BY A resounding vote of 8, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte in their regular session on June 27 declared Rudy Fariñas as persona non grata. The congressman was expectedly piqued, but he was right to point out in his statement that referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that “he or she is ostracized, and that such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.” That exactly is what board members have done to him.
The term “persona non grata” is Latin for “a person not appreciated.” It was originally meant for diplomats and foreigners who have been deemed undesirable or unwelcome, but it is not the first time a Filipino citizen has been declared non grata in his own country.
Ramon Bautista was declared persona non grata by the Davao City Council for his hipon jokes in a party in the city during the celebration of Kadayawan Festival in 2014. Bautista joked that many women in the city are “hipon” which is a derogatory term for a person with a sexually appealing body but with a less attractive face.
Last year, the Sagguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan also declared Dr. Dexter Buted, president of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) as persona non grata after he snubbed the board’s three invitations to him and other university officials to appear before an inquiry.
But this indeed could be the first time a sitting congressman is declared persona non grata in his own province. What are its implications?
Will Fariñas be barred to enter Ilocos Norte or will his movement around the province be restrained? Definitely not. Are there things he was previously able to do that now he couldn’t? I can’t think of any.
And yet Fariñas says he will file cases against the eight board members for damages for the violation of his constitutional rights, and for causing injury to him “through evident bad faith and thus may be liable for the offense of graft.”
It is not difficult to understand Fariñas’ exasperation. It is surely a slap on the face for a person, and more so for a prominent politician like Fariñas, to be deemed unwelcome in his own place, but I don’t think filing a case in court is the best way to proceed.
If any, the board’s persona non grata declaration is a strong expression of support for Governor Imee Marcos. It is a show of force and unity for a leadership under attack. Not that it was the first time the governor received support from local officials. Through a resolution by the League of Municipalities in the Philippines – Ilocos Norte Chapter, mayors have urged the release of the “Ilocos Six.” There have been lightning rallies as well staged by ordinary Ilocanos in addition to an online petition signed by nearly a hundred thousand. By and large in Ilocos Norte, there is no public outrage against the Capitol and Governor Imee Marcos remains well-loved.
I have intimated in a previous article that while Fariñas obviously has the upper hand within the walls of congress where he can pressure his colleagues to toe the line set by the majority leader (that’s him), he is losing in the bar of public opinion, especially in his own province.
The congressman can thus best respond over the persona non grata tag by showing that his actions are well-appreciated by his own people. If and only if he successfully does so can he make the board members look like fools, even without a lawsuit. Now is the best time for him to show who else—aside from his family and, from both sides of the political fence, a growing number of Internet trolls—supports the ugly circus that has put Ilocos Norte in an unflattering light, has caused tension between the legislative and the judiciary, and has beefed up popcorn sales in Ilocos Norte.