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Will Solid North Vote with Solid South? Bongbong and Sara Test Marcos Playbook

Geographic voting blocs in the Philippines, explained.
by Arianne Merez
Nov 15, 2021
Photo/s: Nice Print/Facebook

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos sold her son Bongbong to voters in 2016 as "Ilocano by birth but a Waray-Waray too", falling short of capturing the vice presidency with their north-south bailiwick strategy.

Now eyeing the presidency, the Marcoses are tapping Sara Duterte-Carpio, Mindanao's highest-profile politician after her father, President Rodrigo Duterte, to test what happens when "Solid North" partners with an emergent "Solid South".

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, "Apo" to Ilocano-speaking provinces of Luzon picked Imelda, the so-called "Rose of Tacloban" to help him rule the Philippines for decades. Politicians after him tried to build their president-vice president tickets around that bailiwick strategy to mixed success.

"In the Philippines where the first-past-the-post system is the basis of winning, every vote counts...For a national candidate, a bailiwick can help, especially if the area is vote-rich," University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza told reportr.

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Candidates believe the sum of their bailiwicks equals victory in the elections, said University of Santo Tomas political science assistant professor Ronald Castillo.

"The reality is that Filipinos vote based on personalities. They may say that they vote based on credentials but the results show that many still vote based on personalities and affiliation," Castillo told reportr. 

"There are really voters who vote a certain candidate because they come from the same province," he said.

Solid North, Solid South?

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For decades, the Marcos family has touted electoral support from the so-called Solid North or the Ilocos region. Ilocandia delivered votes for Marcos Jr. in 2016 even though he lost the vice presidency. In 2019, the Solid North also delivered for Imee Marcos, who was the top pick for senator in the region.

Is the Solid North real and if it is, what makes it solid? For analyst Atienza, there is no such thing as a Solid North.

"Even in 2016, Bongbong Marcos got the most votes from the 'North' but it is not 100%. Leni Robredo also got a smaller percentage of the votes. Because of migration, economic development, and changes in the nature of the population, no one candidate can claim to get 'solid' or 100% of the votes of a particular bailiwick," Atienza said.

The appeal of the so-called Solid North lies in the propaganda of the Marcos family, analyst Castillo said.

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"You lay claim to something over and over, in this case the Solid North, and even though it's not real, you give people that perception that it's there until people think that it's real," he said.

For the upcoming elections, Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio are hoping to tap each other's bailiwicks for political support. Can the Solid North and the Solid South deliver for both Marcos and Duterte-Carpio?

While known bailiwicks should be "solidified," analyst Atienza said candidates should note that every vote counts in the Philippines.

"Known bailiwicks should be solidified but a national candidate needs to get as many votes as possible in many other areas, particularly vote-rich regions. In addition, regional loyalties are only one consideration for voters," Atienza said.

Politics is personal

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For Filipinos, family is everything and this bleeds into the political sphere, said analyst Castillo, citing parochial voters and the still prevalent regionalistic mindset of many Filipinos.

"You have voters who vote for a certain candidate because that candidate is known by a distant relative such as 'anak yan ni ganito, kamag-anak ni ganyan' or because the two of you share the same province," he said.

For some voters, credentials come second to personalities according to Castillo and Atienza, which is also a reason why candidates who have poor reputations still win.

"Regionalism may be an indicator of the parochialism or personalistic character of Philippine politics where political parties and party programs are weak and secondary to personalities of candidates," analyst Atienza said.

"It's like in a typical family. Sometimes family members would turn their eyes away from wrongdoing because it's a relative who did something wrong even when it's actually more important to correct the person because they are your relative," Castillo said.

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Whether bailiwicks deliver votes or not for candidates in 2022, what remains true is that the mindset will stay.

"Even in social media, Facebook communities for certain politicians are reflections of what's on the ground. Supporters of a certain candidate shift platforms but they are the same people," he said.

And sometimes, in Philippine politics, Imelda Marcos' words ring true, "perception is real, and the truth is not."

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