Binalonan and nearby Urdaneta City, trounced Espino with 885,272 votes as against Espino’s 697,465 votes or a difference of 187,807 votes. Guico’s runningmate, reelectionist Vice Governor Mark Lambino, also won by a big margin against Espino’s candidate, Provincial Board Member Nikiboy Reyes.
This is not the first time that a Espino suffered defeat at the hands of the young Guico. In the 2019 elections, then Binalonan Mayor Monmon Guico unseated hen incumbent Rep. Amado T. Espino Jr., a Pangasinan political kingpin who had served as governor for three terms and congressman in second and fifth districts, earning him the monicker as “giant killer” of Pangasinan. Congressman Espino Jr. is the father of outgoing Gov. Espino III whom Guico trounced in the May 9 elections.
In the 2019 congressional elections, many had presumed that the young Guico was no match against the incumbent Espino Jr. because he represented only the small town of Binalonan. Espino, a native of Bautista town where the Philippine national anthem was written as a Spanish poem by Jose Palma, a political kingpin and a ranking police officer in the province and the Ilocos-Pangasinan region before that, was considered hard to beat in the district which, aside from Binalonan, Bautista and Urdaneta City, included the municipalities of Sison, Pozorrubio, Laoac, Alcala, Sto. Tomas and Villasis.
But Guico’s achievements and qualifications spelled the difference. He was three-term mayor who initiated the establishment of a municipal college called the University of Eastern Pangasinan which he served for a while as president in his bid to make Binalonan a university town. He also initiated with his family the opening of the modern Binalonan municipal airport, airfiled and hangar and the WCC Aeronautical and Technological College being a licensed pilot, and an economic zone besides it with a promise for faster economic progress, besides being young and well educated with a doctorate degree, and his reaching even the remote barrios during the campaign fascinated the people and picked him over the “old kingpin” who had not been seen in the district for a while as he was rumoured to be sickly.
The young Guico could have easily won a reelection for a second term as fifth district congressman because of his strong presence in the halls of Congress and the district in only his first term as a lawmaker, but he instead risked everything as he answered the calls of many political leaders for him to challenge Governor Espino.
The intense Pangasinan race was dubbed the battle of Guico’s Aguila (Alyansang Guico-Lambino) against Espinos’ API (Abante Pangasinan Ilocano). The gubernatorial race was made more exciting when political protagonists and voters aptly dubbed it as the battle of “Pogi” versus “Guwapo.” Governor Espino was widely known as “Pogi” while the equally handsome lawmaker was “Guwapo.”
It was actually a double whammy for the Espinos in the last election. This as the governor’s brother, Pangasinan 2nd District Rep. Jumel Anthony “Cong J” Espino, lost his reelection bid to a Guico ally, former congressman Mark Cojuangco, son of the late Ambassador and San Miguel Corp. Chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, who had just transferred to the second district from the fifth district. Cojuangco thus avenged his loss to the Governor Espino in the 2016 elections where his wife, former Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, also lost to the Espino patriarch in the fifth district congressional race.
Pangasinan’s fifth congressional district now has Ramon “Monching” Guico Jr., a former Binalonan Mayor, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) and senatorial candidate, as representative, replacing his son, Governor-elect Monmon Guico.
It was not actually a total shutout for the Espinos as Bugallon Mayor Priscilla Espino, mother of the outgoing governor, won her reelection bid.
Meanwhile, Vice Governor Lambino’s mother, Mayor Marilyn Lambino, wife of Presidential Adviser Raul Lambino, lost her reelection bid in Mangaldan town.
The Alyansang Guico-Lambino (Aguila) and its allies also won most of the congressional seats in Pangasinan aside from Cojuangco in the second district. In the first district, former congressman Art Celeste, who lost his gubernatorial bid in the 2019 elections, won over former Executive Secretary and Pangasinan governor Oscar Orbos. Celeste will succeed his brother, outgoing Rep. Arnold Celeste.
In Pangasinan’s third, fourth and sixth districts, Rep. Rachel Baby Arenas (PDP-Laban) and Los Angeles, California-born Rep. Christopher Toff De Venecia (Lakas-CMD) were reelected by landslide while former congresswoman Marlyn Primicias-Agabas is succeeding her husband Tyrone as congressional representative.
Guico had pledged during the campaign that his administration will initiate the construction of an eastern to western Pangasinan expressway and committed to improving the healthcare system in the provincial hospitals. Already, Pangasinan is reached faster as it is served by the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union expressway or TPLEX, the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway (SCTex).
At a press conference following his election victory, Guico said the expressway will provide access to efficient travel to famous tourist destinations in the province, generate more jobs, and support proposed economic zones from eastern towns of San Nicolas, Natividad, San Quintin and Umingan at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains to the western towns of Agno, Bani, Dasol up to Bolinao and the Hundred Islands.
“We are mapping out an expressway from the sixth district to the first district that would pass through the special economic zones. It would create more jobs and massive infrastructure projects,” the incoming governor declared.
Guico said his administration will also push for the opening of more economic zones in Pangasinan, to add to the economic zone in his hometown Binalonan located besides its airport. Under the planning board are the economic zones in the capital town of Lingayen, Mangatarem, and Aguilar towns, and Alaminos City.
Guico said his administration will also computerize records of patients in the 14 provincial government-run hospitals.
“If the patients do not have medical records then, they also don’t have a medical history. We will link the hospitals to each other for them to access patients’ records,” he said.
Guico said he will also add more medical diagnostic equipment and the medical personnel should be competent.
“As a governor, I will be the ambassador of the provnce to entice tourists to our province. To return the trust of investors to our province,” he added in a statement.
Guico said he will continue the scholarship programs of the provincial government. Guico, a former university president whose family owns and manages a chain of schools in Metro Manila and nearby areas, said he will be working closely with the Pangasinan State University and local universities and colleges.
“We would like to leave a legacy to the people wherein they will respect me because I served with competence, transparency, and an honest governor,” he said.
The writer is editor in chief of Philippine News Today, the premier Filipino American newspaper in the United States since 1961 as the Philippine News.