Mayor Josefina “Joy” Belmonte of Quezon City is running for her second term in next year’s election against Congressman Mike Defensor of Anakalusugan Party-list, who is making his second bid for the position.
Defensor rose to fame during the 2000s as a member of the so-called “Spice Boys” in the House of Representatives and as a loyal cabinet official during the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. However, Defensor’s foray in electoral politics has been marred with failures. He unsuccessfully ran for senator in 2007, and lost his first bid to be Mayor of Quezon City in 2010 against Herbert Bautista. He remained uninvolved in politics for several years before winning a congressional seat in 2019 as the first nominee of the newly-created Anakalusugan Party-list.
Last year, Defensor was one of the attack dogs – together with Rodante Marcoleta and Crispin Remulla – who led the charge against media giant ABS-CBN’s application for a new broadcast franchise in 2020. And this 2021, Defensor organized public events in Quezon City for the distribution of Ivermectin – an anti-parasitic drug being falsely touted as a cure against COVID-19.
The renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise will be one of the major issues to be discussed in the context of the 2022 elections, and Belmonte can use it to her advantage. It will certainly be relevant in Quezon City’s mayoralty race given that the station is based here and that Defensor played a leading role in blocking its renewal. It is also worth pointing out that Congresswoman Precious Hipolito-Castelo, the wife of Councilor Winnie Castelo who is Defensor’s running-mate, also voted to deny ABS-CBN a new franchise.
In February 2020, Belmonte voiced her support for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, citing the network’s “long-standing partnership” with Quezon City over projects like the establishment of the La Mesa Eco Park and the Eugenio Lopez, Jr. Senior High School. “Aside from being one of our city’s top taxpayers, ABS-CBN employs thousands of our city’s constituents, whose families would suffer should its legislative franchise not be renewed,” she added.
When COVID-19 pandemic hit Quezon City particularly hard, thousands of its residents including those from Barangay Batasan Hills and Payatas received relief assistance from ABS-CBN’s “Pantawid ng Pag-ibig” program. When Congress denied with finality ABS-CBN’s franchise application, Belmonte reiterated the importance of ABS-CBN for the city.
“From the perspective of a local chief executive… definitely a mayor’s concern are the people, their employment, the taxes, of course, and the revenue that would be generated from businesses which will go back to the people in the form of services,” she said. The mayor’s cousin, Congressman Kit Belmonte of QC’s Sixth District, also spoke in favor of ABS-CBN although he was not able to cast a vote since the network’s franchise application was already killed at the committee level.
Defensor has not won an election on his own right since 1998 – the year he won reelection as congressman of the city’s third district. Eleven years after his first unsuccessful bid to become mayor, Defensor is now presenting himself as a shiny new object for the city’s residents. But Belmonte should be able to hit him over his leading role in killing ABS-CBN’s operations. After all, one survey found out that 75% of Filipinos support the network’s bid for a new franchise.