First of five in a series
By Frank Cimatu
AS Vice President Leni Robredo loved to do in her sorties, she read out placards brought out by the audience near the stage.
At the Takder Kordi rally at the Melvin Jones football grounds in Baguio City, one of the placards she read was “Bus Lang Ang Solid North.”
It drew one of the loudest cheers among the 30,000 who joined the rally.
This refers to the Solid North Bus Lines which was established in 2010 and primarily plied the Pangasinan-Manila route.
The Baguio rally was the one where the predominantly young audience repeatedly chanted “Awan ti Solid North” (There’s No Solid North).
But a week later, the country realized again that the Solid North was still alive and growing.
Ilocos Norte, according to the partial count, voted 97.225 for its hometown son and former governor if they were in a head-to-head contest with outgoing VP Leni Robredo.
That was the highest win percentage for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. among all provinces in the country.
The Ilocos region voted 89.23 percent for Marcos if the election were one-on-one against Robredo.
But the two other regions in the Solid North gave Marcos a higher percentage win.
Cagayan Valley recorded 90.74 and the Cordillera went even higher with 91.37 in a head-to-head contest with Robredo.
The only time Regions I and II (Cordillera was then distributed between the two regions) voted solidly was in 1986 when Ferdinand Marcos Sr. won over Corazon Aquino in the Snap Elections.
As the placard said, Bus lang ang Solid North. And this bus only carried the Marcoses to the elections.
Assistant Professor Reidan Pawilen of the University of the Philippines Los Banos describes the Solid North as a campaign phenomenon.
In his paper, The Solid North Myth: an investigation on the status of dissent and human rights during the Marcos Regime in Regions 1 and 2, 1969-1986,” Pawilen refers to Solid North as “the block voting behavior of Regions 1 and 2 that helped in electing Marcos to power during his 20-year rule in the Philippines.”
Even then, the Solid North was not played cleanly.
“While the Solid North justified Marcos’ victories in the 1965, 1969, 1981, and the 1986 elections, the phenomenon also served a political function and became a propaganda that blanketed the massive electoral frauds during his term,” Pawilen said.
The eminent Ilocano scholar Arnold Molina Azurin offered a similar definition to Solid North.
“It is a propaganda that should be understood in this particular sense, a solo block of canvassed votes in Ilocano-speaking region or provincial district whether the ballots are counted regularly or not, whether the votes are the actual result of election fraud such as vote-buying or intimidation or some other trickery, but what is important is to ensure a winning margin of votes,” said Azurin, author of “Reinventing the Filipino”, “Beddeng” and “Beyond the Cult of Dissidence in Southern Philippines and Wartorn Zones in the Global Village.”
The Solid North of the son indeed follows the playbook of the Solid North of the father.
In this election, 595 precincts gave zero votes to Robredo. Although more than half of them were in Sulu, almost 100 were in the Solid North area (45 in Abra, 20 in Ilocos Norte, 16 in Ilocos Sur, six in Apayao, three in La Union, and two each in Kalinga and Ifugao and one each in Isabela and Cagayan).
The last time this happened was in 1986 when, for example, 13,643 voted for Marcos Sr. in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte as against zero for Corazon Aquino.
Even then, international observers are calling this a “statistical improbability” – a term being said repeatedly in these recent elections.
There are many more parallelisms to the Solid North of the son to the father but there are also deviations.
But one thing remained true, the only passenger of the bus remained the Marcoses.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr. is not the first Ilocano president. Elpidio Quirino, the son of a jail warden of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, won as president over Jose Laurel in 1949; but the Ilocano race card was hardly used then.
Ferdinand Marcos fought President Diosdado Macapagal, the “poor man son of Lubao, Pampanga” in his re-election bid in 1965.
It was here that Solid North was born.
The Marcos-Macapagal contest was first a battle of personalities, using popular culture as the battleground.
Macapagal brought out his movie bio entitled “The Macapagal Story” in 1963 with Leopoldo Salcedo playing the lead role and Jose Padilla Jr., Liza Moreno, Lina Cariño, Jay Ilagan, Rosa Aguirre, Oscar Keesee and Danilo Jurado in supporting roles.
The great Gerardo de Leon also came out with another movie entitled “Daigdig ng Mga Api” again inspired by the life of Macapagal. Movie critics said that the movie was a classic, although no copy can now be found.
Marcos came out with Iginuhit ng Tadhana (The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story) with a blockbuster cast including Luis Gonzales as Ferdinand, Gloria Romero as Imelda, Vilma Santos as Imee, Chona as Irene, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as himself.
The Macapagal Story was shown mostly in Manila while “Iginuhit ng Tadhana” was shown in the provinces during the campaign, particularly in the Solid North.
Pawilen said that Marcos also commissioned his biography written by a hack writer named Hartzell Spence entitled, “For Every Tear a Victory: The Story of Ferdinand E. Marcos” in 1964.
This predictably became a bestseller in the Philippines as it was distributed for free in many Ilocos Norte towns.
Pawilen said that the book was “where some controversial historical claims were included such as his role in the Second World War and his war medals.”
“Alfred McCoy, an American historian, however, was able to gather and evaluate the documents that Marcos submitted and found out that the so-called documents of the Maharlika guerrilla unit that Marcos was supposed to command were forged and that the medals that he claimed to have received from the US military were fake.
“In 2013, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines published a detailed analysis on how the documents were forged complete with actual photographs of the fake documents,” Pawilen wrote.
The victory of Marcos over Macapagal can be attributed to this historical revisionism, but in Ilocos, a more sinister strategy solidified the Solid North.
(This series was made possible by funding from Internews)