LAOAG CITY, Philippines?What is certain after the May 10 elections is that the Marcoses will continue their political grip on Ilocos Norte politics. But which faction of the clan will take the capitol seat is for Ilocano people to decide.
Leaders in the province agree that the political landscape is headed for a turn with the heads-up battle between first cousins Imee Marcos and reelectionist Gov. Michael Keon.
This election marks the first time that a Marcos is pitted against another Marcos. Keon is the only son of the late Ilocos Norte Gov. Elizabeth Marcos, the youngest sister of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Imee?s father.
Keon won the gubernatorial post in 2007 with the support of Imee, a former Ilocos Norte representative, and her brother, Ferdinand ?Bongbong? Marcos Jr., a former governor. He served as Bongbong?s consultant in sports development before winning a seat in the provincial board.
But the former Gintong Alay program director said he would end up a lifelong enemy of the Marcoses even after the May elections.
?This election is pivotal in the history of Ilocos Norte. Things will never be the same again,? Keon said.
?If I win, will the Marcoses forgive me for winning? If I lose, I will have no political future here. The Marcoses and their allies will make sure that I will never resurrect again. Whatever will happen ? will happen. I will just deal with it. I am not afraid to lose,? he said.
What drove the Marcos cousins to different political fences had to do with a supposed ?agreement? that Bongbong and Keon made in September last year or before the filing of certificates of candidacies.
The Marcoses agreed that they would consolidate their forces behind Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.?s Nacionalista Party (NP), which adopted Bongbong as guest senatorial candidate.
Keon was supposed to have told Bongbong that he would stick it out with the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD until he could complete all projects he had lined up for the province. The governor, who is Lakas-Kampi-CMD provincial chair, promised Bongbong that he would eventually join the NP so he could help his cousin?s Senate bid.
Bongbong said Keon had also made a commitment that the latter would allow mayors to choose freely which party they would want to join only to find out that the governor had herded them to Malacañang to take their oaths as Lakas-Kampi-CMD members. Most incumbent mayors at that time were already allied with the administration.
The last straw that divided the cousins was Keon?s media statement that the Ilocanos? support was only meant for Bongbong and not for Villar?s NP.
Bongbong said his cousin?s actions were a slap on the Marcoses because Keon violated an agreement, which had been sealed in Villar?s presence.
Bongbong said he lost face because Villar stood by him and prodded him to stay with the NP despite the stern opposition of known Marcos critics Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza to a Kilusang Bagong Lipunan-NP alliance.
?The decision for Imee to challenge Keon was not meant to get back at him (Keon) for his disloyalty to the family. But this came about because Keon failed to honor an agreement,? Bongbong said in an open letter published in a local paper.
If at all, the 2010 gubernatorial derby is probably one of the most awaited matchups, by far. The tension caused by the discord among the Marcos cousins is probably higher on the streets as political observers and common Ilocanos alike weigh up as to which Marcos faction would take the capitol.
Keon?s running mate is another cousin, Board Member Angelo Marcos-Barba. Imee, on the other hand, has adopted Board Member Yvonne Ranada as her vice gubernatorial candidate. Another relative, Board Member Mariano Marcos II, is running for reelection under Imee?s ticket.
The Marcos matriarch, Imelda, is running for representative in the second district and is up against a former Marcos ally and former vice governor, Mariano Nalupta Jr.
In the first district, former Gov. Rodolfo Fariñas, who has reconciled with the Marcoses, will slug it out with Board Member Kristian Ablan, son of outgoing Rep. Roque Ablan Jr., another board member and Fariñas? brother-in-law Renato Peralta; former Pagudpud Mayor Reynolan Sales and lawyer Chito Ruiz.
Fariñas lost to Keon in the 2007 gubernatorial contest.
Representative Ablan has been a long-time Marcos loyalist, but he withdrew his support from the Marcos siblings because he was not expecting an endorsement from them for his son Kristian.
Steve Barreiro, a columnist of a local paper, said Keon had endeared himself to the Ilocanos because of his brand of governance.
?He is a 24/7 kind of guy. You would see him routinely in the capitol and in the communities,? he said.
Barreiro probably represents the collective sentiment of Ilocanos who are known to assess their political leaders on how often they have seen them.
?Ilocanos take things on a personal level. They determine their leaders? performance on how many times they have gone to their villages or whether they are actually behind their desks,? a retired teacher, who asked not to be named, said.
But the teacher said Keon is facing an uphill battle because, after all, he is up against a tried and tested name in Ilocandia.
?Every Ilocano reveres the late President [Marcos] and they will give the same affection and support to his children ? That?s for the love of Apo Marcos,? she said.
Keon said he chose to fight his cousin Imee knowing that he was up against a Marcos because he would want to know the verdict of Ilocanos.
?These are two sides of a coin. I can deal with losing. But I have to do what I have to do. I can also deal with winning. Let?s see what happens. I want to know. You all want to know. Come what may, we deal with it,? he said.
?My life will never be the same again after May. Neither will the Marcoses? and neither will the people of Ilocos Norte. Things will change in a way that we may not understand.?