The politics behind the ‘Ilocos Six’

In Philippine politics, it’s hard to determine who the real enemies are. Their enemies today could be their allies tomorrow or vice versa. Which reminds me of Benjamin Disraeli’s popular mantra: “We have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We just have permanent interests.” But the Ilocano psyche goes beyond that mantra. To Ilocanos, blood is thicker than water, but politics transcend blood relationships. So don’t be misled when brothers face each other in an election. The truth is: no matter who wins, power remains within the family. And that’s to keep others from getting into their “exclusive” domain.

Take the Ortega political clan for example. They’ve dominated politics in La Union for the past century. They have occupied the governor’s office, won congressional seats and provincial board seats, served as city and town mayors, and sat on city and town councils. They may be running against each other in these elections, but they remain “family.”

The Marcoses of Ilocos Norte are now in the same situation. After three generations in politics since World War II, they control the political pendulum in the province. Their patriarch, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, occupied the presidency for more than 20 years. When the People Power Revolution of 1986 deposed him, the family went into exile in Hawaii. But in the 1990’s they were able to come back and eventually, one by one, run for office. Daughter Imee Marcos is now the governor of Ilocos Norte while son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr. won a Senate seat; however, he lost in his vice presidential bid last year. The matriarch Imelda Marcos won the 2nd District congressional seat where her late husband began his political career.

Third generation Marcoses

In May 2015, Imee officially notified the Commission of Elections that she was a resident of Laoag. In September that same year, the three sons of Bongbong – Ferdinand “Sandro” Alexander III, 23, Joseph Simon, 22, and Vincent, 20 – registered as voters of Laoag City, claiming their dad’s house in Barangay Suba as their residence. Imee’s youngest son, Matthew Joseph Manotoc, 27, ran for the Ilocos Norte provincial board in 2016 and won.

It’s interesting to note that Manotoc topped the race edging Ria Christina Fariñas into second place. Ria Christina is Rudy Fariñas’ daughter. Manotoc’s lead over Ria Christina was of significant importance, which has raised a political red flag in the province. Rudy Fariñas is the patriarch of the powerful Fariñas family that had dominated politics in the 1st District for over half a century.

With the province split into two districts, one controlled by the Fariñas clan and the other by the Marcos clan, the two clans managed to coexist peacefully since the 1980s when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled the country.

In 1980, Rudy Fariñas, whose family owns and operates Fariñas Trans, one of the oldest fleets of northern Luzon buses, was elected mayor of Laoag, making him one the youngest mayors during his time. In 1988, Fariñas ran for Ilocos Norte governor and won in a landslide. He was reelected in 1992 and 1995. He served as governor for 10 years. After that, he ran and won in 1998 as the 1st District’s representative. He served for only one three-year term.

Fariñas’ alliance with the Marcoses lasted until 2007 when Fariñas was defeated by a political neophyte, Michael Marcos Keon. Keon was backed by the Marcoses, after all Keon was a first cousin of Imee. But three years later, in 2010, Fariñas and Imee resumed their alliance. Imee tried to stop Keon from running for reelection but Keon wouldn’t withdraw. It was then that Imee decided to run against Keon. She won and it prevented the Marcos-Fariñas alliance from disintegrating. However, the alliance didn’t last too long.

Ilocos Six

Last year, a scandal erupted in Laoag City over the missing P85 million from the city treasury. The rift between the erstwhile allies, Imee Marcos and Rudy Fariñas, came to a head when the House committee on good government and public accountability started to investigate the alleged misuse of province’s tobacco funds in 2012. It was alleged that that P66.4 million worth of buses and multi-cabs were purchased without public bidding.

The House committee summoned six Ilocos Norte officials – called the “Ilocos Six” — to answer questions concerning the missing funds. The officials showed up but they refused to answer questions. This prompted the House committee to order them detained. If they continue to refuse to answer questions, they could be detained until the end of the current Congress in June 2019.

Their boss, Governor Imee Marcos was furious! She lambasted House Majority Floor Leader Fariñas and dared him to bring the fight back to Ilocos Norte. She also sought relief from the Supreme Court. At a press conference, Imee blamed her political rivalry with Fariñas for triggering the House investigation.

It’s interesting to note that both Imee and Fariñas will be termed out in 2019. Which makes one wonder what their political plans are in the 2019 midterm election? Imee could run for Fariñas’ 1st District seat, after all she’s now officially a resident of Laoag City, which is in the 1st District. Bongbong’s eldest son Sandro is now primed to run for office in the province.

Why not the governorship that Imee would be vacating? Bongbong’s second son, Joseph Simon would be in a position to run for mayor of Laoag City against incumbent Chevylle Fariñas. And Bongbong’s youngest son Vincent would qualify to run against Laoag City’s incumbent vice-mayor and Chevylle’s husband, Michael Fariñas. That would certainly stack up the cards against the Fariñas clan right in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, Bongbong’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo is now before the Supreme Court convened as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

If Bongbong wins and takes over the vice presidency, it would certainly make the Marcos clan the preeminent political body in Ilocos Norte. And this could cause the downfall of the Fariñas clan.

Rudy is rumored to be vying to be the next Ombudsman after the retirement of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in 2018. Rudy also wants his daughter Ria Christina Fariñas to succeed him in the 1st District in 2019. Ria Christina is currently serving as a Member of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Board. However, she gained some national recognition when she was elected as the new president of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines (PBMLP) last February 28.

With Imee terming out in 2019, she might run for a Senate seat. Where else is she going to go? And with Rudy Fariñas turning out too, he might run for a Senate seat. It would certainly be an interesting face-off between the two former allies, now bitter adversaries. Or, Rudy could instead run for governor, which might be easier to win than a Senate seat if Sandro Marcos wouldn’t run against him. But there will always be someone from the Marcos camp who would challenge him. Matthew Joseph Manotoc comes to mind. And if he runs, he could give Fariñas a good run for his money.

Which makes one wonder: Is the “Ilocos Six” scandal being used to achieve a political end? Or is it to punish the corrupt?

Machiavelli lives!