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Hilbay banks on Ilocano roots for ‘North vote’

Raymon Dullana

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Hilbay banks on Ilocano roots for ‘North vote’
The Otso Diretso candidate acknowledges that Juan Ponce Enrile and Imee Marcos are more 'familiar names and faces in Northern politics,' but believes 'there's also enough space for a new name'

CAGAYAN, Philippines – Opposition senatorial bet Florin Hilbay is banking on his Ilocano roots to get votes from the so-called Solid North.

During his visit to Tuguegarao City and 3 towns in Cagayan province on Friday, March 15, Hilbay said he was hoping to introduce himself as a “Son of the North.” He told residents that his mother Lydia hails from Sto Niño town in Cagayan, and that she had worked as a vendor of secondhand clothes or “ukay-ukay.”

Ilocandia is composed of the mostly Iloco-speaking regions of Cordillera, Ilocos Region, and Cagayan Valley.

“That’s what I have been telling people on radio and face-to-face conversation, that I’m a son of the North as well,” Hilbay told Rappler in a chance interview during his courtesy visit to Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg. 

He said his campaign in Cagayan was “better than usual” as people were surprised to know that he has Cagayano roots. 

According to him, people usually asked him to speak Iloco to test his ability.

“[The campaign here is] better than usual because when you talk to them and you tell them that your mom is from Cagayan Valley, natutuwa sila and then they test your ability to speak in Ilocano, and I usually tell them, ‘Maawatak ti Ilocano pero bassit laeng,'” he said. 

(They are glad to know, and then they test your ability to speak in Ilocano, and I usually say, “I can understand Ilocano, but just a little.”) 

Hilbay did not grow up in the province, as his mother moved to Manila to seek job opportunities.

Unlike the recent sortie of administration bets from the Partido Demokratiko Pilipinas-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and the Hugpong  ng Pagbabago (HNP), Hilbay did not have much of a crowd during his visit to Cagayan Valley. 

He did the rounds of the Tuguegarao City central market early morning, and attended a people’s gathering organized by Mayor Jefferson Soriano. 

He also appeared before a gathering at the provincial capitol. He had a short appearance at a private university, only to be informed that it was canceled. 

For his last stop before going out of Tuguegarao City, Hilbay paid a courtesy visit to Archbishop Utleg. 

Not-so-popular Ilocano

Hilbay, former solicitor general of the Aquino administration, admitted that he is not as known as other Ilocanos who are also running for senator, including Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

Both Marcos and Enrile holds the North as their bailiwicks. The two political scions are also known rivals of the Aquinos, Hilbay’s allies.

This fact was a challenge for Hilbay to solicit the so-called Solid North vote. 

“Both [Enrile and Marcos] are familiar names and faces here in Northern politics. [But] I think there’s also enough space for a new name,” Hilbay said.

He said he is banking on the support of his relatives and other cause-oriented groups in Cagayan Valley to beef up his narrative of being a “Son of the North.”

“My narrative is from here, more so the fact that I’m a bar topnotcher, like the former President,” Hilbay said, referring to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was from Ilocos Norte. – 



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