Bichara vs Rosal in Albay gubernatorial race

By Cet Dematera


A head-on collision is being anticipated in the Albay gubernatorial race as long-time allies Gov. Al Francis Bichara and Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal are slugging it out as main contenders in the province’s highest executive post in the 2022 local elections.


In a surprise move, Rosal, who is in his third and last term as Legazpi City mayor, filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) on Friday morning (Oct.8) for governor of Albay under the Katipunan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) Party of ex-Sen. Bam Aquino.


This despite Rosal’s consistent public pronouncements in the past that he is not running for governor, but instead he would engage in an all-out campaign for his wife Geraldine Rosal, who is running for mayor of Legazpi City. His wife was mayor of Legazpi in 2010 to 2013.


Bichara is gunning for his third and last term as Albay governor under the Nationalista Party.


The two seasoned and veteran politicians were formidable allies for over two decades.


But in 2019, Bichara and Rosal’s once “sweet” alliance had started to turn “sour” when broadcaster Hermogenes Alegre Jr., popularly known in media as “Jun Alegre,” who is a very close friend and confidante of Rosal, ran for governor against Bichara.


Despite private and public explanations made by Rosal and his camp that they had nothing to do with the decision of Alegre to run against Bichara, the latter did not believe Rosal’s explanation.


The sour relationship turned even worse when Rosal banned quarry activities in Legazpi City after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the concerned local government units (LGUs) surrounding Mayon Volcano in Albay to stop all quarry operations. The DENR’s directive was issued after dozens of people died and hundreds of houses were buried in mud and volcanic debris in Guinobatan town due to heavy rains brought by Typhoon Quinta.


After several months, all the LGUs surrounding Mayon had lifted the quarry ban, except for Legazpi City where quarrying activities remain on halt until now.


Rosal admitted that he got the ire of some politicians and businessmen for keeping the quarry ban.


“I told them that it’s not in my hand anymore to lift the ban. The DENR central office is now the one in charged to lift or not the quarry ban. I told them to write DENR Secretary Cimatu about the quarry issue,” Rosal said in several times in media interviews.


But Bichara brushed aside the quarry issue as a main reason why he is supporting a mayoralty bet for Legazpi City against Rosal’s wife Geraldine.


“We want change in Legazpi City. The Rosals have been running the city for over 21 years now. It’s high time to have a change (in leadership),” Bichara told a press conference after he and his party-mates filed their COC last Oct. 3.


It is a public knowledge that Bichara had reportedly prodded Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. to slug it out against the lady Rosal for the Legazpi mayoral post.


Despite this though, there is a prevailing and persistent public belief that the Jun ‘Alegre’s running’ against Bichara in the last election is still the main reason for the falling out between Rosal and Bichara.


Another reason that aggravated the Rosal-Bichara political split is reportedly due to the filing of corruption complaints to the Ombudsman by Albay Provincial Board member Rolly Rosal, younger brother of Noel, against Bichara and other provincial officials due to the questionable purchase of a 14-hectare land in Guinobatan, Albay amounting to P35 million.


With this break-up in political alliances, mudslinging is not a remote possibility in the duration of the campaign in Albay, political observers in the province said.