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Hopes to Hand Power to Sons : Cebu's Political Boss Survives in Aquino Era

May 12, 1987|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

DANAO, Philippines — Ramon M. Durano is 81 now, his big political battles behind him, his days in the old Philippine Congress only history.

It's been more than a year, Durano says, since he last talked to Ferdinand E. Marcos, whom he served as a staunch right arm in the island province of Cebu.

He'd like to make peace with Corazon Aquino, the new Philippine president, who calls him a Marcos warlord. "She's only been in office a year," Durano told reporters Monday at his seaside compound here. "Let's give Cory a chance."

But the man who built a political bastion on Cebu isn't quite finished. He intends to deliver the Durano machine to his sons, to give them the mantle of power, particularly in Danao, a city that served up 90% or more of its vote to Marcos in election after election for 20 years.

One of his four sons, Ramon III, ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in Monday's voting. Durano is slating another, Ramon Jr., for the mayoralty of Danao in the Philippine local elections tentatively scheduled for August. A Durano ruled in city hall for three decades before the fall of Marcos, when Aquino's government put in her own man.

Ramon III ("Nito"), 38, was in a tough race for the congressional seat centered on Danao, opposing Nenita Daluz, 48, a popular one-time Cebu radio personality with whom he served--although across the aisle--in the last Marcos Parliament.

Daluz enjoys enormous personal support from Aquino, and her supporters were getting out the vote throughout the contested district on Monday. Voting stretched into the early afternoon in Danao and other towns where the Durano machine used to have the balloting wrapped up by late morning. His opponents used to say the tally was complete even before the polls opened.

Votes Allegedly Bought

While the at-large national race for 24 Senate seats was the talk of Manila, here in the provinces it's the Congress seat that counts. "The only people important here are the (House) representatives," said Pedro Luyang, a repair shop owner, as he waited to vote in the town of Compostela.

No trouble was reported in the district, although Danao was considered a potential hot spot for election violence. Daluz supporters said, however, that money passed hands in the barrios Sunday night, 50 pesos ($2.50) for a Durano vote.

How will the son do? "Only God will prevent his victory," declared the old man, entertaining the reporters over a light lunch. "The son," said the man who represented northern Cebu for 24 years in the pre-martial-law Congress, "is a better edition of the father."

Sauntering around the table in typical attire--matching blue shirt and shorts and a stingy-brim cloth hat--Durano said he has retired from politics. He placed ads in the Cebu newspapers last year to make it official. To questions about the race, such as the financing, he replied, "You'll have to ask Nito."

But Durano remains a cagey sort. At one point, he mused about what he expects his son's margin of victory to be. Several times he took some personal digs at Daluz who, coincidentally, bears a physical resemblance to Imelda Marcos.

Power Trimmed

While the patriarch of the Duranos still has an oar in politics, unofficially at least, his power has clearly been trimmed. The barrios of Danao, up the coast from the big city of Cebu, were plastered last weekend with posters for Daluz. Before Marcos was driven from the country last year, no citizen of Danao would have dared to display an opposition banner.

Durano laughed off the incursion. "Nito has many more posters," he insisted, "and the opposition has to climb coconut trees to find room for theirs."

Last Friday, Aquino herself came to Danao, her helicopters landing a block from Durano's home, to campaign for the candidate whose supporters call her "Inday Nita," Inday being a Cebuano honorific for a woman of respect. It was one of few appearances the president made in support of a House candidate.

Even more telling than posters and presidential helicopters are the numbers. In the Marcos-Aquino race in February, 1986, the Durano machine claimed 58,000 registered voters in Danao, who voted overwhelmingly for the ousted president. For the congressional race, the number was 35,400, trimmed by an election commission no longer in Marcos' hands.

Aquino's government says the difference was ghost voters on Durano-padded registration lists. Durano contends they were people who have since moved away.

The numbers become important because of the popularity of Daluz in district towns outside Danao. There are more than 130,000 votes in the district, and the Durano machine can no longer count on majorities anywhere but Danao.

But his grip there may be enough to put his sons in Congress and city hall. The citizens of Danao are still beholden to the old man's companies for their jobs and to his charities for their welfare. They call him the manong, the godfather, and like Inday, it's a term of respect.

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