People I’ve met: Second of series

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
No, I don’t think even a third or fourth of my readers remember Teodoro F. Valencia, in his day the most colorful journalist around with a big mouth, a bigger ego, a stand-up talker of the purest gab there ever was. Doroy, a Batangueño if there ever was one, never relished the presence of anyone who could outtalk him. There was probably one, Joe Guevara, another Batangueño, but Joe, then dubbed the Walt Whitman of the Philippines, hardly ever dared. When Doroy died, and I was there in the company of then President Cory Aquino, he didn’t even bother to keep his mouth shut.

Well, what is there to reminisce about?

I had always fantasized getting them together, a group I considered the best stand-up or sitdown talkers in the Philippines. I had thought of course of Doroy Valencia, the defending champion, Louie Beltran, a worthy contender, Larry Henares, and if he were still alive, Mayor Arsenio Lacson. Ever heard of any two or three of them together? It was like going to a boiler room, not one giving way to the other. Arsenic gets my vote for pungent, often insulting but always hilarious language. Once at an electoral rally, just to pique then President Carlos Garcia, he said Mrs. Garcia in less provident days couldn’t afford earrings. So she wore argolya ng kulambo, and that brought the house down. And, bejeezus, the invectives he threw at President Garcia! So much so the grapevine reports Garcia himself begged Lacson to spare him.

The resignation of PCGG Chairman Haydee Yorac opens a flood of memories. We were a trio then, still young but full of dreams, with a visceral hatred of the dictatorship. Haydee a law professor at the University of the Philippines, Gerry Barican a senior UP law student, myself bureau chief of the Agence France Presse in Manila. We plotted the whole year round on how to get rid of the dictator, often playfully. There was a suggestion to put poison in his coffee, jab him innocently at a Palace party with a lethal needle used by the CIA. Of course, being the innocents that we were, nothing was carried out.

But the three of us all vowed, arms locked together, a brandy glass in the right hand, to outlive the dictator. Well, Marcos died in 1989 in Honolulu at exactly the same time the French Ambassador Leblanc and Cory Aquino were pinning the Legion of Honor on my breast.

It was one of the few things I wasn’t prepared for. I was then presidential press secretary and the popular Tingting Cojuangco told me I would have an afternoon visitor. Who? She said matter of factly Billy Esposo. I had heard of the man but never saw him or met him. As they would say in French parbleu, in German achtung, in Swahili magtabo. When Billy came, I thought he would never fit into the office door. He was big, oh boy he was immense! The circus fat man Kawaba wasn’t even close. Billy came in like a continent, and how do you welcome a continent?

The chair he sat on immediately broke. And we made sure the next one would hold. Well, there are a thousand stories about His Immensity. Not a single seat in a commercial plane would sit him. Once wedged, Billy stood up and the seat refused to come unstuck. From then on, only two seats on a plane would suffice. I haven’t seen anybody wolf food that fast and that much. When we were in a Singapore seafood restaurant during an ASEAN summit meeting, Billy was the center of attraction. He devoured oysters by the platter, and this was just the appetizer. Waiters came to our table like a safari, all kinds of food carried over their heads. Billy devoured everything – asked for more, more, more. At the next table were Japanese who looked on in wide-eyed wonder, asking if Billy was hiripin, Jap for Filipino. Hiripin? Hiripin? Billy easily weighed then about 400 pounds.

Miriam Defensor Santiago, how can you ever forget her?

Time there was when we couldn’t get along, and I was then host of the talk show Firing Line. We had a bitter exchange, some name calling even. And that evening Miriam was scheduled to be my guest. I called up Korina Sanchez, then our director, told her the show was off. Miriam, I said, had called me a lot of names, unsuitable for print. And so she could go to hell. Korina pleaded, the studio pleaded. I wavered, then gave in. But hell’s bells, Miriam would hear from me! When she arrived at the studio, she immediately sought me out and before I could say a word, La Miriam smothered me with kisses, embraces and apologies. When Miriam is in a blue funk, she’s just impossible, an element of nature unchained. The furniture in the room literally flew every which way and laughingly afterwards she calls this "rearrangement".

But when she cools off, and hubby is an expert at this, she purrs like a cat. Miriam’s specialty is pungent language, like fungus face, and nobody beats her in this regard. Except, of course, Arsenio Lacson, who once tangled with an American marine at the Sta. Ana cabaret and got the short end of it. He was sporting a broken nose until the day he died. But he got even with the marine several days later. And that’s another story.

Now from the raucous to the somewhat sublime. I ran into Brother Eddie Villanueva more than two years ago at the residence of a mutual friend. I was somewhat put off because he was too much of a preacher, spilling verses and even chapters from the Bible. I normally avoid highly religious people, who have all the answers. But in the end, Brother Eddie got to me. His concept of righteousness in a sordid, sinful corrupt world made some sense. He knew his entry into politics in the May 10 elections was a dice loaded against him.

But he persevered. In a world darkened by sin and iniquity, he lit ten candles, then a hundred then a thousand and so on. His followers grew and a clutch of earlier cynical Catholics joined in. He must have garnered much more votes than were officially counted for the cheating was massive. We became good friends. But Brother Eddie was not one to be pushed into confrontational politics with Malacañang. That explains why until now he has refused to pasture his hordes of followers (Jesus Is Lord) to the Luneta. "The time will come," "the magic moment will come" say his followers.

If only he could negotiate an "entente cordiale" with Susan Roces. That could be the magic moment.

I feel queasy mentioning the name, even writing about her. Kris Aquino. But she is a sort of MVP (Most Valuable Player) in celebrity’s Big League today and to snort at her would be like snorting at big time. But my point has always been different. Kris is the daughter of my idol, Ninoy Aquino, and I had expected her to follow the course of patriotism, nobility, dignity and courage her father had charted with exceptional heroism. Why not? She had the brains, the courage, the fiery resolution as a child. One day, I said, she would make a name in the field of human rights, of fighting for the poor, of wading as a crusader in the muddy swamps and potholes.

She would study law, the political and social sciences, get deeply involved and scream the hopes and dreams (pangarap) of the downtrodden. But Kris turned her back on all that, and chose the life of the rich and the famous. All I can say is pity. Maybe someday she’ll change her mind. Maybe someday, she’ll abruptly change course and heed the wise counsel of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore to would-be crusaders, "Walk alone, walk alone." Who knows? Maybe she’ll follow the path of her father Ninoy Aquino after all.

I have always been befuddled by the contrasting, sometimes even conflicting picture of the military. They speak in so many voices, and one does not really know whether peace negotiations with the MILF are underway. But it’s the personalities that confound me, generals who speak from both corners of their mouth and in the end say nothing.

I find one general particularly mystifying. He is Gen. Angelo Reyes. I had thought, much earlier, Angie Reyes would be blown out of the water, so many in and out of the military were against him. He was accused by young military officers of corruption (the Oakwood mutiny). By any reckoning Angie Reyes, if he could not be removed, could have been transferred to Mindanao or any other post where he would be less embarrassing to the powers-that-be, particularly GMA.

That was wishful thinking. The way it looks now, GMA kowtows to General Reyes. Why? I do not know. My surmise is that when push comes to shove, when GMA reels on the stormy waves of public disaffection, the pointman to the rescue would be General Reyes. He has not even uttered a word of disgust against the very obvious crimes committed by Generals Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot.

As we said earlier, no value judgments on our part.

As we end today’s column, whatever happened to Mang Pandoy? In the early and mid-90s, Mang Pandoy was the epitome of virtue in poverty. He was paraded all over media as a grizzled, white-haired old man, just waiting to be rescued by society from his woes? What happened to him? Did anybody come to his rescue? Did he eventually find a good job? Or was Mang Pandoy just exploited by media and his sponsors for publicity, then abandoned to the wolves when he was no longer useful?











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