4 MAY 2007
FACES OF CHANGE AND CHANGELESS PLACES
Just last week, Chavit was again caught on tape promising "50,000" to local officials in Nueva Ecija who could help him become one of the top five "senatoriables." Noticing that there were members of the media present, however, he quickly said that he was going to give "50,000 amulets," not P50,000.
Then there was the time he flew by helicopter from Ilocos Sur to Manila just to help talk to habitual hostage-taker Armando 'Jun' Ducat, who was keeping some 26 children captive inside a bus. In fact, Chavit even clambered on the bus, and then gave the children P500 each. When Ducat finally surrendered, the governor was seen holding Ducat's two hand grenades.
The act was classic Chavit. It was also so politics circa 1970s.
Capers like these have made Chavit a media favorite in the campaign trail, even though he has yet to break into the so-called "Magic 12" among the senatoriables. But although his strategy for winning a Senate seat seems to be suffering from a time warp (and perhaps from warped advice), anyone who dismisses Chavit Singson too easily even this late in the game may live to regret it.
Just ask deposed President Joseph Estrada, Chavit's erstwhile gambling buddy who has spent the last six years in detention after the Ilocos Sur governor called him "the lord of all jueteng lords" and triggered a series of events that culminated in Edsa Dos and Estrada's ouster. Indeed, while Chavit burst into national consciousness only in 2000, the man is nothing less than a political veteran. His politics reeks of the '70s because he first gained prominence in that era, which was when the use of guns, goons, and gold reached its peak. And while at first glance he seems out of sync with the times, his presence in the senatorial campaign is actually a reminder that feudal politics is still alive and well.
THE LORD OF ILOCOS SUR
Chavit became governor of Ilocos Sur in 1971, and has since wielded power there by combining charisma, patronage, and warlordism. The latter two, of course, are part of the country's so-called "old politics." So are political dynasties, of which there are several choice examples in Chavit's province. He heads one, and is related to another clan, Crisologo, which also has considerable political clout. The Crisologos, in fact, used to hold sway over Ilocos Sur — until Chavit toppled them from their political throne.
For sure, many people have a hard time swallowing portrayals of Chavit Singson as one of the "heroes" of Edsa Dos. But in Ilocos Sur, residents do look at him as a folk hero, the one who "saved" them from the abusive and violent Crisologos. Floro Singson Crisologo was congressman from 1946 until his assassination in 1970. Crisologo's wife, Carmeling was provincial governor for a long time. Together with their son Vincent or 'Bingbong' and their private army of saka-saka (barefoot goons), they implemented the infamous "tobacco blockade" in the 1960s that prevented tobacco farmers from transporting or selling their produce outside the province. Instead, the farmers were forced to sell their tobacco to Fortune Tobacco Company, then owned by the Crisologos.
Floro Crisologo was Chavit's uncle. "My family supported my uncle...who was then congressman, his wife was governor and his brother was mayor," Chavit said in a 2003 interview fueled by red wine. "It was a family affair." In turn, Crisologo appointed Chavit, then just 21, Vigan chief of police.
Chavit later morphed into the biggest shipper of tobacco in the province. He resisted the Crisologo's tobacco blockade. To punish the young businessman, Crisologo ordered Chavit, who also owned Vigan Electric Company, to transfer the power firm's office to the provincial capitol and remit its income to the provincial treasurer. Chavit went to Manila and brought the case before the Supreme Court, consequently declaring an open war against the Crisologos. "I did not want to fight at first, but they took my livelihood. So I had to fight back," Chavit recounted.
He did that through the courts, as well as with money and guns, which he gave to people who were by then fed up with the Crisologos. "Because I fought a warlord, people looked at me as a warlord. So I became a warlord," he said. "Ilocos Sur was the most notorious province in the world during that time. There were political killings everyday. People end up dead for no apparent reason."
But that stopped when he took over, he said. "When I became governor in 1971, I arrested my followers who wanted to take revenge," Chavit said. "There should be a stop to all the killings."
"I am not really a tough guy," he added. "I am just hardworking. In politics, you don't have to say anything. You just have to keep your word. I always keep my word unlike some people, unlike Erap."
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