It was the surprise announcement that followed his assumption to office as president. Nobody expected Bongbong Marcos to appoint himself as secretary of agriculture, a portfolio that he had neither previous experience nor aptitude on.

Less than a week later, what could have been the true motive appeared. On July 6, 2022, the governor of Ilocos Norte Matthew Marcos Manotoc announced that his uncle the new president had released P100 million to open the tomato processing plant in Barangay San Joaquin, Sarrat known as the Northern Foods Corporation (NFC). Releasing P100 million only within a span of one week after assuming office is a shocker. Wait till we see what NFC was all about and the shock transforms into a thunderclap.

It did not take long for Vera Files’ Joel F. Ariate Jr. of UP Diliman’s Third World Studies Center to publish a comprehensive research exposé that could have stirred our curiosity on Marcos Jr.’s self-appointment. It is an apt ICYMI – in case you missed it. Like any Marcos story, the establishment of NFC as a tomato processing plant was a family affair.

On March 21, 1984 when he was Ilocos Norte governor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wrote a memorandum to his mother Imelda who was minister of human settlements in his father’s cabinet. It was a memo that called for the immediate approval and release of funds for the establishment of a “food and vegetable processing plant” in Ilocos Norte. A day later, on March 22, the same memo was forwarded to Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Take note of the speed with which these developments came to pass. In fact, the company to be established was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission only five days before his memo to his mother.

In that memo, Marcos Jr. said that the idea came from Agriman Consultants, an agribusiness firm that had joint ventures with his mother’s Ministry of Human Settlements. A processing plant, he said, could generate “new jobs and business opportunities.”

Ariate quotes from the Marcos Jr. memo: “Being the first large scale processing on industrial facility in Ilocos Norte and Northwestern Luzon, it is a concrete manifestation of the wisdom of the President’s and the First Lady’s program on industrial dispersal and rural mobilization.” Marcos Jr. added that it would be a “prestige project of the Governor and the President.”

The son of the conjugal dictators wanted P110 million for the project, to be financed from public funds, private loans and investments. He wanted the project to be operational by December 1984. He further asked his father for “an additional equity infusion of P50 million and a loan of P10 million at favorable interest rates.” See the power of clout even at that point.

The project was funded by Imelda’s Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran that Marcos Sr. had created in 1981 as a “nationwide movement to mobilize local resources for the establishment of viable productive enterprises.” The dictator himself chaired the KKK’s governing body but made his wife’s ministry its secretariat and implementing agency. Marcos Sr. created the KKK Processing Center Authority by virtue of Executive Order No. 866 and appointed his wife as head. Its budget was included in the General Appropriations Act.

But in obtaining P70 million from the KKK, Marcos Jr. said this was “inadequate.” And so on June 28, 1984, Marcos Sr. indulged Marcos Jr. by issuing a memorandum to Marcos the wife “to allocate P60 million from the KKK as an additional equity investment.” By now the total public funds allocated was P130 million. By October 1984, the tomato processing plant was in working order. Marcos Sr. graced the plant’s inauguration with US ambassador Stephen Bosworth.

Agriman Consultants bagged the contract to manage the NFC. Here is where a close understanding of the project’s haste and its proponent’s eager impatience comes to light. Agriman’s president was Alejandro V. Daza, known hereabouts as the chef Sandy Daza, a close chum of Marcos Jr. As a government corporation, Marcos Jr. as the governor was given a seat in the company’s seven-member board of directors.

Three years later, NFC’s employees were scrounging for scrap copper wires and junk metals in the plant’s premises to generate some cash for their salaries. What exactly happened? In a study published by the Asian Institute of Management in 1994, Rafael C. Ignacio wrote that a company executive named Mike Regino intimated to him that the company’s top people were coming and going in chartered planes at company expense. By May 1986, NFC’s equity level had gone down to P69.987 million. The company was in the red. A Lund University study in 1994 by Esteban N. Pagaran also noted that Agriman committed anomalies resulting in high overhead expenses. We owe these pieces of incriminating information to the indefatigable Joel Ariate whose writing specializes on Marcos corruption and human rights violations.

By 2005, the plant faced other internal problems. The machinery was aging and the contract-growing farmers had been practicing “pole vaulting,” or selling their produce to Divisoria traders. The NFC buying price was low, but company managers pointed out to farmers that this was net income for them as it was the company that provided land preparation, seeds, irrigation and planting.

In a 2021 annual audit report of the NFC by the Commission on Audit, it recommended that a huge amount Agriman took as cash advance be now considered as “dormant receivable,” meaning it could no longer be paid. Agriman had by then closed down and its original transaction documents could no longer be found.

In December 2021, the Duterte administration issued Memorandum Order No. 58 shutting down the plant and abolishing Northern Foods Corporation. “The NFC was no longer consistent with the national development policy of the state,” the memo said. That was a nice way of saying, the company was bankrupt.

In early July 2022, just as Marcos Jr. was yet to warm up his seat as secretary of agriculture, he reversed the Duterte memo, ordered the revival of the moribund Northern Foods Corporation and infused P100 million of government money to a project that lost money because of mismanagement anomalies.

Now that he says his run for president was based on the family’s survival, now that even his department could not control the prices of onions skyrocketing like bedlam, we see the essential Bongbong Marcos: family and cronies first helping out on government money. So very much like his father and mother.