Is the ‘Ilocos Six’ a proxy war?

OPINIONPerryScope
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In a major setback for Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, she failed to secure immediate relief from the Supreme Court (SC) against the House of Representatives’ (HOR) inquiry into the Ilocos Norte’s alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco excise tax funds.

While the SC did not specifically reject Imee’s petition, it was re-raffled since the justice in charge of the case, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, recused himself from the case. Interestingly, it was Peralta who administered the oath of office of former first lady Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative and senator, respectively, in 2010.  But here’s the rub: Peralta is a relative of Ilocos Norte 1st District representative and Majority Leader Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas, one of the respondents in the case.  

In addition to Peralta, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and newly appointed Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. inhibited themselves from the case.  No reason was given for their recusal.   

With the three magistrates inhibiting themselves from the case, there will only be 12 justices who can vote on the case, which would require seven votes for approval of the petition.  Does Imee have the support of at least seven justices?  The fact that majority of the SC justices voted to allow the re-burial of the remains of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), indicates the strong influence of President Rodrigo Duterte on the High Court.  The interment of Marcos at the Libingan would certainly help Bongbong in his quest for the presidency.  Indeed, Duterte had made it known that Bongbong was his preferred successor.   But that was before the “Ilocos Six” scandal erupted, pitting Imee Marcos against Rudy Fariñas. 

 

Ilocos Six

The “Ilocos Six” controversy might seem complicated and complex in legal terms; but one can see politics at the crux of the matter.  There are two groups of very powerful politicians who are involved in the imbroglio.  One group is the powerful Marcos political clan of Ilocos Norte, which is led by the former First Lady and Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, her daughter Governor Imee Marcos, and her only son, former Senator Bongbong Marcos.  The other group is led by a triumvirate of the top HOR leaders consisting of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the HOR’s Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability. 

While the Marcos siblings defer to their mother Imelda Marcos, who is used to wielding the power that she and her late husband had during the heyday of their conjugal dictatorship, the HOR triumvirs are political protégés of the “Godfather” in Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte. They occupy their high positions because the Godfather placed them there to make sure that he has a grip on the HOR.  Although nobody would admit to it, they serve at the pleasure of the Godfather.  That is the reality of Philippine politics. 

The system of “three independent government branches,” as stipulated in the Constitution, doesn’t work in Philippine realpolitik. What works is the “padrino” system that we had inherited from the Spanish colonizers.   Duterte is the padrino or godfather of the HOR triumvirs.  And by the same token, Imelda Marcos is the padrina or godmother of the Marcos clan.  

Now the picture is crystal clear: the “Ilocos Six” is a proxy war between Duterte and Imelda Marcos.  But what is not clear is why are they fighting each other when not too long ago they were the best of friends?  

There is chatter in the grapevine that the Marcoses and Duterte had a falling out.  Speculation is rife that a “broken promise” might have been the cause of their estranged relationship.  Well, like they say, “In politics you don’t know who your friends or enemies are.” 

The presidential election is still five years away and loyalty could shift from one side to the other at the drop of a hat.  And as usual there would be the balimbings – political opportunists – who would jump sides if it satisfied their own agenda.

 

Political opportunism

In my last column, “The politics behind the Ilocos Six” (July 21, 2017), I wrote: “It’s interesting to note that both Imee [Marcos] and [Rudy] Fariñas will be termed out in 2019.  Which makes one wonder what their political plans are in the 2019 midterm election?  Imee could run for Fariñas’ 1st District seat, after all she’s now officially a resident of Laoag City, which is in the 1st District.  Bongbong’s eldest son Sandro is now primed to run for office in the province.  Why not the governorship that Imee would be vacating?  Bongbong’s second son, Joseph Simon would be in a position to run for mayor of Laoag City against incumbent Chevylle Fariñas. And Bongbong’s youngest son Vincent would qualify to run against Laoag City’s incumbent vice-mayor and Chevylle’s husband, Michael Fariñas.  That would certainly stack up the cards against the Fariñas clan right in their own backyard.

“Meanwhile, Bongbong’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo is now before the Supreme Court convened as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).  If Bongbong wins and takes over the vice presidency, it would certainly make the Marcos clan the preeminent political body in Ilocos Norte.  And this could cause the downfall of the Fariñas clan.” 

 

Duterte vs. Marcos

With the elimination of the Fariñas clan from the political power structure of Ilocos Norte, Bongbong can then work in securing the support of the Solid North.  And with the Visayas and Mindanao getting behind whomever Duterte fronts in 2022, Bongbong is probably salivating right now because he is very confident that he is Duterte’s candidate – or as they say in the street, “manok,” a fighting cock — in the 2022 presidential election.  And he was.  What happened?  

With the proxy war that is going on between Duterte and Imelda, the calculus for the presidential election in 2022 is going to change.  And this begs the question: If Bongbong were not going to be Duterte’s candidate, who would it be?  Last June, amid speculations about his health, Duterte stressed that Vice President Leni Robredo will be his “only constitutional successor in case his term ends prematurely.”  Is that a veiled endorsement that Leni could be his anointed successor to the presidency?  Why not?

And what’s in store for Rudy Fariñas, who has loyally stood by his godfather?   

        PerryDiaz@gmail.com

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