BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Igorots in bahag danced as an orchestra played the Bagong Lipunan while waiting for presidential aspirant and son of dictator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr to arrive at the Crown Legacy Hotel here in Baguio, where he inaugurated a regional campaign hub Thursday, December 23.
When Marcos arrived, he was swarmed by supporters in red, some shrieking at the sight of his son Sandro, who joined him on this trip while taking a break from his own activities as an aspirant for Ilocos Norte’s hotly contested 1st district congressional seat.
It is not a surprising view – Marcos won Baguio in the 2016 vice presidential elections, getting 76,009 votes against Vice President Leni Robredo’s 21,341. It was still very much a solid north for Marcos in 2016.
But why would Baguio support Marcos when the City of Pines has always been a bastion of opposition to the Martial Law of his father?
“Bakit naman ipapasa sa kanyang anak? (Why would you take it against the son?)” said Mauricio Domogan, Baguio’s longtime former mayor and congressman, who is seeking a mayoral comeback against first-termer Benjamin Magalong.
Domogan is allied with Sara Duterte’s Lakas-CMD and said he had a “friendship deal” with Duterte during the last 2019 midterm elections, when Hugpong ng Pagbabago campaigned.
“On that score, we are obligated to support Sara as vice president, so there’s no doubt, we here, my team will be all out supporting Bongbong Marcos and Sara,” said Domogan, who was Marcos’ guest during Thursday’s event, alongside several Benguet mayors.
The caretaker of Benguet’s legislative seat at the House of Representatives, ACT-CIS Representative Eric Go Yap was in Baguio too, appearing to be the link to local officials.
Baguio may seem to be a Marcos country by and large, but pockets of opposition are apparent, not least of which was Magalong hosting Robredo in a previous visit and saying, “We’re completely aligned in our views, and I admire her.”
Activism in Baguio is also very much alive, ever-present in yearly commemorations of the atrocities of Martial Law, especially among the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Cordillera, who want to remind the nation that tribal leaders were killed here for opposing damaging projects such as the Chico River Dam that threatened to submerge Kalinga and Mountain Province villages.
An example is the legendary Macliing Dulag, a Kalinga tribe leader, acknowledged in history as having been killed by government soldiers in 1980 for opposing the dam.
Domogan, a fixture in Baguio politics, made an excuse.
“Hindi naman napapatunayan na instruction ni Ferdinand Marcos na ganun ang gawin kay Macliing Dulag (It has not been proven that Ferdinand Marcos instructed the killing of Macliing Dulag),” said Domogan.
“Since then, Baguio City has been majority supporting Marcos. Kahit anong sinasabi nila sa kanyang tatay, marami ring nagawa si Apo Ferdinand Marcos (No matter what they say against the father, Ferdinand Marcos did many things),” said Domogan.
Onstage, Marcos teased the room by saying they always looked for Sandro instead of him. He also told the audience he would bring his running mate here soon.
In a stump speech, Marcos said he’s the luckiest presidential aspirant because Sara Duterte is his vice president and that “napakatibay ng aming pagsasama, at naglalabasan ang mga survey, mukha namang tanggap ang aming mensahe ni Inday Sara (our tandem is solid, and the surveys show our message is received well).”
As usual, no interview was given to the media, and his security was able to slip him past the crowd and reporters who were tying to sneak in some questions.
Claims to champion IPs
In Mabalacat, Pampanga on Tuesday, December 21, Marcos claimed to champion IPs as he gave gifts to Aeta children in a small covered court inside Marcos Village, one of the housing projects during his father’s term.
Mothers brought their small children and breastfed their infants while waiting for Marcos, saying that they walked three to four hours from their mountainous village because they were told children would be given gifts.
Marcos told them that he, like his father, has always been helping IPs.
“You must remember the benefits we’re giving indigenous Filipinos – mga una nating Pilipino na matagal na nating tinutulungan (the first Filipinos whom we’ve always been helping) – started with the time of my father,” he said in a chance interview.
Julie Anne, one of the mothers who came, said they are always displaced and that she doesn’t remember a time Marcos helped them. But if he wins, she is hoping help will come.
But what is Marcos’ plan for the IPs?
“The thing that we have to do is to stop categorizing them as separate. They are the first Filipinos. So they should have all of the rights and benefits that all Filipinos have,” said Marcos.
This struck a wrong chord with some people on Twitter, who noted that IPs are “categorized” because they are marginalized communities who need special help.
One law professor commented, “Does this mean he supports repeal of IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act)?”
In general, there should be equal protection in law. But in legal principles, groups of people who have a substantial distinction from the rest, like women, children, and IPs, get to have special laws to protect their interests.
Tony La Viña, a lawyer for IP groups, said “particular rights” of IPs such as the right to ancestral domain has long been recognized, and that the idea of assimilating them is “wrong.”
“The approach of assimilation from the American period to the Marcos era is universally recognized as wrong and has led to even more marginalization of indigenous Filipinos,” La Viña told Rappler.
Marcos was the runaway leader in the December survey of Pulse Asia, getting the preference of 53% of respondents, while Robredo was at second place with 20%. – Rappler.com