Second of five in a series
THERE’S a misconception that the Solid North was reinforced by the support given by Ferdinand Marcos to the Ilocano people.
“The Solid North phenomenon also projected an underlying notion about Northern Luzon at that time,” wrote UP Professor Pawilen.
“That the Ilocanos were voting solidly for the Marcoses not just because of the ethnic ties to the north, but also because the Ilocanos had a relatively better experience as compared to the other parts of the Philippines during the Martial Law period with Marcos pouring over billions of funds, especially in his home province of Ilocos Norte,” he said.
Jessie Vizcarra, a human rights lawyer of Vigan City, said that this glosses over the history of Ilocano activism at that time and the repression suffered by Ilocanos during the Martial Law period.
Vizcarra agreed with Pawilen’s stand that for the North to be Solid, Ilocos had to be broken down.
He said that in forming the Solid North in 1965, Marcos Sr. had to build alliances with known political warlords at that time.
These were Floro Singson Crisologo of Ilocos Sur, Miguel T. Cases of La Union and Antonio Raquiza of Ilocos Norte.
Raquiza had been a congressman of Ilocos Norte from 1949 until 1966 and then again from 1978 to 1986 and also briefly became governor. For his alliance with Marcos, he became secretary of Public Works, Transportation, and Communications.
Cases was a five-term congressman of the Second District of La Union from 1946 to 1965.
The most notorious was Crisologo. He and his wife Carmeling Pichay Crisologo, who served as governor from 1964 to 1961 were the conjugal political kingpins of Ilocos Sur.
Floro was part of the Marcos cabinet in 1965 and he, together with Raquiza, was the only politician in the cabinet filled with technocrats and political administrators.
“While President Marcos relied on political administrators like Salas and Syquio for administrative and program results, he maintained his contacts with old political friends. To some extent, this was forced on him by the Nacionalista Party elite who did not particularly like the way the President was running the country and the party,” wrote Aprodicio Laquian of the International Development Research Centre in 1970.
Floro Crisologo was widely touted to have authored the bills creating the Social Security System and the Tobacco Law.
Virginia tobacco was then a burgeoning cash crop in the country and the Crisologos tried to monopolize it in Ilocos Sur by establishing the Farmer’s Cooperative Marketing Association (Facoma) which bought the tobacco harvest of the farmers. They also built a tobacco leaf drying plant in the province.
The Crisologos also built their private army of about 300, which the residents nicknamed the “saka-saka” or the “barefooted.”The “saka-saka” was used for the tobacco blockade to ensure that the “check” trucks were laden with tobacco with their “tax receipts.”
Also, the saka-saka would ensure another Marcos victory in the November 1969 presidential elections.
President Marcos was aiming for his second (and supposedly final) term against then Cebu senator, Sergio Osmena.
And again the Solid North delivered the votes for its native son.
If the 1965 elections were a Hollywood battle, the 1969 elections was a typical Pinoy gangster movie at that time.
It was the first time that the election expression of the Three G or guns’ goons and gold was coined.
“During his 1969 reelection effort, President Marcos stumped vigorously, reaching even remote villages to personally place a check for two thousand pesos in the hands of each barrio captain, obligating them, in the country’s political culture, to use every possible means to deliver a winning margin,” wrote Alfred W. McCoy in his 2009 book, Policing American Empire.
“This strategy cost Marcos a hefty $50 million, far more than the $34 million Richard Nixon had spent to win the U.S. presidency in 1968,” he added.
“Overspending by the government occasioned by the 1969 re-election campaign of Mr. Marcos precipitated the third balance-of-payments crisis in 1970,” wrote former UP Professor Manuel F Montes, now senior advisor on Finance and Development at the South Centre in Geneva in his 1987 paper on Stabilization and Adjustment Policies and Programmes for WIDER.
“The 1970 IMF (International Monetary fund)-sponsored adjustment programme required a 43 percent devaluation and the reduction in selected tariff rates. The reforms effectively brought to an end a brief and half-hearted flirtation with export-led growth,” Montes added.
It was a Pyrrhic victory for Marcos, the first time that a Philippine president won a second term. He garnered 5,017,343 votes against Osmena’s 3,043,122, winning in all provinces except in Pampanga and Antique.
The grip of Marcos in his Solid North was almost the same as in 1965.
He got 777,514 votes, or 80 percent, from the Solid North provinces of Abra, Batanes, Benguet, Cagayan, Ifugao, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Isabela, Kalinga-Apayao, La Union, Mountain Province and Pangasinan. Osmena only got 197,462 votes. Eerily enough, that was the same percentage of winning he got in the Solid North in 1965.
Ilocos Norte gave their hometown boy 80,631 votes or a whopping 98.5 percent. Osmena got only 1,215.
Ilocos Sur and La Union gave similar winning percentages of 91 percent.
Despite the Philippines losing almost half its value in the process, “gold” was only one-third of the ways that Marcos won.
“The 1969 campaign also produced incidents of political terror of the sort not seen since the 1951 elections. With the constabulary now under the command of Marcos loyalist Vicente Raval, the PC’s Special Forces orchestrated violence in four swing provinces that left forty-six dead,” wrote McCoy.
One of these swing provinces was Batanes.
“In its ruling on these violations, the Supreme Court was particularly critical of what it called the “rape of democracy in Batanes,” a remote island where the Special Forces allowed motorcycle-riding goons dubbed the “Suzuki boys” to coerce a winning margin in the congressional race for a close Marcos ally,” McCoy said.
The Supreme Court in April 1970 issued an en banc decision affirming the Comelec resolution to annul the proclamation of Marcos ally, Rufino Antonio Jr., as congressman of Batanes by rejecting the election returns from 21 precincts in the island province and proclaiming Jorge Abad as the winner.
Abad is the father of Florencio “Butch” Abad, who would then replace him as the representative of Batanes in 1987 before becoming Secretary of Agrarian reform and again from 1995 to 2004.
1969 was also the year that another Marcos alliance would fall.
“The height of the Solid North was also the peak of the 3Gs of the Constabulary and the private armies,” said Arnold Molina Azurin.
“The investigative reports on poll-related incidents in Ilocos Sur by Jose Burgos for Manila Times include ambuscades and arson,” he added.
“Solid North thus became as peaceful as a graveyard and solid as a bullet,” he said.
In September 1969, Crisologo’s saka-saka killed the former mayor of Bantay town, just a stone throw away from Vigan. A month later, the prosecutors indicted Crisologo’s son, Vicente, for being the mastermind.
“During the elections, the presence of ROTC cadets and hundreds of seminarians guarded the ballots while some held processions with lit candles to accompany the ballots to local Comelec precincts,” he said.
After the elections in May 1970, Vicente again led the saka-saka in burning Bantay’s Ora Este and Ora Centro for supporting the opposition in the province.
Azurin said the stories of Burgos brought the Bantay inferno to Manila.
“Operation Bantay” was formed by 42 civil society and religious groups in Ilocos Sur to demand justice for the burning of the two villages.
Marcos ordered arson charges filed against Vicente Crisologo.
But the Crisologos were not yet finished. Floro Crisologo reportedly went to Malacanang to demand for Marcos to give his victory spoils from the Solid North.
He reportedly told the president and his cousin Fabian Ver that he will expose their role in the tobacco monopoly in the Ilocos region as the duo had recently been cornering the new tobacco monopoly.
In October 1970, Floro Crisologo was shot dead in the head while kneeling inside the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral in Vigan.
Fifty years later, even while those who shot him could come out in the open and be immune from prosecution, the crime remains unresolved up to now.
Carmeling Crisologo said that she was not interested in pursuing the case.
Vicente Crisologo was convicted of arson in 1970 and was sentenced to double life imprisonment. Before his actual imprisonment in June 1972, he still managed to run as mayor of Vigan in 1971.
He lost to Evaristo “Titong” Singson while Carmelita lost to Luis “Chavit” Singson, Vicente’s cousin and Titong’s brother.
Thus was born the reign of Chavit Singson who remains Ilocos Sur’s political kingpin.
Chavit is one of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s main campaigners and financiers. Though he said he is retired from politics, his shadow will be as formidable as that of Floro Crisologo in the cabinet of Marcos the father.
(The series is made possible with funding from Internews)