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Rosal, Bichara face off in gubernatorial race

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

All eyes are on Albay gubernatorial battle and Legazpi City political race as the local campaign began in the country.

An intense political battle is expected in Albay province and in Legazpi City after the political kingpins in the region’s capital slug it out for the first time in the history after over two decades of political alliance between long-time friends and political allies re-electionist Gov. Al Francis Bichara and Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal.

Rosal is running against Bichara for governor of Albay.

This is the first time that Bichara is facing a strong candidate since he was elected governor.

Rosal, who is in his third and last term as Legazpi City mayor, is running under the Katipunan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) Party of ex-Sen. Bam Aquino.

His candidacy for governor surprised Albayanos as they gave them a choice whom to elect for the province top post.

Bichara is running for his third and last term as Albay governor under the Nationalista Party. Bichara and Rosal are seasoned politicians in Albay and former formidable allies for over two decades.

Prior to the political break-up of two, Rosal consistently and publicly stated 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.

Geraldine, former mayor of Legazpi City in 2010 to 2013, is running against her godson Ako Bicol partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin.

During the 2019 local election, Bichara and Rosal’s poltical alliance turned “sour” when broadcaster Hermogenes Alegre Jr., popularly known in media as “Jun Alegre,” a very close friend and confidante of Rosal, ran for governor against Bichara.

Alegre’s decision to contest Bichara’s post created a rift between Rosal and Bichara.

Though Rosal denied that they had nothing to do with Alegre’s decision to run against Bichara, the latter did not believe the former’s explanation.

The rift between the two further aggravated 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 halt all quarry operations after volcanic materials flowed burying houses in Guinobatan during super typhoon Quinta in 2020.

After several months, the quarry ban was lifted, except in Legazpi City where it remained close until now. Bichara requested Rosal to allow quarry operation in the city to resume to generate funds for the province, however, the latter did not grant the same.

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

Bichara, in return, called for change in the Legazpi’s top post by backing the candidacy of Ako Bicol (AKB) Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. for mayor against Rosal’s wife Geraldine.

In a press conference on Oct. 3, 2021 press conference right after filing his candidacy, Bichara said “We want change in Legazpi City as the Rosals have been running the city for over 21 years now with slow economic growth and accomplishments. It’s high time to have a change in leadership.”

Bichara has Garbin and AKB Rep. Elizaldy Co on his side in his fight against the Rosals.

The conflict between Rosal and the AKB lawmakers, Co and Garbin, is quite intense and all eyes are on Legazpi City mayoral fight that stemmed from the controversy over the P2.1 billion pumping station, which according to Rosal is a white elephant project.

“When you elected me as a mayor in 2001. I showed you the governance with a heart for 21 years free from vested interest. Today, I am running for governor, for me Albayanos deserves more and better services,” he said.

He said that after super typhoon Reming in 2006, Legazpi City rose from catastrophic disasters through good governance as natural calamities, according to him, were never a hindrance for the development of Legazpi.

“Legazpi now is better than before Reming according to the World Bank and USAID. Despite the typhoons, calamities it was never a hindrance for the development of Legazpi. Because I believe that local government should be people empowerment. After Reming we were rated for five consecutive times as the most competitive cities in the country today despite the natural calamities,” he said.

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