By Beting Laygo Dolor / Contributing Editor
In the post-World War II years, a poor kalesa driver named Pablo Cuneta began to make a name for himself in the rough and tumble world of Pasay City politics.
A small city right beside the Philippine capital of Manila, Pasay was also known as Sin City. On a per capita basis, Pasay had more bars, Jueteng (illegal numbers) operations, and gambling dens than any other city or town comprising Metro Manila.
Known as “Ambo”, Cuneta would go on to become the longest serving mayor in the Philippines. His political career thrived during the time when there were no term limits for elected officials.
Mayor Cuneta gained a reputation as some kind of Robin Hood. His home and office were always open to the thousands of poor residents of the city seeking jobs, food or cash handouts. They rarely left empty handed.
Where he got his money has always been a matter of conjecture. But the fact that he never ran out of funds is well known. So wealthy was Cuneta that he could flaunt ownership of not one, but two, Rolls Royce cars.
He once lost his post as mayor to Dr. Jovito Claudio but recovered his post by beating his Claudio in the succeeding election.
In all, Pablo Cuneta served as Pasay City mayor for a little more than 40 years, a record that has not been broken.
When he finally passed away at the ripe old age of 90 in September of 2000, it appeared that Cuneta had set the stage for his family to continue reigning over Pasay City politics. His wife Elaine had been elected member of the House of Representatives, while an assortment of relatives held various local government posts, from the barangays to the city council. He even installed his brother as head of the Pasay City Hospital, which was built during his term.
From the start, however, it had been known that he had been grooming his daughter to one day take his place as mayor of his city.
That daughter was Sharon Cuneta, who became one of the Philippines’ biggest stars, both as a recording artist and as an actress. Called The Megastar, she was not only one of the country’s top stars, she had the political pedigree to boot.
Her mother Elaine happened to be the sister of singer-actress Helen Gamboa, who was married to entertainer Tito Sotto, now Senate president. Sharon was also married to Senator Kiko Pangilinan.
With her clean cut image intact throughout her long career in show business, the post of mayor of Pasay was hers for the taking.
There was only one catch. Sharon Cuneta never had the stomach for the Pasay brand of politics.
Mayor Cuneta is known to have “anointed” a councilor to take over as city mayor while his daughter was not yet prepared to enter politics. This was in the person of PeeWee Trinidad, who was known to own and operate a number of bars and beer houses throughout the city.
After serving out his maximum term, Trinidad stepped down. The Pasay electorate was waiting for Sharon to finally take the plunge and reclaim the mayorship for the Cuneta clan.
She continued to refuse but in the May 2019 elections, her brother decided to take on their father’s mantle.
A pilot by profession, Cesar ‘Chet’ Cuneta is the last hope of the family to return as a force in the city’s politics.
With the support of President Rodrigo Duterte and with his still very popular sister campaigning for him, one would think that Chet Cuneta would be a shoo-in to regain his father’s former post.
As insurance, he even registered his name in the ballots as “Chetsharon” Cuneta, openly riding on the coat tails of his sister. Sharon described her 57-year-old brother as “simple and honest.”
Unfortunately, Chet Cuneta has neither the charisma of his sister nor the political savvy of their father.
A recent survey showed that his chances of winning were either slim or none.
It would seem that the Cuneta magic of old has now disappeared. A new dynasty has taken over, headed by incumbent Mayor Antonio Calixto, whose father was among those who became city mayor in the post-Cuneta years.
The incumbent mayor is fielding one of his relatives to go against the son of the late former mayor. A Social Weather Stations survey released last week showed that Pasay voters preferred Emi Calixto-Rubiano over Chet Cuneta by a margin of 81 percent to 14 percent.
Unless Sharon replaces her brother and runs for mayor, it is clear that the Cuneta dynasty of Pasay City is now a thing of the past.