Editor’s Note: Political dynasties currently occupy 29% of local posts, up from only 19% in 1988. They hold 80% of the country’s gubernatorial posts, compared to only 57% in 2004. In Congress, they now control about 67% of seats from 48% in 2004.
This means that most of our provinces are governed by leaders who come from families or clans that have dominated local politics for years, and the country’s laws, which citizens are subjected to, are mostly crafted by them.
In this series on political dynasties in 2022, Rappler takes a close look at the persons and families who wield tremendous power and continue to have a firm grip on their respective localities. Their brand of politics and exercise of their political clout influence not only the outcome of local elections but also the choice of our national leaders.
LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – The 2022 elections in Ilocos Norte province offer the heirs of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos the chance to further consolidate power and solidify their bailiwick in ground zero of the so-called “Solid North.”
But another political family, the Fariñases, whose members used to rule the province and the capital city of Laoag, are attempting a comeback.
For decades, the two dominant political families drew clear political bases. The Fariñases had the first district and the capital city of Laoag; the Marcoses controlled the capitol and the 2nd District.
Although there were other political actors like the Valdezes and Naluptas, the Marcoses have always dominated the 2nd District. This comprises the towns south of Laoag, such as Batac, hometown of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It was where Marcos launched his political career when he represented it in 1949.
Marcos’ widow, Imelda, who had previously represented Leyte’s 1st District from 1995 to June 1998, occupied the Ilocos Norte 2nd District congressional seat for three terms, from 2010 to 2019. Eugenio Angelo M. Barba, son of Marcos’ youngest sister, Fortuna Marcos-Barba, succeeded Imelda.
The 1st District has seen other leaders other than the Fariñases.
Roque Ablan Jr. held the position from 1968 to 1998 and 2001-2010. Veteran politician and current gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas represented it from 1998 to 2001 and 2010 to 2019. His daughter, Ria, was elected to the position in 2019.
It was an ideal arrangement that balanced the interests of two well-entrenched political families.
Now the battlelines are blurred.
Sandro Marcos, the son of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is threatening to unseat Ria. Sandro registered in 2015 to vote in Laoag city, a part of the province’s 1st District.
For Rudy, this reflects a dangerous tilt in political balance.
“Itedyo kuma kanyamin ditoy local, ta agpresidenteda la garuden, nasken nga alan da peleng ti kina-governor kada kinadiputado. Ta ti kinapudnona ni Ria ti ilablabantayo ditoy.”
(I hope you support us in the local elections, [the Marcoses] are already seeking to be elected as president, is it necessary that they also seek to be elected as governor and representative of the province? To be honest, it is my daughter Ria that we are trying to fight for),” he appealed to voters on April 28.
Despite increasing tensions with the Marcos clan at the local level, Rudy still rallied support for Marcos Jr.’s presidential run.
After ruling Laoag for three decades, the Fariñases lost their grip on city hall in 2019 to incumbent mayor Michael Keon. He is the son of Elizabeth E. Marcos-Keon, the late dictator’s sister and governor of Ilocos Norte from 1971 to 1983.
With Keon’s hairline win over then incumbent mayor Chevyille Fariñas, the Marcoses could boast of seats in the Senate, Congress, province, and city.
The Laoag mayor’s relationship with the clan blows hot and cold.
Keon ran as governor against now Senator Imee Marcos in 2010. She won and completed three terms as the province’s top executive. The two reconciled in 2019 and Imee backed Keon’s mayoral bid.
In this year’s election, his cousins have put up a proxy candidate against him, incumbent vice mayor Vicente “Toto” Lazo.
It’s a three-way fight for Laoag. The Fariñas clan is fielding former mayor Chevylle Fariñas, the widow of Rudy’s nephew Michael, the ex-mayor who died in a car crash in 2018.
Keon defeated Chevylle in 2019. Her son John Michael “Jamie” also lost to Lazo.
Even with the loss of city hall, the “Fariñases are the only ones capable of running against an equally powerful political family like the Marcoses,” according to lawyer and political scientist John Paul Castro, who teaches at Laoag’s Northwestern University.
The clan is the “thorn that prevents the Marcoses from consolidating their power in this side of the country,” said Castro, citing the Fariñas machinery and long years of experience in politics.
The Marcoses now carry the political upper hand. Most mayors of Ilocos Norte’s 23 towns and cities support Team Marcos in the 2022 polls.
Now, more than ever, Rudy has to keep the family strong.
No backing out
Both the clans have held the gubernatorial seats but have not run against each other until 2019 and, again, this year.
Rudy declared he would run as governor in 2019 as a last-minute substitute candidate after a deal with the Marcoses fell through. He eventually backed out of that race, which Imee’s son, Matthew Marcos Manotoc, won.
Rudy then announced his retirement.
But in November 2021, he beat the deadline on substitution filing to challenge incumbent Matthew, making good his threat to come out of retirement if Sandro Marcos challenges Ria.
The Fariñases fuel their 2022 campaign with nostalgia – going to the grassroots, speaking directly to the people in the local language, and rekindling their relationship with former village captains.
This year, there are at least eight Fariñases, including Chevylle, who are running for top seats in the provincial capitol and Laoag city hall.
Three of them are Rudy’s children: incumbent and reelectionist 1st District Representative Ria Fariñas; youngest son Rodolfo Christian, reelectionist 1st District provincial board member; and village captain Carlos, who is running as city vice mayor.
Rudys Caesar, also a son of Rudy, is gunning for reelection as Probinsyano Ako representative.
Other Fariñases who are running for seats in the Laoag city council are Rudy’s nephews Jeff and Roger John, the sons of his brother Eric and Roger. The latter is also a former three-term Laoag mayor.
Rudy’s grandson Jamie, Chevylle’s son, is also seeking a position in the council.
On April 28, Rudy said that what could be at stake for the family in the upcoming polls is their “integrity.”
“We ran for elections to serve the people. It’s not our bread and butter so let the people decide,” said Rudy.
The Fariñas family was into transport before politics, operating Fariñas Trans, one of the oldest fleets in northern Luzon. They have branched out into other fields like lodging and accommodations, trucking, dealerships and even jewelry.
Before the Marcoses came back from exile and reconsolidated power in Ilocos Norte, the Fariñases were a part of “Cuadro de Alas,” a group of four dominant political families, including the Abadillas, Ablans, and Naluptas.
Rudy’s uncle, Constante, was a politician before military rule was declared in the country in 1972.
Rudy took over the family’s political train after he won as Laoag city mayor in 1980. He was only 28 years old, the youngest ever to hold the position.
His win came after he emerged as one of the topnotchers in the 1979 Bar examinations, despite being tagged as a problem child for staying seven years at the Ateneo Law School.
Local residents saw Rudy as a possible successor to fellow Ilocano Bar topnotcher, the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rudy served as mayor for six years before he was elected governor for about 10 years (1988-1995). He is the only non-Marcos governor of Ilocos Norte in half a century.
Roque Ablan Jr. and Castor Raval were appointed officers-in-charge of the province after Marcos, the former president, was ousted from Malacañang.
In 1997, Rudy ran for the Senate as an independent candidate but lost.
He contested the 1st District congressional seat in 1998, supporting the gubernatorial bid of Marcos Jr. who held the position until 2007.
In 2007, Rudy tried to reclaim his previous position as governor, but he was defeated by Michael Marcos Keon.
When the late former president Benigno Aquino III won in 2010, Rudy, back in harness as representative, was in a position to scale his way back to the heights of political power.
He was on the prosecution team during the 2012 impeachment trial of ousted chief justice Renato Corona.
Rudy told Esquire magazine that he was asked to join the Liberal Party in 2010 and offered the chairman’s post in the committee on justice, “but I would have broken up my alliances with the Marcoses, so I had to remain with the NP [Nacionalista Party].”
He still ended up as deputy majority leader and senior vice chair of the justice committee.
If the Marcoses have their spats, so do the Fariñases.
Brother Roger got elected as village captain in 1992 when Rudy was governor and became president of the Association of Barangay Captains. He became city mayor in 1995 and completed three terms.
The now deceased nephew Michael was also a three-term Laoag mayor (2004-2013), following in Roger’s footsteps as a village captain.
Rudy, Roger, and Michael grew up together and were very close.
But 2013 saw an internal feud, with incumbent Michael’s wife Chevylle running against Roger for city hall.
Keon also threw his hat into the race but eventually dropped it in favor of Chevylle who was endorsed by then-governor and now Senator Imee Marcos.
This meddling, Rudy said, was the start of the break, although he and Imee reconciled for her 2010 run against Keon.
“Naasar na ko sa kanya. Sabi ko, ‘Imee, family ko ito. Laoag has always been [ours]. Mayor ako ng Laoag. This is my political base. Give it to me. Ikaw na nga, lahat ng mayor, sa ’yo na. Ikaw na pinapapili ko. Lahat sa ‘yo na.’ Eh ayaw niya. Eh ‘di nagkaroon kami ng sama ng loob,” Rudy told Rappler in an earlier interview.
(I got mad at her. I said, “Imee, this is my family. Laoag has always been ours. I am Laoag mayor. This is my political base. Give it to me. You have all the mayors. I let you choose. They’re all yours. But she refused. So there were ill feelings.”)
The Fariñas clan ended their feud after Rudy’s son and namesake, Rodolfo Jr., died in a motorcycle accident in 2015.
Scandals have rocked the Fariñas clan.
At least P85 million was discovered missing from the city’s treasury in 2016.
Commission on Audit findings showed that irregularities began in 2007, during Michael’s term as mayor. The city government opened time deposits and savings accounts; over the years, these remained intact – on paper.
Of P88 million, only P2.64 million was left in the form of time deposits.
Plunder charges had been filed against then-city treasurer Elena Asuncion who remains at large.
The strained relationship between the Marcoses and Fariñases blew up when the House committee on good government and public accountability investigated in 2017 the alleged misuse of P66 million worth of the province’s tobacco funds in 2012.
Rudy initiated the inquiry together with then-Pampanga 3rd District representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr. and Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc.
It led to the 57-day detention of capitol employees dubbed the “Ilocos six,” and a threat to detain Imee, then governor, when she refused to appear in hearings. She blinked. The Supreme Court later cleared legislators of wrongdoing in the detention.
Now Team Fariñas faces its biggest political fight. Will it hold on to Laoag or lose its stronghold to the Marcoses? – Rappler.com
Read the other stories in our Political Dynasties 2022 series:
- Political Dynasties 2022: Amid controversies, Pinedas of Pampanga expand reach
- Political Dynasties 2022: Espinos still lynchpin of Pangasinan politics
- Political Dynasties 2022: Pangasinan clans in high stakes 2022 brawl
- Political Dynasties 2022: Revillas now the largest in Cavite
- Political Dynasties 2022: Evardones reach Eastern Samar summit
- Political families crowd Eastern Samar candidates’ list
- Political Dynasties 2022: No heirs for Osmeña, Rama in Cebu City
- Political Dynasties 2022: Garin patriarch of Iloilo hard act to follow
- Political Dynasties 2022: Benitez clan guns for Bacolod City
- Negros Occidental big clans offer ‘soft’ support for Marcos
- Political Dynasties 2022: Zubiris rule Bukidnon after Fortich
- Political Dynasties 2022: Clashing families spring from Dongkoy Emano
- Political Dynasties 2022: Dongkoy Emano morphs into kingpin after EDSA revolt
- Political Dynasties 2022: Two families dominate Zamboanga Sibugay politics