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.
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.
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.
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.