View Full Version : Corporate position to deadly politics

05-07-2007, 10:41 AM
The Manila Times
Monday, May 07, 2007
By Karl Wilson Agence France-Presse

Masbate polls a deadly game

MASBATE CITY: When Maloli Espinosa told her boss she was leaving her well-paid corporate job in Manila to run for Congress he asked her: “Why expose your daughters to this bloody heritage?”

The attractive 47-year-old mother of two adult daughters knew exactly what he was talking about.

For decades the Espinosas, a rich ranching family, dominated Masbate politics. But like so many provinces in the Philippines where political change tends to come through the barrel of a gun rather than the ballot box, the Espinosa’s have seen their fair share of death.

Political opponents gunned down her father, Cong. Moises Espinosa, at Masbate airport in 1989, seconds after he had stepped off a flight from Manila.

Six years later her uncle, Cong. Tito Espinosa, was murdered on the steps of Congress in Manila. And in 2001 her brother, Moises Espinosa Jr., was cut down in a hail of bullets while attending a town festival. He had been mayor of Masbate City for just 40 days.

All were victims of the fierce political rivalries that dominate politics in a country where votes are bought, political patronage is the norm and assassins can be hired for a few thousand pesos.

So why, against this bloody background, did she give up her job as vice-president for government, corporate affairs and public relations at ABS-CBN, the biggest television network in the country, to enter the murky world of politics?

“Many of my friends find it difficult to understand but there is something deep inside me that simply wants to serve the people of Masbate,” she told AFP in an interview.

“As a little girl growing up I wanted to be just like my father. But when any question came up about me entering politics he would change the subject. He didn’t want me in politics,” she said in the spacious living room of the family home just a few kilometers outside of Masbate City.

The two-story gray brick and wood house her father built sits in the middle of a three hectare walled compound but the metal security grates that cover the windows and patio areas is a reminder that in Masbate politics is a life-or-death business.

A family chapel also sits inside the compound, built shortly after a hand grenade was thrown at the family as they attended mass just a few years before her father was murdered.

“Although it didn’t explode my father was not prepared to take any more risks with the family even in God’s house,” she said of the place where her father and brother are buried.

Since campaigning began in January for the May 14 midterm elections, dozens of political workers and candidates have been murdered throughout the country—five of them in Masbate alone.

Espinosa knows what she is up against. Her opponent, former governor Antonio Kho, is a formidable foe having built a powerful support base in the province.

The son of a Chinese trader from Amoy, now the city of Xiamen on the eastern coast of China, the family migrated to the Philippines in the late 1940s.

Out on the campaign trail Espinosa travels in a convoy of three cars. At her feet are two handguns that belonged to her father, discreetly tucked inside a black plastic carry case, and on the front seat, two lightweight Kevlar flak jackets a friend brought back from Africa.

Her bodyguards, all employed from provinces outside Masbate, are also armed.

“I prefer it that way. Everyone has his price, I know, but I still feel a little safer knowing those protecting me and my workers are from outside the province,” she said.

Espinosa recounted an incident recently when her convoy ran head on into Kho’s convoy.

“At the time everyone froze. None of us did anything. We just waited to see who would fire first,” she said.

“It was one of those moments when anything could have happened. But the cars reversed and we passed each other and went on our way to our next campaign stop.”

Born in Masbate she spent her early years swimming with friends in the clear seawater off Masbate City, riding horses on the family ranch and accompanying with her father.

There were six children in the family, three boys and three girls, but Maloli was her father’s “little girl.”

“It was a wonderful childhood,” she recalled over coffee at the end of a day’s campaigning.

The room is filled with reminders of her father—his saddles and a life-size portrait of him on horseback looking every bit the cowboy.

“They were different days then. Peaceful, beautiful days,” she said.

Knowing that Masbate is the third poorest of the country’s 81 provinces, Espinosa wants to try and change the way politics is done here.


Politics is a kind of deadly game in our country, so bloody that it can even wipe clans and families. What a shame....