The North remembers
That was the title of a newspaper ad that appeared in the papers when Gov. Imee Marcos was scheduled for her showdown with Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. Designed in the unique title font of the cable show “Game of Thrones,” it thanked the governor “for RA 7171 projects!” on behalf of “tobacco farmers, vegetable associations, Ilocos Norte zanjeras.” Predictably, the ad drove fans of the show crazy, but proved Governor Marcos’ shrewd ability to use pop culture for her purposes. Who can forget the video of her brother, dressed in Jedi Knight robes, waving around a lightsaber on the famous sand dunes of Paoay?
The Fariñas vs. Marcos showdown has engrossed political observers for months. The intricacies of Ilocos Norte provincial politics aside, something bigger was read into the conflict beyond it being merely the breakdown of the old division of territory between the two families: Laoag is supposed to be the Fariñas bailiwick while the province is the Marcos’.
That bigger thing was whether Rudy going after Imee had the blessings of the President or not. While the Majority Leader has always someone all administrations are keen to have on their side, he has become particularly essential at present, helping to smooth relations and crack the whip when required (which seems to be often considering the slender bonafides of the Speaker). This suggested to observers that Fariñas was in a position to act with relative impunity against the Marcoses, because the Palace needs him quite badly indeed. Another point of view suggested that the President’s enthusiasm for the Marcoses had waned, as he warmed to the job and stopped viewing his own presidency as a transitional one in place merely to pave the way for a Marcos restoration. There is no greater tonic for self-confidence than wielding the powers of the presidency. This view suggested that having discovered himself an essential man, the President would neither relinquish his office ahead of the expiration of his term, or be so imprudent as to actively promote the replacement of the current Vice President after he had quickly, and thoroughly, taken her measure and found her utterly non-threatening. Besides which, any political debt he owed to the Marcoses could be deemed paid off with the burial of the Great Dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
On the other hand, as Onofre Corpuz once observed in his Roots of the Filipino Nation, “[I]t is still a truism in modern-day Philippine politics that no President of the Republic gains anything by interfering in contests between provincial political ‘chieftains’.” Better to keep not just both sides guessing as to whose side he was on, but everyone else wondering what, exactly, might be up his sleeves—even if it might be nothing. Perception is King, and keeping everyone guessing is as good a way to prop up the throne as any.
For a time it seemed Fariñas, too, had taken the measure of the Marcoses and found them weak. The zeal—and zest—with which he made his case, corralled low-ranking provincial bureaucrats, conducted hearings with the requisite combination of verbal fireworks and skillful use of subpoenas and detention orders for contempt, and had the Speaker and his fellow representatives tag-teaming to take on all comers, whether in the form of possible relief in the courts (hence the Speaker’s fight with the Court of Appeals) or at the hands of the Marcoses (hence the threat to declare her in contempt if she not only failed to appear at the House proceedings, but refused to answer the committee’s questions), all these were signs of a man on the up-and-up, doing victory laps.
But he failed. Many wondered why, instead of say, Estelito Mendoza, Mother and Daughter Marcos brought Juan Ponce Enrile with them to the showdown in the House. You only have to remember the impeachment of Renato Corona and how Fariñas would genuflect, almost daily, before Enrile, to know that here was a man who, for whatever reason, the fearsome Fariñas held in awe. His presence was enough to put the Majority Leader on his best behavior; his strategic whisperings to the governor were enough to attribute the governor’s answers—so sorry, we meant well, do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of grateful men?—to his legal wisdom and deny Fariñas grounds to further detain the bureaucrats or continue tormenting Imee.
In the end, without a case, only face-saving rhetoric was left for Fariñas. The main point had been made: Marcoses do not lose. They do not undergo detention. They take on all comers. Their arsenal may be antique, but it works.