Around Laoag: Dictatorial Reminders

THERE IS PERHAPS NO MORE DESTINATION within Ilocos Norte more polarizing than Batac. However much antagonism is laid on former President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ authoritarian rule, reminders of the Martial Law years remain here, not to serve as a brutal reminder to a dark bygone era, but as a glorification of a man the place considers its greatest son. As Joseph, Dave and I walk inside the mausoleum where Marcos’ preserved body is kept, a feeling of dread permeates in the air-conditioned darkness. The corpse in front of us belonged to a man who once ruled with iron fists, but was thrown out by a popular revolt before succumbing to multiple organ failures in September 1989.

A visitor to the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum watches a documentary about the late former president. Marcos, whose presidential years were marked by an authoritarian rule, human rights violations and corruption, is highly revered in Ilocos, particularly in Ilocos Norte, where he was born.
Some of the items found inside the museum include the Marcos copule’s wedding portrait and a few of the former president’s clothes. Marcos’ preserved body is on display inside the nearby mausoleum.
A marker containing the words of Marcos stands in front of the museum and mausoleum compound.
The Marcos’ house is also located beside the museum and mausoleum.

Just steps away, we enter the museum where an expected partisan retelling of Marcos’ life can be found. Some of the license plates from cars he used are displayed on one wall. On another wall, the story of his whirlwind courtship with Imelda Romualdez Marcos is vividly chronicled.

Reading the accounts of a man who has been associated with seriousness and dictatorial tendencies, I sense a playfulness in his romance with his wife.

Maybe it’s the Ilocano blood in me – my dad, while born and raised in Mindanao, is ethnically Ilocano. But perhaps it’s simply Marcos’ charisma, that allows, even after his death, for legends and myths to continue to live and seduce imaginations even despite the deaths and rampant corruption that happened under his rule.

I suddenly feel cold. I shudder, then step out of a museum into the warmth of the sun.

WE LEAVE BATAC and continue to the town of Paoay four kilometers west. The monotonous views of streetside houses, trees and tall grasses are soon broken by the imposing triangular facade in the distance, that familiar shape of the Paoay Church. Within minutes, we find ourselves under the shadow of an historical landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a prime example of a Spanish colonial architecture.

The Saint Augustine Church, or more known as the Paoay Church, was declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1993 the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
Left, the belltower was constructed separately from the church. Filipino revolutionaries used the structure as an observational post during their fight against Spaniards in 1898. Right, the church’s buttresses, which are its most distinguishing features, serve as protection from earthquakes.

Paoay Church was first constructed in 1694 using bricks, coral stones, tree sap and lumber. Its label as an “Earthquake Baroque Church” comes from it bearing elements of Baroque architecture but with adaptations to withstand earthquakes, similar to the Borobudur in Indonesia. Each side of the main structure has 12 massive buttresses made with large coral stones for support. The bell tower was separately built from the main building and stands a distance from the main church to avoid damage in case of collapse.

The Marcos family’s mansion, which they call Malacañang of the North, is a lavish residential structure beside the Paoay Lake.
With grand rooms with luxurious furniture, the Marcos mansion provides a glimpse of the opulent life.
Left, the back patio of the mansion has serene views of the lake. Right, figurines of Filipinas in traditional costume decorate a bedroom desk.
The picturesque Paoay Lake is the largest lake in Ilocos Norte and one of the most popular attractions in the region.

A few minutes tricycle ride from the church and Paoay’s quiet beauty reveals itself. Surrounded by trees and situated on a picturesque spot by the lake, a mansion seduces with its elegance under the golden sunlight. It’s also known by the name with which the family christened it – the Malacañang of the North.

The mansion was the residence of the Marcos family before it was taken by the national government when the former president was removed from power. It was actually Imelda’s birthday gift to his husband on his 60th birthday.

Now visitors are filling the house and creating their own memories of it. The grand rooms overlooking the charming lake oblige those who wander inside to surrender to the lazy morning.

3 thoughts on “Around Laoag: Dictatorial Reminders

    1. Hi! I was told that our ancestors were from Batac as well. I really love Ilocos, it’s such a beautiful place with a rich history. Nope, I didn’t get to try the miki but we enjoyed the empanada and the dragonfruit ice cream. The Paoay Sand Dunes were closed to the public when we were there, but we did explore the ones in Laoag.

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