If she wins as governor, her critics warned in 2010, she will probably spend more time in Metro Manila than in the Ilocos Norte Capitol. “She will be bored here,” they said matter-of-factly. Sure, Imee Marcos had served as congresswoman for nine years but that job meant more time spent in the nation’s capital.
Four years and one reelection later, the cynics, or whatever have remained of them, are silent. Many may now even be singing a different tune. Looking at how things are going on for the province, it has become increasingly difficult not to admire Imee Marcos as a leader. Highly popular and well-loved, she has attained rockstar status never before seen in this part of the country. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Hands-on leadership, good governance
To begin with, Imee has consistently proven, both in moments of joy and in times of disaster, that she is a hands-on governor. Even young employees at the Capitol are having difficulty keeping pace with the lady leader who is known to work long hours even on weekends. “Her energy is unbelievable,” says a colleague at the provincial press corps.
Resulting from her hard work, Ilocos Norte has been constantly identified as among the best governed provinces in the country. It also holds the distinction of being the first Philippine province to attain full ISO certification.
2. Ilocano pride ablaze
“Pasingkedan ti kinatan-ok ni Ilocano” (Strengthen the greatness of the Ilocano) is a key motto of Imee’s leadership. Indeed, there has never been so much pride among the people of Ilocos Norte since the peak of the Ferdinand Marcos presidency as today.
By staging the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals, there is newfound appreciation in the history, arts, and culture of each of the 21 municipalities and 2 cities of Ilocos Norte. This annual event has thrown thousands of dancers, singers, choreographers, set and props designers, and other local artists into the limelight, thus encouraging them to hone their skills further.
The governor, whose personal passion is filmmaking and producing other creative stuff (In 1982, she produced Ishmael Bernal’s Himala, now considered as the greatest Asian film of all time), also initiated “Looking for Johnny Moon,” which trains young people in moviemaking, animation, and graphic design. Johnny Moon, of course, is Juan Luna who—along with Josefa Llanes Escoda, Gregorio Aglipay, Teofilo Yldefonso, Anastacia Giron-Tupaz, and other Ilocano greats—has been enshrined at the Ilocano Heroes Walk launched last year.
3. Tourism boom
Pride of place is also at a historic high today as tourists flock to Ilocos Norte in numbers never before seen. “Paoay Kumakaway,” the tourism tagline, sounded odd at first, until it showed very good results. Hotels and resorts are almost always fully booked, especially during peak season.
Ilocos Norte has always shown potential as a top tourist destination, but that promise has never been effectively realized in the absence of a long-term tourism blueprint. Imee engaged the services of Palafox Associates, a top architectural and urban planning firm (founded by Felino “Jun” Palafox, a native of Bacarra town), to draft the Ilocos Norte Tourism Master Plan. Today, there is more to see with various tourism trails in place and with sleepy towns like Burgos and Nueva Era now drawing in visitors.
Graced by superstar and future National Artist Nora Aunor no less, the Himala sa Buhangin event recently held at the Paoay Sand Dunes has drawn national attention.
4. Manang Imee = Trabaho
Generating jobs is a tough task, and this is a continuing struggle in the province. Yet the way Governor Imee is preparing human and physical infrastructures for local and foreign investments is remarkable. Programs like Project C4 (Coaching for a Career in Contact Centers) has trained thousands of manpower for BPOs which are foreseen to expand in Ilocos Norte.
Big investments in the retail and renewable energy sectors continue to come in while native industries like abel are being strengthened. Here’s something big: on May 15-17, leaders of foreign chambers of commerce–including businessmen from Europe, USA, Canada, Korea, and Mexico—visited Ilocos Norte to discuss investment opportunities.
Meanwhile, the province has generated at least 25,000 short-term jobs for tourist aides, nurses (through the Sagip Nars program), and students.
5. Agricultural breakthroughs
Both in terms of land arability and acreage, Ilocos Norte falls short compared to other provinces, but something about the Ilocano spirit has made wonders for agriculture. Ilocos Norte has been cited twice during Imee’s term as one of the country’s top producers of rice. That and a host of other agricultural awards. Dragon fruit production continues to grow as new technologies are being introduced, thereby encouraging farmers to plant the high-value crop.
6. Quality of Life
Ilocos Norte continues to have the lowest poverty incidence in Region I. We also rank low in self-rated hunger. Imee set up an office to coordinate efforts in attaining the UN Millenium Development Goals foremost of which is cutting poverty into half by 2015. In terms of the Human Development Index, which considers various indicators gauging quality of life, Ilocos Norte is consistently listed as among the nation’s best.
7. Youth empowerment
I have always believed that we are better off without the Sangguniang Kabataan, which has become a breeding ground for corruption and ineptitude. Its abolition opened a big window of opportunity for the Ilocano Youth.
Imee is no stranger to youth movements, having chaired the Kabataang Barangay from 1975-1984. Last year, her administration initiated the Sirib Express a comprehensive program meant to hone the leadership skills of the Ilocano youth, spark their spirit of volunteerism, and hone their talents. Sirib Express goes to various schools to conduct consultations and to extend the province’s youth programs. An offshoot of Sirib Express is the Sirib Ilocano Youth Association or SIKA which currently has 500 members—all of them highly accomplished in terms of academics and leadership—coming from various all over the province.
8. Educational innovations
Education having always been a top priority of the Marcoses, Imee has realized novel ideas for this sector. She launched the Sirib Mile which is gradually transforming Laoag City’s school belt into a proactive community of learners. With various schools sharing both resources and space, Sirib Mile was hailed by Education Secretary Armin Luistro as the first of its kind in the country. Within the area is a modern library equipped with multimedia equipment and resources that can accommodate over a hundreds at a time.
Moreover, the province is geared towards sponsoring at least one thousand full scholarships for college students. The package includes free tuition and a monthly allowance covering lodging, food, and transportation. In addition, around 15,000 underprivileged elementary and high school students receive stipends from the provincial government. Sirib, by the way, means wisdom.
9. Effective communication
A major factor in Imee’s rockstar status is an effective communications strategy. The provincial government seems omnipresent in every form of media, traditional and otherwise. There is the well-edited Paspas Dur-as, the provincial newsletter which is distributed to households in every town. Written entirely in Ilocano, it is also available online.
But what I am most impressed about is the respect and freedom the governor accords to members of the media. While she explains and stresses her points well, Imee graciously accepts opposing views. This says a lot for a daughter of a former president largely vilified by the national media as a dictator.
10. Bringing government closer to the people
Finally, one of the biggest achievements of Imee Marcos’ leadership is how she has brought the government closer to the people. In the past, people usually saw the Capitol as a barricaded structure exclusively for the powerful. Imee changed that perception by running the Capitol Express, a caravan that brings government services to the grassroots. Conducted every year is the Open Capitol where thousands of visitors are entertained by provincial employees. Informed about the functions and services of various offices, the public are better empowered to assert their rights and to demand what are due them.
Imee’s philosophy of openness has also been signified in terms of government buildings and structures. Walls and fences have been literally brought down to create an atmosphere of openness and inclusiveness. With the fence surrounding the Capitol removed, mini-parks have been set up in the lawn. Temporary displays, e.g. La Virgen Milagrosa, Ilocos Norte timeline, etc have also been put up in what used to be a concrete stage that looked every bit an eyesore. In this age of social media, both tourists and locals are seen having their pictures taken in front of the Capitol as if saying, “This is our Capitol, a fun place we are proud of.”
While I can be critical of politicians and public figures—and I usually do write about their excesses and shortcomings, including those of provincial officials—I can say that Imee Marcos has been doing the right things. Let us thus, dear karikna, continue to help her become the good governor we all deserve so that, altogether, we in Ilocos Norte can continue to rock on.
With a governor like her, it’s difficult to get bored.