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Ilocos Norte: Marcos Country
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Rachel Castro-Barawid
Date: 2004-07-18
I knew I had just stepped into "Marcos country" as soon as I heard some balikbayans speaking in the Ilocano dialect, and saw a poster of a beaming Imee Marcos, the province’s Congress Representative, hanging above the door of our tourist coach. When in Ilocos Norte, I later learned, that it is impossible not to associate the province with the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos and his family. In fact, the province owes much of its prosperity, modern infrastructure and cultural development to the Marcoses.

A town was even named Marcos, in memory of the late President’s father, former Ilocos Norte assemblyman Mariano Marcos. Naturally, the highlight of a trip to this grandiose province would be a visit to the Marcoses’ attractions, aside of course, to the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, Paoay Church and the beaches of Pagudpud.

We, a press group from Manila led by Ms. Bonjin Bolinao and Edcel Ignacio of BSMG, were being shuttled from the Laoag International Airport to the posh Fort Ilocandia Resort in Paoay during the start of a much-anticipated, three-day familiarization tour of the province. A scenic view of the countryside — mostly of green fields, vast plains, century-old trees framing the wide, cemented highways, and bustling towns — greeted us during our brief travel to the resort where we were billeted for the rest of our stay.

It was not long, though, before I personally witnessed how well-loved the Marcoses are in this place, and how much they genuinely love their home province in return, through a memorable, social gathering of prominent personalities in Ilocos. The event is the Governor’s Ball, which we were privileged to cover. Organized by the provincial government led by Governor Ferdinand "Bongbong" Romualdez Marcos and the Gameng Foundation, Inc. (our host for this trip), the well-attended dinner-dance was held recently to raise funds for the maintenance and cultural activities of the Gameng Museo Ilocos Norte.

If there is one important legacy that the Filipinos earned from the Marcoses, it is the renaissance of arts and literature in the country, through the holding of national contests, staging of shows, construction of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater and the Film Center. These significant contributions speak of their love of the arts, of culture and heritage preservation, traits which the Marcos children have inherited and are imparting to their fellow Ilocanos until now.

A brainchild of provincial tourism council chair Irene Marcos-Araneta, the Museo Ilocos Norte was built in 1999 to instill a sense of pride among the young Ilocanos and ethnic groups of the province such as the Yapayaos, Itnegs and Igorots, and deepen their feelings of belonging.

Named "Gameng," after the Iloko word meaning "treasure," the museum showcases the wealth of Ilocos Norte through its multifaceted cultural heritage and a sturdy and industrious people.

The Museum building itself is an art, and is historically significant as the collection of artifacts found inside. Museum administrator Araceli Albano Drake said the centuries-old building is a restored Tabacalera warehouse, a tabacco factory during the Spanish period. The museum houses artifacts culled from various places all over the province, mostly discoveries by museum staff and some personal collections of kind donors.

Simple yet concise, the museum features the lifestyles of the early inhabitants of Ilocos and its various ethnic groups, including the tools they use to earn a living. It is divided into 15 main sections that describe the Ilocanos as farmers, fishermen and people in the highlands; towns of Ilocos Norte; market items; historical highlights; the Abel Iloko cloth; Pugon; musical instruments and musical traditions. But what stands out in the museum is the recreation of an Ilocano ancestral house. The two-storey abode has a receiving area, living room, dining quarters, bedroom and kitchen, all fully-furnished with rare antique pieces that dates back to several centuries.

Aside from the museum, a trip to Ilocos Norte would not be complete without a visit to the Marcos tomb, museum and residence in Batac, the hometown of the former president.

Our tour guide said the so-called "Malacañang of the North" or more locally known as the "Balay ti Amianan," was the smaller version of Malacañang Palace during the Marcos regime, in terms of grandeur. It also used to be called "Vigan House" because it was patterned after the traditional Filipino house in Vigan. The five-hectare, 2-storey property consists of spacious living rooms in the first and second floors that are big enough to hold a large crowd; 7 bedrooms (4 guestrooms, 3 main rooms) including 2 master bedrooms of Marcos and wife Imelda. It also has a big terrace and a beautiful garden with a spectacular view of the Paoay Lake.

Although most of the furniture in the house are old and worn out, the Balay still comes alive and glows with splendor during occasions such as weddings and debuts. Since the house was sequestered by the government along with other Marcos properties, it has become a public property, a venue for social gatherings, in particular. In fact, when we were touring the place, the garden was being transformed into a beautiful outdoor wedding setting, so romantic a place that most of us thought of gate crashing.

From mushy we turned solemn at the sight of Marcos’ body during a stopover at his mausoleum. Former President Marcos who was in exile in Hawaii, died of a lingering illness in September 1989. His body was brought back to Batac in 1993 and placed at the mausoleum.

A cube of adobe blocks make up the mausoleum which is stepped towards the top of the structure. On the other side of the tomb is an entry foyer where old English mores and the bust of Marcos are displayed. Marcos’ body was reportedly preserved the way it was done for the remains of world leaders Lenin and Stalin of Russia and Mao Tse Tung of China. As it appeared, one might be tempted to think that the refrigerated body in the crypt was a wax version of the late President Marcos. But of course, it was "the real Mccoy."

We followed in the line a group of Taiwanese tourists who were as interested as we are to the Marcos museum, situated right next to his tomb and to the family’s ancestral house. It was quite amusing to see how engrossed in history those foreigners were, sometimes more enthralled than us Filipinos. The building which houses the museum used to be the office of the former president when in Ilocos. Today, it exhibits Marcos memorabilia such as his handwritten letters in exile, photos and other personal memento.

Every week, hundreds of tourists visit these attractions to learn more of the man who never forgot his roots; of a province which has become what it is today largely because of him and his family; and of the people who loved him back, and still do until now.

[ Paoay Church Wiki | Malacañang Palace Wiki | Cultural Center of the Philippines Wiki ]

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