[OPINION] Who keeps the Solid North solid?

The Solid North still appears solid in November 2019, 3 years after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mg Bayani. Many still stereotype Ilocanos as pro-Marcos, although not every Ilocano is a Marcos loyalist, and not every Marcos loyalist is an Ilocano. The main problem with this stereotype, though, is not that it is a myth, but that it does not show the entire situation.

Stereotypes survive through time because society shows manifestations of these stereotypes, as Ilocanos still actively support the Marcoses. Election results show that in 2016, then vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos got a solid vote from Northern Luzon. Also in the recent 2019 senatorial elections, Imee Marcos came in first in the Ilocos Region and the Cordillera Administrative Region. Personal experience, moreover, manifests that a typical Ilocano experience includes a collective memory of the supposed golden years that Ilocos had under the Marcos regime.

A huge number of Ilocanos have generally maintained a pro-Marcos stance, relegating anti-Marcos sentiments as the exemption rather than the rule. Many Filipinos, therefore, point a finger at Ilocanos for supporting a dictator who plundered the country. However, they are not the only ones who are accountable – politicians are, too.

Politicians and their political strategies should never escape our sight because they set dominant conditions for the maintenance of the Solid North. Those who seek higher office would naturally want to appease and win the vote of a region, especially one like Ilocos, which has a strong ethnic capital that is a formidable tool for national-level elections.

Grace Poe, an independent presidential candidate in the 2016 elections, praised Apo Lakay for his infrastructure legacy in her visit to Burgos, Ilocos Norte. Even the late Miriam Defensor Santiago, who had been very vocal against corruption and political incompetence, gunned for the presidency with the younger Marcos at her side. President Rodrigo Duterte, furthermore, often expressed his appreciation for Imee Marcos for being the first governor in Luzon to support his presidential candidacy. (READ: Miriam Santiago: 'Marcoses don't owe us an apology')

The Solid North, whether or not perfectly solid in the first place, gets solidified by politicians who praise the Marcoses to woo the Ilocos vote. Politics has its own truth-making mechanism. Those who have access to mainstream and legitimate platforms mold the interpretation of history depending on their political goals. In the case of the Solid North, political patrons give homage to the late dictator and in turn get votes from the Ilocano electoral clientele. 

Coming from a generation who did not witness firsthand the rule of the homegrown tyrant, stories from relatives and statements from politicians can be enough to justify the heroism of Apo Lakay. After all, the family and the state are two of the most powerful institutions in the country. But as if these two are still not enough, the legal institution as well contributes to the cementing of the Marcos power. Nobody among the Marcos clan has actually gone to prison, despite corruption cases. Last February, Duterte even claimed that the Marcoses' ill-gotten wealth still remains unproven. (WATCH: Young Filipinos shocked by Martial Law victims' stories)

Facing these institutions and aware of just how much power the Marcoses have over these institutions, the Marcoses had always stood on solid Ilocandia ground. They remain a strong political family, actively participating in remolding the interpretation of the past and enjoying the malleability of collective memory. This is evidenced by the number of times that they have run for national-level positions. (READ: Marcoses take seats in Senate, Congress, province, and city)

And it seems like every election, the Marcos family becomes bolder, testing the waters to see just how close they can go back to Malacañang. They had lost the Philippines before, but have been given another opportunity to get back a portion of it — the very first portion they had, Ilocos. (READ: TIMELINE: How the Marcoses made their political comeback)

The Marcoses have successfully expanded their stronghold – an expansion made possible not only by loyalists, but by politicians willing to twist narratives, remold collective memory, and share in historical revisionism just to gain votes. When we talk about the "Solid North," we zero in on the Ilocanos and their supposed blind veneration of the Marcoses. However, if examined in terms of the actions of politicians, whether Ilocano or not, we realize that our sight had been misdirected from the start.

The Ilocanos are not the only people, not even the main ones at that, who are responsible for the maintenance of the Solid North. This piece focused on politicians considering that they hold a legitimate platform. However, in reality, the Solid North is also maintained by teachers, celebrities, parents, and anyone who holds narrative power. The Solid North, if anything, is a continuing product of the powerful's manipulative exercise – negotiated, renegotiated, and used for personal agenda. – Rappler.com

Athena Charanne R. Presto graduated summa cum laude and currently teaches Sociology at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She was born and raised in Ilocos. She tweets at @sosyolohija.