CHAVIT SINGSON

‘Tough man’ from the North; nationwide philanthropist

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COVER PHOTO BY RUSSEL PALMA AND NAZZI CASTRO

HIS fame reached its peak when in October 2000 he divulged the alleged involvement of then President Joseph Estrada in illegal gambling. Luis Crisologo Singson, known to all as Chavit, is said to be the man who caused the downfall of his former best friend, setting the wheels of his impeachment, all the way to his ouster in the so-called “Edsa Dos Revolution,” and finally, Estrada’s imprisonment.

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As he looked back to those events 16 years ago, Singson admits to The Sunday Times Magazine during this exclusive interview that he and Estrada are the best of again. He says Estrada visits him at his house and that he goes to see Estrada whenever the incumbent mayor of Manila sends him an invitation. Recent pictures of the two power figures can be found around the living room of Singson’s well-appointed Quezon City home-proof that all’s well that ends well between friends, even if their affairs changed the nation’s history.

“It’s not hard for me to reconcile with enemies or those who fought with me. There are many people who took advantage of me but I just let them [do that], and I don’t hold grudges. I’m very positive in life,” Singson surprisingly reveals.

He cites his reconciliation with his cousin Bingbong Crisologo, whose entire family became his political rival in Ilocos Sur.

“See what I mean?” he proves his point.

Singson is the second among the seven children of Jose Singson and Caridad Crisologo. His siblings are Evaristo (Titong, deceased), Bernardo (deceased), Fernando (Dodoy), Maria Livia (Honeygirl), Jerry, Germilina, and Bonito.

Both his paternal and maternal families had dominated the political landscape of Ilocos for many generations. And while there are quite a number of members of both families related to one another, the Singsons and Crislogos have long battled a bitter political war, which wrought violence in the region especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, political intimidation and shootings were rampant in the province.

Singson actually considered his uncle Floro Crisologo (father of incumbent Quezon City Representative Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo) as his mentor when he started out in politics, but eventually his falling out with his cousin and former confidant got in the way of familial ties. In its place were bloody encounters between the two, which Singson says they have left in the past.

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Singson and his favorite tiger in Vigan Photo by Ricardo Jose Trofeo

“Many lives were sacrificed and many were imprisoned during those times. Now we’re friends, and Bingbong comes to my house whenever I invite him, and I also visit him whenever he asks me to go to his house,” Singson similarly says.

For him, life is too short to hold grudges. “I don’t dwell on the past,” he declares.

From business to politics
When his family had to leave Vigan to avoid political brawls, Singson chose to stay on and to manage their various businesses: a construction company, movie houses, a tobacco plantation and a funeral parlor among others.

He was just a teenager then but he soon became a millionaire. “Our family had vast landholdings and we had numerous investments.” Eventually, he was able to buy an electric company on his own, a tomato and ice plants, a bus transportation company called Partas, and a radio station, again, among others.

 Welcoming ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ for an exclusive interview and pictorial at his Quezon City mansion PHOTOS BY RUSSEL PALMA AND NAZZI CASTRO

Welcoming ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ for an exclusive interview and pictorial at his Quezon City mansion PHOTO BY RUSSEL PALMA AND NAZZI CASTRO

“I never dreamt of becoming a politician before. All I wanted to do was to become a successful businessman,” recalls Singson.

After finishing college at Lyceum, however, he was forced to step into the political arena. His father Jose was mayor of Vigan from 1968 to 1971, while his elder brother Evaristo (Titong) held the post from 1972 to 1986.

As for Singson, he won as the number one councilor in Vigan in 1967. Two years later, he went head to head with his uncle Floro Crisologo for a seat in Congress for Ilocos Sur but lost his bid.

It was in 1971 that he won his most famous elected post as governor of Ilocos Sur where he became a political kingpin for 28 years.

Councilor of Narvacan
Having completed his three terms as governor of Ilocos Sur, Singson pulled a surprise in the May 9 elections this year when he ran for a seat in the council of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.

Asked why he took on a council seat when he could have tried for a higher elective post, Singson replies, “It’s a long story. When I first entered politics, I ran for councilor and I was voted the number one councilor of Vigan. Now, I ran again for councilor to help its constituents to get what they deserved.”

According to the region’s godfather, he simply wants to help the small town realize its full potential.

“I purposely went to Narvacan because that’s the only town that has the biggest budget but is not progressing. To help them develop, I ran as a councilor because all the municipalities of Ilocos Sur—that’s 32 municipalities and two cities—have new municipal buildings and new markets. Narvacan is the only town in Ilocos Sur that doesn’t have either, yet they are the biggest beneficiary of Republic Act 7171, which I authored when I went to Congress,” Singson laments.

Republic Act 7171 or the “Act to Promote the Development of the Farmers in the Virginia Tobacco-Producing Provinces” allots 15-percent of the total revenue from products utilizing Virginia-type tobacco to provinces producing the crop.

Singson also admitted that he is hoping to become the president of the Philippine Councilors League so he can also fully support the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

For Singson, Duterte’s promise to eliminate drugs and graft and corruption is more than enough for him.

“To accomplish those priorities, we all need to help him a lot,” Singson vows.

According to the new council member of Narvacan, he actually had a position offered to him by the Duterte administration, but he shrugs his shoulders and says, “I just want to help him, and I can do it even from here.”

Singson further reveals that he no longer has plans to vie for a higher position government, whether in an elective or appointed post.

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A lover of animals from all around the world, Singson found a way to share the pleasure he finds in tending to them and simply watching them by opening this free zoo in Vigan PHOTO BY NOEL SAN ANDRES

Pet projects
Singson has a long list of achievements as a long-time leader of Ilocos Sur but he considers the flourishing tourism industry of the region as his best contribution to the province. He specifically cites the remarkable improvements his niece, former Vigan Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina, established as the turning point of the city.

“My niece and I worked hard to be voted as one of the ‘New 7 Wonders Cities’, and before that, we also worked hard for the inclusion of Vigan in the World Heritage list.

“Now, we have a lot of tourists but we lack hotels and accommodations. We are talking to a lot of investors to put up their hotels there but they’re asking for the expansion of our airport. The Aquino government did not provide us with that request,” he laments.

“This is the only thing I ask from this new government-the expansion of our airport, because there is a domino effect in tourism. If you have lots of tourists, then they will demand for more restaurants, accommodations, hotels, and there will be work for the people. It’s a big industry that will help our province.”

Singson’s Baluarte
Another tourism spot that Singson established in Vigan is the Baluarte—an interactive wildlife sanctuary and facility that is dedicated to facilitating education, conservation and protection of endangered species and wildlife.

“Admission is free in Baluarte,” Singson says proudly, explaining that what inspired the zoo is his hobby for hunting.

“I’ve been hunting all over the world and had been to countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia, among others. I have every beautiful trophy imaginable from those trips—an elephant, rhino, buffalo, all kinds of lions, and more. I shot three lions already,” he adds. “And I brought all these animals to Baluarte so that people here in the Philippines who cannot go to those countries can see them. All for free,” he reiterates.

Laughing good-naturedly, he quips, “I placed donation boxes all over Baluarte but nobody puts money!”

Simply happy to share what he has with others, Singson says that Baluarte continues to get more exciting through the years.

“I started Baluarte a long time ago but when I finished my term as governor, more animals were added because I had more time to travel. When I was a governor, I couldn’t be out of the country for more than five days. I always have to go back because of my obligations.”

Giving back
Singson feels that he has accomplished all the goals he set for himself in his lifetime. He has long been in the practice of giving back to society, not one to ever deny that he lives the kind of privileged life others can only dream of.

He tells The Sunday Times Magazine he has been in the habit of making donations to various charitable organizations for many years but never makes them public.

With what he says is his final foray into politics, he simply wants to share his blessings and life’s work to with his children to deserving Filipinos.

Singson becomes pensive and says, “What I really wanted was to get involved in business—I’m more comfortable doing that. My father was an engineer and I was involved in construction when I was young.”

“I continued that business and now I have more than a hundred corporations that are making money, and I’m happy about it,” he adds without false modesty. “My only goal now is to help others, and what I’ve set aside for my children, I want to give it to them to avoid any fights in the future.”

‘Happy Life’
Singson takes a step back and tells The Sunday Times Magazine that he actually has a new venture after all— a TV program called Happy Life.

“We thought of filming 12-episodes of a show called Happy Life to be shown on TV [negotiations over which network it will air is still ongoing].”

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Singson with his parrot. Photo by Ricardo Jose Trofeo

He explains, “My team is now going around the Philippines shooting many beautiful tourist spots. They are also on the look for industrious, and deserving people in the communities they visit who will be rewarded with a house and lot.

“We will bring that person to Manila to shop and live a rich life then when he or she comes back to his place, there will be a ready house and lot for him or her and they will get to meet the donor of the house.

“If we cannot find a donor, I will be the one to provide the house and lot myself,” he assures.

With a chuckle, he adds, “At the end of the show, I will be there with many women around me! But seriously, the message of the show and its goal is to be able to deserving Filipinos.”

Singson’s secrets
Just like his TV show, Chavit Singson declares he is happy.

“Like I said, I’m a positive person. Although I get little sleep, I drink lots of vitamins and eat good food. I avoid pork and cholesterol, and eat lots of vegetables. I’m allowed to anything but I choose to the ones I mentioned for my health.

He continues, “I’m also dedicated in everything I do. May isang salita din ako. If I say I will do something, I will do it.”

“Kung anong sabihin ko, yun na yon. Iyon ang kabilin-bilinan ng mga magulang ko nung nabubuhay pa sila. Alagaan mo ang credibility mo. Kasi kapag nagkamali ka, hindi ka na nila paniniwalaan. Kung nagkamali ka mag-sorry ka. Kung anong sinabi ko, gagawin ko kaagad.”

["I learned to keep my word from my parents. They strictly taught me to be to take care of
my credibility when they were still alive. They said, the moment you make a mistake, no one will believe you anymore. They also taught me to learn to say sorry.”]

According to the strongman, his parents have always been his inspiration.

“My Dad would always remind us about golden rules, while providing us with everything we needed.

“‘Don’t quarrel with anyone,’ my mother used to say, and she was also an inspiration to me because she was a religious and dedicated mother. She taught us to pray the Rosary every six o’clock in the evening in Vigan, and she also taught us to believe in God.”

“Our parents took care of us well and that’s why we grew up with dignity and principle,” Singson concluded.

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