Leaning back into his wicker chair, Jose Ginez, mayor of Santa Maria in the Philippine province of Pangasinan, was almost gloating. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' he smirked, characterising the current race for his successor as he sees it. One of the candidates is his wife, Pining 'Pinky' Ginez, 24. They met when she was 17 during the Miss Santa Maria beauty pageant in which she was runner-up. And one of her six opponents is his ex-live-in lover. Josefina 'Pining' Bejar Ginez, a 61-year-old grain trader, is indeed an angry woman. Not only did she help finance his previous campaigns, she said the man she lived with for 22 years, until his marriage last December ended their relationship, had promised her that she 'could be mayor' when he could no longer hold office. Serving his third and constitutionally mandated final term, Mr Ginez, 46, admittedly is reluctant to give up power. So he has Pinky 'pinch-hitting' for him, an increasingly common practice across the country as men who are being forced out of office because of term limits use their wives or daughters to front for them while they still control the local scene from the back seat. Pining could think of four towns surrounding Santa Maria that fit that scenario. In Santa Maria, the bizarre story of Pinky, Pining and Jose is less a parade of the wackiness of Philippine elections as it is a sordid tale of the abuse of power rampant in local politics here. Aside from her personal vendetta, Pining argues that her former lover is simply a crook once acquitted of murder who is now using intimidation and money to maintain his control over their small town. But he is having none of that. Community leaders believe only Pinky as the mayor could sustain the peace and order, growth and development he achieved, he says, through programmes that supposedly turned around the town of some about 24,000. And to make sure she does the job properly, he has been teaching her the rudiments of politics and training her to depend on herself. But until Pinky can act on her own, not to worry. 'Once she gets elected most decisions will come from me - hopefully she will appoint me as her private secretary and authorise me to sign papers,' he said with a big grin breaking across his handsome face. There are precedents, he believes. Take Corazon Aquino, for instance, the housewife with no political experience who relied on her advisers. 'Running affairs of government isn't hard to learn,' says Mr Ginez. His protege, a slender woman with long hair and a fringe, looks more like a demure school girl. When ordered to fetch drinks for some guests, Pinky appeared even less commanding. She admitted campaigning made her nervous, particularly when the constituents tell her she's too young. 'I tell them, I'm young, but I'm aware of the problems of the town,' she argues. But, asked if she had any ideas of her own for governing once elected, the answer was no. There have been accusations that Pinky never finished her college studies in English. That is why her pink and green campaign poster uses a photo of her in a cap and gown, says her husband who called himself her de facto campaign manager. The mayor claims he and Pining separated six years ago. Legally she cannot use his surname because they were never married, but is doing so only to confuse voters who must write down the name of their choices on ballots. A simple 'Ginez' entry will be thrown out. So Pinky stands to lose votes unless supporters use her first name or nickname. To complicate an already messy scene, one of the five male candidates is also a Ginez. He is the mayor's distant cousin, who, according to Pining, was also promised he could 'inherit' the mayor's job. Pinky and her husband filed complaints against both candidates using the Ginez name. After two hearings in Manila, 181 kilometres south, at the elections commission, no decision has been made. A likeable woman in blue jeans and a polo shirt, Pining was reluctant to speak negatively about the people who destroyed her belongings in the rest house she used to grace as the town's First Lady, when she was called Mrs Ginez. 'The mayor is a powerful man,' she muttered repeatedly inside her grain store. 'There are many secrets of the mayor. But I do not want to speak.' By contrast, Domingo Casabar, a one-eyed furniture maker who is another candidate for mayor, is hardly tongue-tied. 'He [Mr Ginez] has gunmen. He was acquitted in regional court of the murder of his bodyguard whose body was found in a rice field. The judge was biased . . .' Mr Casabar continues to make accusations. There are more some questions about the death of another bodyguard and the strange disappearance of a policeman who had a gun Mr Ginez fancied. But there is no evidence to link the mysteries to the man. Nine years ago, Mr Casabar was elected vice-mayor when Mr Ginez was first made mayor. They came from opposing parties. 'He wouldn't give me space for an office. I had to see visitors under a tree.' Mr Casabar challenged the mayor in the succeeding two elections but was defeated by logistics. He refused to pay for votes, he said. He claims Mr Ginez is spending 400 pesos (about HK$80) per vote this time but does not know where he gets the funds. 'Members of the council don't want to fight him because they're scared,' he said surrounded by several of his workers nodding their heads in agreement. Mr Ginez is unperturbed. He believes his wife is a sure winner. Mr Casabar disagrees but says fear might become a major factor. 'In the day, she campaigns. In the night, he campaigns with his 20-odd bodyguards,' he said, referring to the 'guns, goons and gold' reputation of vote buying and intimidation that bullies the countryside. 'Pinky will be a good mayor,' Mr Ginez said looking out the sides of his eyes, 'because the professor is good.' But he did admit she has been warned. 'If she doesn't behave the way a chief executive behaves, I will just have her recalled.' Sitting outside his house with an angry gaze in his one good eye, Mr Casabar bristled. 'Tell the audience there is no democracy in Santa Maria.' On Monday, Pinky, Pining and Jose will find out whether that is true.