Marcos hometown holds muted celebrations on strongman's centennial

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Batac, Ilocos Norte (CNN Philippines, September 8) — The city's most famous resident — if he were alive — would have turned 100 this Monday, but from the looks of it, it could be just any other weekend here.

Days before former President Ferdinand Marcos' centennial on Sept. 11, his hometown Batac displays little signs of an impending celebration.

There are no streamers or concerts for this year's events- the only indication of the upcoming anniversary, workers landscaping the foliage around the freshly installed statue of the former president in the plaza.

The statue, which was transferred from its old location to a new spot at the city plaza, will be unveiled in a wreath laying ceremony on Sept. 10. Other than a simultaneous flag-raising ceremonies throughout Ilocos Norte on Sept. 11, this is the last activity in a roster of events lined up for the six-day celebration. 

Mafae Flojo, a 24-year-old nurse, recalls concerts and flash mobs were held in the city during Marcos' 99th birth anniversary.

"Bongga nung nakaraang taon. Kasi di ba dito siya napanganak, tapos dito yung bahay nila kaya love na love nila mag-celebrate," she said. "Nung nilipat na, ganun pa rin naman pero wala na yung parang masaya."

[Translation: Celebrations were grander last year since, as you know, he was born here and his house is here. That's why the loved celebrating it here.

It's still somewhat the same after they moved (his remains), although festivities are gone]

Maribel Claud, a vendor, also said supporters used to flock to the city nearing the Marcos' birth celebration, but has noticed less people this year.

"Lahat sila, nakapula, pinapakita ang suporta," she said, recalling how tourists and supporters had come to the city last year to voice support for the late President.

[Translation: They were all in red, showing their support.]

Fewer tourists have also visited the Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Center, where the strongman's remains used to be on display.

With Marcos' transfer to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, tourists have been cut to roughly a fourth. Only 33,135 visitors from January to May 2017 visited the venue compared to 131,168 during the same period last year.

Low-key celebration

Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos said this year's events are decidedly low-key.

While President Rodrigo Duterte has declared Sept. 11 a holiday for the province of Ilocos Norte, the Marcos family has opted for a subdued commemoration.

For the patriarch's birthday, the Marcos family said a simple celebration will do.

"Wala munang parada tulad ng nanay ko, walang concert tulad ni Bongbong, walang palabas tulad ko. Yung gusto naman niya na napakasimple lang. Rather austere man, very military," Ilocos Norte Governor and Marcos' daughter Imee Marcos said.

[Translation: No parades like my mom, no concert like Bongbong, no shows like me. What he wanted was something very simple-rather austere, very military.]

This year marks the first year the family will host their father's birth commemoration at the Libingan ng Bayani.

The surprise burial at the Heroes Cemetery took place last year, amid fierce opposition and triggered protests in Metro Manila and other parts of the nation.

Marcos and millennials

While the Marcoses remain controversial, Batac-like the rest of Ilocos-- has long-been a "balwarte" for the family.

Years after his death, residents of the Batac still know the former President as "Apo Lakay."

Visitors would be hard pressed to find any detractors here- even among the younger crowd.

When asked if they believe Marcos is a hero, most residents answered with a resounding yes, albeit in varying degrees.

But at the Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (FEM) forum held at the Mariano Marcos State University, supporters abound.

The Ilocos Norte Tourism Office estimates some 900 people—composed of Marcos supporters, students, and local government units—attended the two-day forum, "Marcos 100 Forum: The North Remembers."

Ilocos Norte Tourism Office head Ian Raquel said the forum allowed speakers to share another side of history.

"Marcos and the subject of his presidency is very very broad and can be highly technical," he said. "It's important to present the case of Marcos naman. So it's actually providing a venue for that."

As in any college forum, some listened intently, while others chatted with friends in the crowd.

When asked why they're at the event, some students said they were "required," while others said they attended to listen.

However, they went on to say like most residents of Ilocos, they remain supporters the Marcos family.

"Pag sa Ilocos Norte, mahirap makahanap ng pagba-bash," 19-year-old Melinda Yao said.

[Translation: It's hard to find someone who bashes them in Ilocos Norte.]

Another student who attended the forum, Jerome Binarao, said he is in between.

The BS Fisheries student said he believes Marcos was a good president and appreciates what he has done for the country, but acknowledges Marcos' shortcomings as well.

"Yung pag-implement niya ng kanyang pagiging diktador. Kasi sa diktadorial kasi siya lang nagco-command eh. Sa kaniya lang yung legislative and executive na dapat sa isang republiko," he said.

[Translation: How he implemented his dictatorship, because in a dictatorial society he's the only commander. He holds the legislative and the executive that should be one republic.]

But Binarao's neutral stance is a departure from the norm, as many remain staunchly loyal to the strongman.

When interviewed, Darwin Dela Cruz, an Araling Panlipunan teacher at the Ferdinand E. Marcos senior high school said he believes in the so-called "Solid North," adding he personally does not know anyone who isn't a Marcos supporter.

"Bihira dito...Siguro may mga ilan ilan pero yung kung talagang mag-pinpoint kami, wala," he said.

[Translation: There aren't many here... Maybe there are a few but if you ask us to pinpoint anyone, we don't know.]

For Ilocanos like him, Marcos is a source of pride.

"Iba talaga yung turing sa kaniya. Alam mo naman ang Ilocos Norte, very small province," said Dela Cruz. 

"Sino ba naman mag-imagine na galing sa isang maliit manggaling yung pinakasikat, kumbaga, pinakamatalinong presidente," he added with a smile.

[Translation: They really treat him differently. You know how Ilocos Norte is a very small province. Who would have thought that the most famous, smartest president would come from here.]