In the early part of 2008, I wrote a paper for the Institute for Popular Democracy (which I also presented in the PPSA) on the decline of the Imperials of Albay Province. The paper concludes that if the clan will not reinvent itself and if the members of the clan’s later generation will not step their foot in politics, the clan will eventually lost its hold on local power.
Indeed, on April 11 this year, the clan’s political patriarch died and it signaled the death of the clan in local politics. He is Carlos “Papay” Imperial, the son of Domingo. Papay served as the Congressman of the Second District of Albay from 1965-1972; an Assemblyman from 1978-1984; and a Congressman again from 1987-2004. His wife, Norma, substituted for him to fill-in his term limits from 1998-2001.
Because of branding, Papay is known to many but only as a congressman and political patriarch. A very limited few, mostly those within the political circles, is aware that he is a lawyer by profession, that he is a Third Placer in the 1957 Bar Exams, and that he also has a degree of Master of Laws from Harvard University. In the surveys I also conducted in 2006 and 2007, only 5% knew that he authored significant laws like the Bicol University Charter and the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital, among others. The reason: Papay do not want to flaunt his accomplishments especially in the later part of his life. According to Mayor Gerry Jaucian of Daraga:
Kan kita nagsirbing mayor sa Daraga, yaon si Congressman na pirming naka-antabay para kita suportaran lalo na sa mga proyekto na kung saen limitado lang an pondo kan munisipyo. Kaiba sa mga proyektong katabang niyato si Congressman Imperial iyo an mga infrastraktura arog kan mga tinampo, line canals, school and barangay facilities.
There are also claims that the destruction and death caused by the mudslide in 2006 after the Typhoons Milenyo and Reming could have been greater if the Congressman did not provide funds for the desilting of the rivers from Mayon Volcano. “Kaya lang,” explained one of the persons close to him, “habo niya lang talaga ipang-hambog an mga naginibuhan niya dahil naniniwala siya na aram iyan kan mga tawo.”
Papay was also one of the founders of the Bicol Block, “a strong political group committed haggling development programs and projects for the region in exchange for delivering a united vote from the Bicol peninsula.” The members of the block includes the Albertos of Catanduanes, Espinosas of Masbate, Fuentebellas and Alfelors of Camarines Sur, the Pimentels of Camarines Norte and the Imperials of Albay. They were active and highly respected from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.
Papay’s Cousins in Public Office
During Papay’s stint as Congressman and Assemblyman, a number of his relatives also occupied elective posts. These include his first cousins Gregorio Jr., Antonio and Benjamin who all became mayors of Legazpi City, and second cousin Felix, Jr., who became the governor of Albay.
The Imperials are tagged as political elites but this does not seem to apply to Benjamin. He is the Erap Estrada of the mayors of Legazpi City less the open womanizing,and the cases of plunder. “Masyadong maka-masa si Benjamin mala ta maski saen mo masabatan, puwede mo siyang ranihon dahil pirmi nakangirit”, Lolo Siyano, a barber from the mountain barangay of Legazpi explains. “Maski naglalakaw sa kalye, pag inagadan mong tabang, mabotbot tulos sa bulsa. Masyadong mahamot an pangaran niya sa masa kaya kan magadan siya, dakul namundo asin nakidamay”.
Benjamin was being looked up to as the clan’s patriarch for his “masa appeal” but he died even before finishing his term as mayor. While Papay’s expertise in on legislation, Benjamin’s is more on governance especially on the execution part. His death, however, cut short his political career and was succeeded by his vice mayor, the late Imelda Roces.
The New Generation
If the death of Benjamin led to the ascension of the Roces clan in Legazpi, the death of Papay also resurrected the Bichara Clan in provincial politics. Papay’s decline in power also strengthened other political players including the Salcedas and Rosals. Because of the lack of political heirs, there are claims that the late Papay fully supported the incumbent governor Joey Salceda who is now on his second term after spending his years in the Third District. Similarly, the lack of heirs also led the Imperials to lose their bailiwick, Legazpi City, to the Rosals — former mayor Noel Rosal and his wife, Geraldine.
The Imperials, Salcedas and Rosals were allies. But while the Salcedas maintained its alliance with the Imperial Clan, Rosal, through Noel, broke ties. From then on, Noel and Papay’s nephew, Michael, engaged in an almost perennial fight for the mayoralty seat. Noel won and, consistently, Michael lost. It appears that Michael lacked the proper strings to pluck in times of the campaign as well as the political database housed in the head of his uncle, Papay. Likewise, surveys also show that he lacks the “masa charm” of Benjamin as the grapevines portray him as an elite though in reality, he can also sway like a bamboo and flow like a river. This is more of a problem with imaging and communication.
But Michael was able to prove his worth by also serving as a city councilor of Legazpi prior to running for mayor. In 2010, he ran for vice mayor but lost. The good thing is, his vote-generation figures are rising and, if he gets the proper strategies in 2013, chances are, he could be the next Mayor of Legazpi.
Aside from Michael, Papay’s nephew, Harold, also tried to revive the name of the clan. When Papay and Michael lost in their bids in 2007, Harold got the clan’s banner and planted it in the halls of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. This 2010, Harold was elected vice governor beating the longest occupant of the post, James Bayan Calisin, with more than 40,000 votes. Political gossips have it that Harold will soon become Albay’s governor as Joey Salceda is being considered for a cabinet post under the Aquino Administration. If this happens, then the clan will be able to fully resuscitate itself politically and once again carve the glory it once held.
The third Imperial who also cast his fate in the 2010 elections is Nino Imperial, Papay’s son. Nino run for the provincial board representing the Second District and won. This was his first attempt. He was hardly known but because of the clan’s machine, he made it on the third spot gaining 19% of the total votes cast. The highest was Neil Montallana with 26% followed by Ralph Andes with 23%. Montallana and Andes are both re-electionists.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
No doubt, the Imperials also made a significant part of Albay’s and Bicol’s political history. Their contributions, however, are largely unwritten courtesy of our historians who thought that history is nothing but the affairs during the Spanish period.
The clan’s case is also the case of other political players in the region. At present, only the Fuentebellas of Camarines Sur have a book of their own courtesy of Lilia Realubit. The book is entitled “Jose T. Fuentebella: Nationalist and Statesman“. But the Fuentebellas is only one of the players. There are also significant Bicolanos who made contributions not only in politics but in other aspects of human life as well. They also bridge the gap from the stone age to where we are now and possibly possess the answers why we are not moving in some aspects and advancing in others. Sabi ngani, “It is only by looking back that we learn how to move forward”.
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