Marcos Jr. in Ilocos Norte: Absentee governor who ‘could have done better’

At age 23 on the 6th year of his father’s dictatorial rule, Bongbong Marcos became vice governor of Ilocos Norte. That didn’t stop him from going to school in the US.

1/22/2022 10:31:00 AM

[WATCH] Part 2: Narvacan, Ilocos Sur mayor Chavit Singson believes it's now the time of ally Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr to be president. But some of Marcos' constituents in Ilocos Norte do not agree, calling him an absentee governor. Full story:

At age 23 on the 6th year of his father’s dictatorial rule, Bongbong Marcos became vice governor of Ilocos Norte. That didn’t stop him from going to school in the US.

in the 2022 Philippine elections. To many Ilocanos, putting another Marcos in Malacañang is akin to reclaiming lost glory and reliving those two decades of Marcos’ rule – when being from Ilocos Norte was a ticket to work, wealth, and power, and an insurance for paved roads and resilient bridges. 

“He was a perennial absentee,” said the 81-year-old Aurelio, a retired prosecutor of Laoag and a former councilor of nearby San Nicolas town who has written a book on the province’s history.Thus, in the following elections, 1998, the 40-year-old Marcos Jr. decided he was not ripe for another national run. He ran for governor instead, won, and got elected for two more terms until 2007.

Read more: Rappler »

Oh Chavit as long as you get your ROI you will support a twit like Junior? Isa ka pa..hindi po ms universe ang pgkapangulo another TRAPO!!!👊🏽 Wag po tayong kumontra kay Chavit, kung gusto pa po natin makaboto.🥶 Maybe it is time for him to be PRESENT (on INTERVIEWS and DEBATES). 🤭 Wag ka kasing namimilit! Pinagloloko mo mga Mayors n may pa-invite invite ka pang nalalaman, eh may hidden agenda ka pala! Push back lang mga Mayors 👏 NoToMarcosDuterte2022 MarcosDuwag MarcosMagnanakaw marcosweak

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First of 2 parts ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines – In front of the Immaculate Conception Church in Batac, Ilocos Norte, the birthplace of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, tricycle drivers greeted us with a chant: “BBM! BBM!” BBM stands for Bongbong Marcos, namesake and son of the late dictator who is now the leading presidential aspirant in the 2022 Philippine elections. To many Ilocanos, putting another Marcos in Malacañang is akin to reclaiming lost glory and reliving those two decades of Marcos’ rule – when being from Ilocos Norte was a ticket to work, wealth, and power, and an insurance for paved roads and resilient bridges.  We visited the province in December, in time for Marcos Jr.’s much-awaited caravan here with running mate Sara Duterte but which was postponed due to Typhoon Odette.  In Laoag City, the seat of power of the Marcos-controlled province, only good things are openly said about Marcos Jr. Criticism and attacks are made in whispers, if at all, as residents who oppose the Marcoses shut their doors and windows when it’s time for dinner stories, cautious that their loyalist neighbors would hear them and cause trouble. But Manuel Aurelio, the dean of Northwestern University’s College of Law in Laoag where Marcos Jr.’s wife Louise “Liza” Araneta Marcos used to teach, is not one to mince words about the former governor.  “He was a perennial absentee,” said the 81-year-old Aurelio, a retired prosecutor of Laoag and a former councilor of nearby San Nicolas town who has written a book on the province’s history. Marcos Jr. had served as vice governor and then governor of Ilocos Norte under his father’s dictatorship, from 1980 until February 1986, when they were ousted and exiled in Hawaii. The young Marcos returned from exile in October 1991, and a year later he ran and won as representative of Ilocos Norte’s Second District. After only one term in the House, Marcos set his sights on the Senate, but he lost his first senatorial bid in 1995, landing on the 16th place in the race for 12 seats.  It seemed too much too soon; even his father before him had served as congressman for three terms before shooting for the Senate in 1959 – and topping that race. Thus, in the following elections, 1998, the 40-year-old Marcos Jr. decided he was not ripe for another national run. He ran for governor instead, won, and got elected for two more terms until 2007. Aurelio said it was Marcos Jr.’s provincial administrator, Ireneo Martinez, who was visible during those years. “When I went to the office, Mr. Martinez was there and Bongbong was not there. But of course he came here every now and then, but me, I wished Bongbong was there most of the time, not most of the time away from Ilocos Norte,” Aurelio told Rappler. Even during his first stint as governor in the 1980s, when his father was president, Marcos Jr. would also only “fly in and out of Laoag,” and it was his vice governor, Roque Ablan Jr., whom residents and public officials would mostly see, a local politician told Rappler. Marcos Jr. was, after all, in his 20s at the time – he partied, drove flashy cars, and had the time of his life as the only son of the country’s most powerful man.  Marcos the student-governor It was in January 1980, when Marcos Jr. was barely 23, when he first got elected as vice governor of Ilocos Norte in the first local elections held in the Philippines after his father’s declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Marcos’ party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), naturally swept the races. While vice governor, the young Marcos went to school in the United States, at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he did coursework from September 12, 1979, to December 20, 1980, and then again from September 1, 1981, to December 20, 1981. He did not earn any degree there, Wharton told Rappler . Then, in 1983, Marcos Jr., already 26 years old then, was sworn in as governor to replace his aunt, the dictator’s sister Elizabeth Marcos Keon, who was governor from 1971. She had become ill and resigned. Elizabeth is the mother of now-reelectionist Laoag City Mayor Michael Keon, who has been estranged from the Marcos clan. As governor, Marcos shied away from the media and the public eye. Residents recalled that it was his media-savvy spokesperson Lito Gorospe, a broadcaster, who would be seen on the frontlines. The late Gorospe, not Marcos Jr., would often speak for the capitol. This aversion to media continues to this day. (Nowadays, it’s lawyer Vic Rodriguez attending press conferences and issuing statements on national policies for his candidate.) In an interview with radio DZME on November 22, 2021, former Ilocos Norte governor and First District congressman Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas claimed that in 1998 Marcos had asked him to give way and support his gubernatorial bid. “I supported him,” said Fariñas, who ran for Congress that year.  “ Noong gobernador si Bongbong, wala naman po siyang naibigay. Hindi naman po natin puwedeng ipagkaila na ang tatay nila maraming nagawa, pero ‘yung mga anak eh walang nagawa,” Rudy Fariñas said in the same interview. (When Bongbong was governor, he did not give anything to the province. We can’t deny that their father had done a lot, but the children have done nothing.) Nonetheless, the Marcoses showed their staying power in the province. In the last 50 years, in fact, the only non-Marcos to hold the position of governor was Fariñas himself, who occupied the capitol from 1988 to 1998. He is now running for the same post against a third-generation Marcos, reelectionist Governor Matthew Marcos Manotoc, son of Senator Imee Marcos. (After Marcos’ ouster in 1986, several people were appointed as officers-in-charge of the province, including Roque Ablan Jr and Castor Raval.)  Achievement? ‘Tingnan ang nagawa ng tatay niya’ Marcos’ supporters back the campaign slogan Babangon Muli or Rise Again, an allusion to the dictatorship that loyalists claim was the golden era of the Philippines. They hold on to this belief despite historians, economists, and even bureaucrats having repeatedly debunked the claim, showing proof of poverty and debt during Martial Law. Luis “Chavit” Singson, the former governor who remains the political kingpin of Ilocos Sur even if he has settled as mayor of Narvacan, sat down with Rappler one morning in December 2021 in his home in Quezon City. We asked him what his pitch would be for non-Ilocano voters to choose Marcos Jr. “ Tingnan ang nagawa ng tatay niya ,” Singson said. (Look at what his father has done.) But what has Marcos Jr. done on his own?  “He’s gaining experience. To be a leader, you should be well-educated, well-experienced,” Singson said. “Nasubukan na n’ya lahat, marami nang eleksiyon siyang nasubukan. Siguro bumalik ‘yung…parang dumating na ‘yung [panahong] sawa na ang tao sa pambubugbog sa tatay niya,” said Singson, echoing the defense of Marcos supporters that the sins of the late dictator are not the sins of the son. (He has tried everything, he has gone through many elections. Perhaps the time has come when of the criticisms against his father.) Besides, Singson said with conviction, “It’s his time.”  ‘Good in ceremonies’ As for Aurelio, who has seen Marcos Jr.’s terms in various capacities: “I am at a loss for what big projects Bongbong did. I do not seem to know of any.”  Ilocos Norte is a budding tourism hub of not just Northern Luzon, but the entire Philippines. Could that be credited to Marcos? Tina Tan, who worked as tourism officer for three months under governor Imee Marcos, told Rappler that “community initiatives were not welcome during Bongbong’s term as governor.” Tan is the founder of LEAD, which is credited for introducing sandboarding to boost provincial tourism. “Maybe he doesn’t even know there were such initiatives because he wasn’t visible anyway,” said Tan.  She said it was LEAD which developed and promoted the Laoag sand dunes, but was sidelined after Imee asked for help to develop and promote the Paoay sand dunes instead. “If the Marcoses are not directly involved in a project, you don’t get their support, or if they want your project, they steal the credit for your idea,” said Tan.  Rappler made repeated attempts to interview Ryan Remigio of Team Marcos for this story. Remigio, a local politician and staunch ally of the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte, initially said he would find a schedule, but eventually stopped responding to our messages. Rappler also reached out to Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez for a comment, but has yet to get a response. Aurelio said that, from the matriarch Imelda to her children Bongbong to Imee, the Marcoses were “very good in rituals, ceremonies.” (Imelda, despite having served as representative of her home province of Leyte, was elected as Ilocos Norte Second District congresswoman for three terms starting in 2010.) “I’m not saying they did nothing that we can remember them by, but they could have done better during their time. Imelda, for instance loved, frivolities,” said Aurelio. Bangui windmills not Bongbong ’ s project Imelda as a first lady loved larger-than-life projects to display her penchant for all things bright and beautiful, like the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The CCP remains today an icon of Imelda’s so-called “edifice complex,” a term coined in the 1970s to describe her habit of overspending on infrastructure to project political power.  Like his mother, Marcos Jr. also wants clear association with infrastructure. All of his campaign ads feature the Bangui Windmills, the towering white mills that peek through the sky off the picturesque coastline of the northernmost parts of Ilocos Norte.  The Bangui windmills are an hour’s drive from Laoag, and were built in 2005 while Marcos Jr. was governor. But it wasn’t his idea or his project. Records from the Philippine Senate and the US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed that the Philippines had shown potential for wind energy, and that by 2004 this had become part of the Department of Energy’s nine-year energy plan. Marcos Jr himself said in a 2010 interview with ANC when he was running for senator: “One thing that people seem to think is that its a government project. It’s not. It’s a private commercial enterprise.” The Marcos connection, besides the fact that Bangui was the chosen site during his time as governor, was a lawyer named Ferdinand Dumlao. In 2000, Dumlao, a close ally of Marcos, met Danish Neils Jacobsen at a conference. The meeting led to a site visit, according to the 2010 doctoral thesis on ecological social justice written by noted maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal. It’s not clear how it all came to be, but Dumlao, who was Marcos’ provincial special projects director at least in 2004, a year before the Bangui windmills were installed, was chairman of the board of directors of a company called Northwind Development Corporation, of which the Danish Jacobsen was president. Northwind received funding from the World Bank and the government of Denmark to build the Bangui windmills. According to Batongbacal’s thesis, citing an interview with Jacobsen, a condition for the Danish funding agreement was to insulate the windmills from politics. “This was the reason why they did not have any high-ranking politicians prominently associated with the project; indeed, in all news media reports, even the governor has been relatively very low-key in regard to the project despite its being an obvious achievement for the province,” wrote Batongbacal, citing Jacobsen. Today, Dumlao is one of the people behind the reorganization of KBL, party executive vice president Mong Ocampo told Rappler. KBL is the party founded by the late dictator and the vehicle for Marcos Jr.’s first electoral win in 1980, as well as his failed senatorial bid in 1995. KBL revived itself to campaign for Marcos’ 2022 candidacy although Marcos Jr.’s nomination is under the barely three-year-old Partido Federal ng Filipinas. PICTURE PERFECT. The larger-than-life windmills are a staple in Marcos Jr’s TV ads. Photo by Rappler Agriculture sector felt neglected Aside from the promise of clean energy and undisrupted power for the whole of Ilocos Norte, the Bangui windmills had become a main tourist attraction too. Nine years after Bangui windmills, another set of windmills was built in nearby Pagudpud, a town known for its beaches, in 2014 under the term of Imee Marcos. Concerns over safety because of the Pagudpud transmission lines caused