What I've Learned

"People who don’t know me are afraid of me."
-Chavit Singson

The Vigan city councilor on destiny, business, and surviving assassination attempts.
IMAGE Jason Quibilan
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WHAT I'VE LEARNED
Chavit Singson, 76
Businessman and Politician

You should know how to take advantage and know when to stop. Some gamblers, when they’re winning, they lessen their bet, and when they’re losing they bet more. Most gamblers, although they say that they are very disciplined, they don’t know how to stop. You should not be greedy.

It’s funny how I started [in the tobacco business]. I used to work as an employee at a redrying plant—I asked my father to give me a job. When I was working there, I would watch the janitors sweep up the loose-leaf tobacco. I asked them where they brought it, and they told me they would sell it outside. So I made a house by the gate, and I lived there. I stopped the janitors by the gate and bought everything they had to sell. Every day, I bought all they had, until I had enough to fill a truck. Ang laki ng kita! So that's how I became a trader.

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I started working when I was still in high school. I would go to my father’s construction business, nagbabantay, watching over the workmen, timekeeping—I’d be given a little money for that. and when I was a bit older, I asked to get a government job, so I worked at [the Department of] Public Works and Highways, inuutusan ako ng mga engineer kumuha ng mga materials, bato, buhangin, minsan pinaluluto sa aking testing materials habang sila nag-iinuman. Hapon pa lang, nagiinuman na sila. When I became governor, hiyang-hiya sila sa akin, 'yung mga engineer.

My mother was all about business, so maybe that’s who I take after. Halos lahat, pinasok ko. When I was a trader, I hardly slept. I entertained my clients and customers—gino-goodtime pag gabi, tapos trabaho pag umaga. Without connections it would take four months before your tobacco is unloaded or processed at the trading center. So after I had studied all that, when I became a VIP, at all the redrying plants—Caloocan, Pasig, La Union, and other places—I had my own ramp. Pagdating, karga.

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Ever since, I’ve preferred volume, not one-time [profits]. Basta maliit na kita, okay, sa volume ako makikinabang.

Do I have plans to retire? No, because you will deteriorate.


I will never forget what my father taught me, that you have to safeguard your credibility, or no one will believe you. You have to take care of it. That's what I tell my children, too.

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Even if you don’t say a lot, you have to do what you say. If you ruin that, no one will believe you anymore.

I’ve been in politics for almost 40 years. I went into politics before Martial Law. When I won as governor, they declared Martial Law and tried to remove me. They tried to force me, they sent several generals. They reported, if you remove Chavit Singson, there will be a problem in Ilocos Sur. So they couldn’t remove me.

I didn't plan on becoming governor or entering politics. Natulak lang ako.

After seven assassination attempts, nagsawa na sila. They got tired. I believe in destiny. Every time I survive, they say, may mission ka pa, may mission ka pa.

I've had a risk-filled life. Like they say: it's destiny, luck. I think I'm a risk-taker, but now...it would depend on the situation. Before, I knew that many people wanted to kill me, but I would go anyway. Hindi na puedeng umatras, eh, so punta pa rin ako. I don't know if I would still do that now.

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Yes, I believe in God. Pero may direct line ako.

If I make a mistake, I say sorry, I admit it right away. Hindi kailangang manggulang.

Someone had told [an ambassador] that I was going to feed him to a tiger, so he got scared. But we became best friends.

Someone had told [an ambassador] that I was going to feed him to a tiger, so he got scared. But we became best friends. Siraan lahat sa politics. People who don’t know me are afraid of me.

Every time I’m ambushed, I am the one investigated. They always blame me. Even for the burning of the barrios [in 1970]. Aping-api ako noon.

The Crisologos tried to kill me several times, until they were jailed. But after eight years, I was the one who requested for their pardon. Now they are my friends. Even my political enemies [have become my friends].

Politics is still the same in some areas. Siraan, siraan, patayan. It was worse before, because it was tolerated. 

In some areas, it's still violent, but we're done with that. Natural na nagaaway, nagpapatayan, pero [dati] sa amin, 'kalaban yan!', pinapatay na. 'Tao ni Chavit 'yan!' pinapatay na, gan'un. You know, when I go to Church, no one wants to sit next to me.

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Happiness for me is…wala kang kaaway, marami kang kaibigan. Kaya kung minsan biyahe ako dalo ko eroplano, halikayo! Kapag napasaya ko 'yung tao, parang masaya na rin ako.

I've been betrayed by people I trusted. Once somebody ran away with about 200 million. It's hard to trust. People will take advantage. But if you dwell on it, you'll get sad. Bahala na Diyos sa kanila.

I'm not leaving everything to my children. I told them, think of a business, and I'll give you capital. If I leave them money, they might not know how to handle it, they might lose it, they might fight over it. Sinasabi ko na ngayon.

I've met people who are filthy rich, and they can't eat good food. You can't bring it with you when you die!

I’ve always said that money is not yours unless you spend it. So I’m spending all of it.

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Audrey N. Carpio
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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