By Severino C. Samonte

How Novaliches almost became Imelda City in 1976?

Who remembers former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, and how?

This question in a nutshell, posted several times on Facebook on the occasion of the recent celebration in Malacañang of the 94th birthday of Mrs. Marcos, mother of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., prompted me to look back at an event that almost resulted in the renaming of the former town of Novaliches as Imelda City in 1976, or 47 years ago during the martial law years.

I consider that incident both pleasant and unpleasant as far as the seemingly unending dream of the residents of Novaliches to restore their place into a separate local government unit (LGU) in Metropolitan Manila or the National Capital Region is concerned.

Here's why and how: In connection with the celebration on Sept. 11, 1976 of the 69th birthday of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., a resolution-petition was sent to the Palace by Novaliches barangay, civic, business, educational, religious and youth leaders grouped under the banner "Imelda City Movement."

They requested the President to issue a presidential decree reviving the divided former town of Novaliches and renaming it as Imelda City in honor of the then First Lady and first Metropolitan Manila governor and Human Settlements minister.

There were joyful reactions among the petitioners when they received an official communication from the Office of the President, through then Presidential Assistant Victor G. Nituda, saying the nine-member Commission on Elections (Comelec) under the 1973 Constitution had been asked to conduct a sort of a referendum on the proposal submitted by the Novaliches people.

The leaders of the Imelda City Movement were advised to coordinate with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), then chaired by former Senator Leonardo B. Perez, together with the eight commissioners.

At that time, a nationwide referendum-plebiscite on proposed amendments to the 1973 Constitution was scheduled on Oct. 16-17, 1976.

Such a plebiscite became particularly historical for the Novaleños because they were given a chance by the Comelec to push for the revival of their old town, shared by Quezon City and Caloocan City.

Heeding the petitioners, the Comelec allowed the Novaliches voters to use a special remark sheet during the nationwide plebiscite expressing their desire for the renaming of their old town after the then First Lady.

The ballots for the Novaleño voters came with an extra remark sheet with these words: "DO YOU FAVOR THE CONVERSION OF NOVALICHES INTO A SEPARATE CITY, INDEPENDENT OF QUEZON AND CALOOCAN CITIES, TO BE NAMED AS IMELDA CITY?"

The required answer was either "YES" or "NO" depending on the desire of the voter.

The Comelec said that the answers in the remark sheets would be tabulated and the result would be announced after 15 days.

However, when Mrs. Marcos was interviewed one week before the scheduled announcement, she declined the proposed Imelda City, saying she would prefer the retention of the historical name of Novaliches.

Because of this, the tabulation of the remark sheets was no longer carried out.

There was also no presidential decree from the Palace about Novaliches, although some sources at the Comelec then said there was an overwhelming "Yes" answer in the remark sheets.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.