Dateline: Ilocos Sur
THE CINEMATIC LIFE OF CHAVIT SINGSON
By Pablo A. Tariman
Long after he reigned as governor for several terms, Ilocos Sur’s kingpin Luis “Chavit” Singson remains the stuff of a long-running action drama.
His first film-bio with Cesar Montano in the title role captured the massive scope of his political life but didn’t quite succeed in illuminating the private person behind the public servant.
As one can see in this private visit, the controversial figure is really a quiet man who is in his element in the company of the common people he credits for giving him several colorful and fulfilling chapters as public servant.
There is no secret formula for his staying power as politician except by being true to his people. “They are the real source of my power,” he says as he guides selected media men to his Safari Gallery which is one of the attractions in his special turf called Baluarte some ten-minutes away from Vigan proper. “If you listen to your constituents, if you find time to connect with their lives, you get their trust without asking for it. I do believe I have done a lot to deserve every ounce of trust and respect from my people.”
An adventurous life is what you can deduce from him as he relates how he got to acquire those rare animals preserved for posterity. The complicated task of acquiring one and preserving them and then shipping them from their origins to his native Vigan involves quite a fortune. “I suppose I just need actual mementoes from those trips abroad. What do I get from all these collections? Well, they serve to remind me that once in my life,
I related with wild animals and liked them well enough to bring them home in that form. It started as a hobby but enjoying their presence, I decided to share that with my people who can enjoy them for free. I don’t charge entrance fees in Baluarte. It is for my people to enjoy them. I wasn’t just a public servant. I enjoyed hunting specially when I became inactive from public service Another reason why I put up this Safari Gallery is that I want something different for the tourists to enjoy after visiting the heritage district. I did this all to promote what is unique about my province.”
Outside the Safari Gallery is the Baluarte Mini-Zoo with exotic iguanas, assorted deer, camel snakes and python, some lions and tigers and ostriches. The visitors had the chance to feel and pet some of them in a unique animal show that thrilled selected media men.
For now, Chavit is happy as fulfilled patriarch and grandfather. But the born public servant that he is, he is still doing his share to promote not just his native city but the entire country as well. “President Duterte has that brand of leadership that inspires. So I do every step of the way to help even if I am not part of his cabinet. So when I learned we are hosting next year’s Miss Universe beauty pageant, I decided I will contribute to making it succeed a second time in our own territory.”
Over dinner, he shows us photos of the yacht that the beauty contestants can use in touring the country’s tourist spots. He will also invest in a new private jet that the visitors can use if they want to see other parts of the country. Said he: “The government is not supposed to spend a single centavo for this pageant which is understandable. We just don’t have the funds for that. For this reason, I am helping out as part of the private sector contributors.”
He is also behind the TV show called “The Happy Life” which will pay tribute to hard-working Filipinos. “As a rule, I don’t believe in dole-outs. But after I helped people, I expect them to be an example of constituents who can hurdle adversities. So that TV program will also find a way to reward hardworking Filipinos. It will showcase how Filipinos work hard and overcome the struggling life. I want to be very positive about this TV show and that explains why I chose that title.”
On the last day of one’s visit, he sits down to share his recollection of some 70 colorful years of that life.
He recounts his early years as politician, how he survived the blood and thunder saga of his life and some friendship that didn’t work well. “I value friends like they are part of my family. But if by sad stroke of destiny your life is threatened by that relationship, of course you have to rethink if that friendship is worth saving. But finding Manny Pacquiao is another good story perfect for the TV show. He started from nothing. One day many years ago when he was making his first big fight abroad, he called me and said, ‘Puede ba samahan mo naman ako dito?’ He was not yet famous at that time. So I flew to USA just to be with him and the rest is history. He didn’t just become my close friend. He also became a boxing icon.”
Chavit is not inclined to elaborate on his worldly acquisitions.
His parting words: “Wealth is a fleeting thing. When you go, you can’t bring it with wherever you are destined to go. When you have too much, it could be a source of family squabbles. So I focus on helping as many people as I can. I do this quietly. It’s not in my character to keep list of people I have helped. That their lives became better is enough for me. At this stage of my life, it is still a pleasure to help and listen specially to that sector whose life is a daily struggle to stay alive.”
Needless to say, a good book and a more illuminating film is in order to give justice to the recent life and times of Chavit Singson.
(Exclusive interview of Aster Amoyo with Gov. Chavit Singson to be aired on Saturday, August 6, 9 to 10 a.m in the Showbiz Segment of “Gandang Ricky.”)