Trouble in Laoag: Fariñas vs Fariñas

Carmela Fonbuena
Politics pits cousins, uncles, nephews against each other

LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – Two decades since the death of President Ferdinand Marcos, his home province Ilocos Norte remains largely Marcos territory. The exemption, curiously, is the capital city Laoag. It belongs to the Fariñas clan.

The two families are sometimes allies and sometimes rivals. The Marcoses are the stronger political family, no contest. But the Fariñases have always provided a healthy balance of power.

But there’s trouble among the Fariñases. Some residents say it could split and weaken the family to one day allow the Marcoses to grab control of the capital city.

Two Fariñases are running against each other for the position that third term Laoag city Mayor Michael Fariñas is vacating: his own wife Chevylle and his uncle Roger Fariñas. One Marcos is already taking his chances – the nephew of the late President, Michael Marcos Keon – but many dismiss his chances now.

Two Fariñases are also running for vice mayor. Michael himself and his own cousin Carlos, son of Rep Rudy Fariñas who gained national fame for calling removed Chief Justice Renato Corona “palusot” during his impeachment trial last year.

How did it come to this? It is what happens when politics becomes a family affair.

Michael Fariñas: My wife is the stronger candidate

Chevylle Fariñas is the stronger candidate, according to her husband Mayor Michael Fariñas.

President of the Association of Barangay Captains of Laoag City, Chevylle has the crucial backing of many barangay captains – the best people to deliver votes for any candidate running for local elections.

Chevylle was also endorsed by Gov Imee Marcos, which practically seals the deal for her.

But according to the Fariñas clan’s old rule, Chevyle cannot run for mayor of Laoag City. The position must stay — as it has for decades — to the so-called “true Fariñas.” This refers to those who were born Fariñases as opposed to those who were married to a Fariñas.

“They know that Chevylle, my wife, is the stronger candidate,” Mayor Michael told Rappler. “But on the other hand, they say it wouldnt’ look good for her to be the standard bearer of the family because she’s an in-law. There goes,” the Mayor told Rappler in an interview at his residence in Laoag City.

Following this old family rule, Roger Fariñas said he should be the one to succeed his nephew Michael in the City Hall.

Michael knows the family rule. But he said they can’t turn their back on the people who he said want Chevylle to run.

“Being objective about this, I consulted a lot of people. It was not until I saw the endorsements made by a lot of organizations — not only the assocation of barangay councils but the NGOs — did we decide that she will run,” said Michael.

“As the Lord is my witness, it’s she who is wanted by the people. Indeed she can help the people of Laoag. Indeed she’s true in serving the people of Laoag,” he added.

Roger Fariñas: Michael betrayed the family

Roger Fariñas said his nephew Michael betrayed the family.

Napakasakit yung loob ko sa kanila. Kung hindi ko binigay sa kanila ang position na ‘yan, he should not have been the mayor,” Roger told Rappler in a separate interview. (They made me feel bad. If I didn’t give them that position, he should not have been the mayor.)

Roger feels entitled to the position. Before Michael, it was Roger who also served as mayor of Laoag City for 9 years – 1995 to 2004. Roger recalled how his wife also wanted to run for mayor when he completed his third term.

Unlike Michael, Roger followed the family rule and supported Michael’s candidacy. “We have agreed that our wives should not enter politics yet. They were forcing my wife to run for mayor but I told my supporters, my constituents, that it should be my nephew,” Roger added.

Now that Michael is on his way out, Roger wants to return to City Hall.

“I waited for his 9 years to finish. The last Monday that I attended the flag raising during my term as mayor, I told the City Hall employees that if ever my nephew will win, I will wait until he finished his term and I will return,” Roger said.

Like brothers

What makes this a painful family story is Michael and Roger are like brothers. Michael is the son of Roger’s eldest brother; they lived together with his grandparents. Rudy, Roger, and Michael grew up together.

Story in Laoag goes that Michael is the Fariñas clan’s “lucky charm” because it was after he was born that the family businesses grew.

“We have an extended family. I thank them for taking care of me. I’m the eldest grandson. They took care of me, my education from grade school to law school…But some things are beyond our control,” Michael said, now 47 years old.

He added: “How painful is this? It’s not normal especially for somebody close to you. But it happens. It is painful. But let it be clear. Remember when we say family, my immediate family is my wife and my children now. I hope that’s clear.”

Rudy Fariñas

Rudy Fariñas — the congressman — is caught between Roger his brother and Michael his nephew. Rudy is younger than Roger but because he was the first in the family to join politics, everybody deferred to him. (Read “The return of Rudy Fariñas)

Long before the filing of candidacies in October, Roger began publicly attacking Michael and Chevylle. Rudy gave Michael a gag order. Michael and Chevylle are not supposed to make a move or a final decision on the mayoralty race until the family has sorted it out.

Roger was hoping Rudy could talk Michael into making Chevylle pull out of the race.

Rudy also offered that his son Carlos should run for the mayoral position instead. He was hoping that his son would be the acceptable “solution” to both his brother Roger and nephew Michael.

Imagine Rudy’s surprise when Chevylle filed her candidacy on the first day of filing, October 1.

According to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rudy could not hide his disappointment. “It felt like they (Michael’s camp) have closed all avenues for negotiation. We still have until Friday to file. There was no agreement [among the family members] as to [Chevylle’s] candidacy,” he told reporters.

Worse, Michael left Laoag and turned off his cellphones so that his uncles could not reach him.

Michael said they had good reasons. Chevylle, he said, is a devotee of St Therese and October is the saint’s feast day. They named one of their daughters Therese.

“The ‘cong’ said we were arrogant. The moment I left Laoag, I turned my cellphone units off. Because of that, my wife and I have been accused of arrogrance. We are not,” Michael said.

“I felt there are no more things to be said. We have filed our candidacy. Sometimes you have to get out of the box,” he added.

Imee Marcos intervenes

Roger blames Gov Imee Marcos for interfering with family affairs. The governor should not have endorsed Chevylle, he said.

“This is a problem within the family. Sana naman dahil magkakaibigan kami lahat…,” Roger said. (I was hopeful because we’re all friends after all.)

It’s not the first time that Imee got in the way of Roger’s political plans.

It could have been Roger who ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010. Roger was already promised a Certificate of Nomination (CONA) from the Marcoses’ Nacionalista Party (NP), but on the last minute — according to Roger’s narration — Imee instructed party officials to send the CONA to Rudy’s house instead.

Rudy ran for a seat in the House of Representatives and won.

Takot daw sa akin si Gov Imee. ‘Takot ako kay Roger.’ Sabi ko, did i do something that made her afraid of me? Alam niyo kasi, ako kung ang tama nandiyan ako, hindi ako pwedeng diktahan,” said Roger. (I heard Gov Imee is afraid of me. I’m afraid of Roger. I said, did i do something that made her afraid of me? You know I stand with the right. I can’t be dictated upon.)

A pact in 2010?

Michael said there was no betrayal because he and his uncle had a pact before the 2010 elections. Michael would help Roger win his congressional bid. In return, Chevylle could run for mayor in 2013.

Among the Fariñases, Michael is the operations guy. “I have been helping out my uncles — the congressman and the former mayor — dating back to 1988. I have always been their political coordinator of sorts. I do everything for them,” Michael said.

According to Michael, it was not his fault that Rudy ran in 2010 instead of Roger. “I was made to believe that the statement made still holds through…What happened was beyond my control already.”

But Roger maintains the pact was only valid if he won a seat in the House of Representatives.

Both camps told Rappler there’s no turning back anymore. “At this time, we lose face. It’s stigma to me and my wife. Our children’s children will carry it,” said Michael.

Roger said the same.

Christmas surprise

As if the family situation was not complicated enough, Michael, Rudy, and Roger pulled a Christmas surprise.

Mayor Michael Fariñas himself filed his candidacy for vice mayor.

Rudy fielded his son Carlos to run for vice mayor, too. 

Roger took in Kris Ablan, son of the Fariñas clan’s archenemy former Rep Roque Ablan Jr, as his running mate. 

They all filed their certificates of candidacy on the deadline for subsitution of candidates, December 22.

As of the first week of February, Rudy told Rappler he is still trying to solve the family problem. –

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