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LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – At the start of the local 2022 campaign season, reelectionist Vice Governor Cecilia Araneta Marcos told the 20,000-strong crowd at the March 25 Team Marcos proclamation rally that the family matriarch, 92-year-old Imelda Marcos, helped launch her political career.
The widow of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos encouraged Cecilia to take the place of her husband, Ilocos Norte provincial board member and vice gubernatorial candidate Mariano “Nonong” Marcos II, when he died in February 2019.
“Ang advice sa akin ng pinakamamahal natin na first lady na si Imelda Marcos eh kunin ang lugar ng [aking asawa na tatakbo sana bilang vice governor]. Sabi niya, kailangang maipagpatuloy ko ang ginawa niya at makapagsilbi sa inyong lahat,” she said.
(The advice of our beloved first lady Imelda Marcos was to take the place of my husband who was supposed to run for vice governor. She told me I needed to continue his work and serve all of you.)
With Imelda’s help, Cecile’s political career kicked off in 2019 with a landslide win – 93% of the votes cast, or 227,311 votes, against rival Michael Ramones’ 15,093 votes.
But in this year’s high-stakes local elections, where the Marcoses are being challenged by another dominant political family, the charismatic Imelda is absent on the campaign trail as another clan member is making his political debut.
In his first electoral foray, Sandro Marcos, the 28-year-old grandson of Imelda and the oldest son of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is contesting the 1st District congressional seat of reelectionist Ria Fariñas, a member of another dominant political family.
On the eve of the official kickoff of the local campaign season, Sandro told local reporters that his grandmother would have wanted to join him on the campaign trail. He decided against it as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to her health.
Having a famous grandmother campaigning for him might improve his chances. But voters are also drawn to the England-educated Sandro. As he hops from one town to another in the province’s first District, young residents always request for “selfies” with him.
His father sees Sandro following the dynasty’s path as a “great source of pride.”
Imelda has always exerted pulling power – Marcos hatak – since returning in 1991 from exile in Honolulu after the 1986 EDSA People Power that topped their two-decade dictatorship.
Though she was convicted of seven counts of graft in 2018 for illegally creating and maintaining Swiss foundations, Imelda remains revered in Marcos country.
Her advancing age and the frailties that come with it did not stop her run as 2nd District representative of Ilocos Norte in 2010.
“It is true that I am 80 years old, but I can also be a grandmother for our country,” Imelda said then.
During that year she hit the campaign trail with other family members – her daughter and now Senator Imee Marcos who ran as Ilocos Norte governor and Marcos Jr. as senator.
In her public appearances, Imelda always wore her signature butterfly sleeves. Always, she danced and sang for, and with, voters.
In her visits to the province during pre-pandemic birthday celebrations, adoring supporters would thank the heavens for her “long life.”
Imelda and Imee completed three terms as congresswoman and governor, respectively, in their home turf. Now, the next generation tries to protect the provincial dynasty as they keep their eyes on the main goal: getting back Malacañang.
Marcos Jr. is the frontrunner in all surveys leading to the 2022 presidential elections. Imelda believes that her son’s chances could be boosted if she joins him on the campaign trail.
Imee, speaking to reporters in a chance interview last March 24 after the Pandesal Forum in Quezon City, said that her mother is very eager to join all political rallies to support her son.
“Nagpupumiglas, gustong-gustong sumali sa lahat ng rally,” (She’s very restless, wanting to join all the rallies) said Imee, adding that the family had been holding her down because of her “comorbidity.”
“Umiikot din siya nang sarili niya, pinagbabawalan lang namin sa masusukal na lugar na maraming crowd kasi mahirap na ‘no. Pero ayaw paawat talaga naman. At siya nga ang sasabihin kong pinakamagaling na pulitiko sa aming pamilya,” the senator said.
(She goes around by herself, we just don’t let her go where the crowds are big. But it’s hard to control her. And I will say she is the best politician in our family.)
It is in campaigning that their mother feels alive, said Imee, adding that they need her on the campaign trail for Marcos Jr. because she is a “natural” in understanding sentiments and liking people.
This was, after all, her dream for Ferdinand Jr. In 2015, Imelda said: “Gusto ko siyang maging presidente. Pero ‘yang pagka-presidente, hindi sa akin ‘yan. Hindi sa kaninuman, nasa Diyos ‘yan.”
(I want him to be President. But the Presidency is not mine to give, not for anyone to give, but God’s will.)
“She’s wanted me to become president since I was three years old,” Bongbong said of his mother in 2015 after declaring his intention to run as vice president.
He eventually lost to his rival then, Leni Robredo. They are squaring off again in the 2022 presidential race.
Third-gen politician Sandro said his father or other kin did not push him to run.
He dismissed criticism of “so many Marcoses in power” in Ilocos Norte and told local reporters on the sidelines of his first-ever proclamation rally on March 25 that the family’s power is a product of an “electoral and democratic process.”
The younger generation of Marcoses can still bank on the prominence of the Marcos name, especially that of Imelda. But whether that is enough to secure their seats is in doubt because Ilocos Norte residents are split between the Fariñases and the Marcoses.
Political scientist and Laoag Northwestern University instructor John Paul Castro said the Marcos name still has luster. But with the challenge from the Fariñases, an equally powerful political clan, they need more than just their name pedigree.
Castro said that while the Marcos name is “[their] biggest political tool, a machinery, and also their symbol of power,” residents perceive the younger generation as harder to reach due to the language barrier.
Sandro does not speak Ilocano but pushes with his house-to-house campaign, skin now visibly sunburnt.
On the other side of the political divide, it is veteran politician and family patriarch Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas who keeps the clan together.
Rudy kicked off his campaign for provincial governor by visiting far-flung villages in the towns of Marcos, Dingras, and Solsona. Unlike in the 2019 elections, when he dropped out of the race, Rudy said that he is “serious” with his current gubernatorial bid.
The Fariñas patriarch has rekindled connections to former village captains loyal to him, believing they still have the political power in their areas to push for the candidacies of his clan members.
In an interview with local media, Rudy noted that a former captain in a secluded village in Marcos town said he was the “only governor who had visited them” in the last 50 years.
This is how the Fariñases are packaging themselves – fueling a campaign filled with nostalgia for officials who speak their native language.
Unlike Team Marcos, the Fariñases did not hold a grand proclamation rally. They started the campaign season going straight to the grassroots.
“Datayo deretso’t tao, sigud met kinabayag ko ti politika, ammoyo met deta. Uray idi gobernadorak ken diputado ak, mapanak ti umili babaen ti kapitan. Deretso ti tao ta isuda met ti ususto a pagubbugan ti turay,” Rudy said in February.
(We went straight to the people, just like I have done ever since I ventured into politics, you all know that. Even when I was governor and congressman, I reached out to the people through the village captains. Straight to them because our power emanates from them.)
Castro said that the local political scene is a “different spectrum” for the Marcoses.
The popularity of Marcos Jr. in the national scene must be “separated” from the local politics because the Fariñas clan has been “careful in packaging themselves” and still maintain a loyal voters’ base, he said.
Aside from Cecilia and Sandro, three other Marcoses are running for top elective posts in Ilocos Norte – the 33-year-old reelectionist Governor Matthew Marcos Manotoc, son of Imee; Angelo Marcos-Barba for 2nd District representative; and the estranged Laoag City reelectionist Mayor Michael Marcos Keon. – Rappler.com