Six former Philippine presidents were Ilocanos. Elpidio Quirino, the country’s sixth president and the first from the Ilocos region, was a native of Caoayan, Ilocos Sur. Quirino was a lawyer by profession and a representative of his province before assuming the presidency. Ramon F. Magsaysay, the country’s seventh president, was a pure Ilocano from Castillejos, Zambales. Magsaysay, however, was not able to finish his term as he died in a plane crash four years into the presidency. His successor, Carlos P. Garcia, was born in Bohol but has parents who trace their roots to Bangued, Abra. Garcia was most known for being the proponent of the “Filipino First” policy which put a premium on everything Filipino over that of any foreign entity.
Even the famously infamous former President Ferdinand Marcos, also had Ilocano blood. Marcos was the country’s longest serving president— he was in power for twenty-one years. He was notorious for declaring the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis, more commonly known as Martial Law, in the country in September 1972. He lifted this temporary military rule nine years later in 1971. Marcos was ousted from office via a People Power Revolution, the world’s first, in 1986.
Ironically, one of the personalities who helped oust Marcos, Fidel V. Ramos, became the successor of Corazon Aquino, the housewife who toppled him out of the presidency. Ramos is also of Ilcoano descent. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the most recent ex-president of the country, also traces her Ilocano heritage to her grandfather who hailed from the province of Ilocos Norte. Arroyo served as vice-president for a term and after another successful People Power Revolution, assumed the presidency for nine years.
Other Ilocano politicians are incumbents Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Rodolfo Biazon and Party-list Representative Liza Maza. Other notable politicians are almost-presidents Gilbert Teodoro who ran for the presidency in 2010 and Jose de Venecia, Jr. who lost to Joseph E. Estrada in the 1998 presidential elections, but eventually became Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Ilocanos have not only made their mark in politics, but also in other fields like arts and culture as well. Juan Luna, painter of the famed Spoliarium, was born in the town of Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Leona Florentino, considered the Mother of Philippine Women’s Literature, also hails from the Ilocos region. Francisco Sionil Jose, more known as literary writer F. Sionil Jose, is one of the most widely read Filipino writers in English. He was born and raised in Rosales, Pangasinan.
Perhaps the most notable among all the celebrated personalities with Ilocano descent is the country’s own national hero, Jose Rizal. Rizal was a known polymath, patriot and the most famous advocate of genuine reform during the Spanish era. Rizal spoke twenty-two languages, including the native Ilocano dialect. He was a prolific poet, essayist, diarist, correspondent and novelist whose famous works Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo inspired the Filipino people to revolt against the Spaniards.