Cracks in the Marcos bailiwick
Local politics in Ilocos Norte is the root cause of the ongoing dispute between the House of Representatives and the Court of Appeals on the issue of jurisdiction.
Six Ilocos Norte officials have been detained at the House premises for over a month because of their refusal to answer questions by a House committee on the alleged irregular purchase of P66.45 million worth of vehicles using tobacco subsidy funds.
The investigation was conducted pursuant to a resolution filed by Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of the first district of Ilocos Norte, who is also the House majority leader.
Although there was no reference to Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos in the resolution, she appears to be the target of the probe because she had the final say on the questioned purchases.
Upon the detainees’ petition, a division of the Court of Appeals issued a writ of habeas corpus ordering their release. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez refused to comply with the order and accused the justices instead of disrespecting the House’s contempt powers. Worse, he ordered the justices to explain why they should not be cited for contempt of the chamber for issuing the writ.
From the looks of it, the probe is a preview of the expected political clash between the Marcos and Fariñas camps in their province in the 2019 local elections.
Both are in their last terms as governor and representative, and are expected to either seek each other’s position or field separate candidates in the positions to be vacated.
For the longest time, the Marcos and Fariñas families were political allies in the province and, when they occasionally found themselves at opposite sides, engaged in “friendly” competition. But their common political ground and the adjoining Ilocano-speaking provinces are considered the bailiwick of the Marcos family because of the legacy left by former president Ferdinand Marcos.
Thus, for a time, few politicians dared to run against any member of the Marcos family, or whoever it endorsed, for elective positions in Ilocos Norte.
Recent events seem to indicate that Fariñas does not believe his political future is tied with his traditional ally. He has shown signs that he is ready to go head-to-head with the Marcos family and establish his own mark as a political kingpin at its expense.
Earlier, he rejected the appeal of former first lady Imelda Marcos, now the representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte, to release the detainees on humanitarian grounds. He also did not heed former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s plea for the House to comply with the court’s order to release them pending the resolution of the issue on the validity of their detention.
By his actions, Fariñas appears to be sending the message that the Marcos family is no longer politically invincible in Ilocos Norte and that he can give a good fight to any of its members, or protégés, who plan to run against him in 2019.
Had Marcos Jr. not lost to Vice President Leni Robredo in last year’s elections, it is doubtful if Fariñas would have filed a resolution to investigate the use of the tobacco subsidy funds. The astute Fariñas knows it would be political suicide for him to pick a fight with or challenge the political hold of the Marcos family in Ilocos Norte with a Vice President Marcos Jr. being a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Governor Marcos has been ordered by the House committee to appear at its hearing on July 25. But this early, she has served notice that, upon the advice of her brother Marcos Jr., she would not attend it.
In case no compromise is reached before that date about her attendance and she absents herself, it’s likely that the House will order her arrest and detention together with the six provincial employees to compel her presence at the hearing.
If that happens, the break between the Marcos and Fariñas camps would be a foregone conclusion and the die would be cast in 2019 to decide on who’s who in Ilocos Norte.
Raul J. Palabrica (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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