FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - January 5, 2012 - 12:00am

Corruption, deceit, scandals, immorality in the government and the private sector, have been so drummed into our ears reading about them can be boring. We want proof and evidence, we want the expositionists to be credible. We want truth and justice. Columnists who bask in the glory of their exposes, however, can be naughty and boring, as they themselves enjoy the perks proffered by politicians and government officials. So it should take lawyers with credibility and legal expertise to denounce our blighted environment. There is one such lawyer — in the person of Frank Chavez, a successful trial lawyer and a former Solicitor General who can denounce the stinging maladies in our society and culture without fear or favor — and we tend to believe him. He does this by choosing as his genre for criticism his first novel, Blighted (Topbest Printing Corp., Manila, 2009), which, in just a few months after publication, is going into second printing.

How can Frank expose our culture of corruption without sounding very documentary-like and boring? His method is through story-telling. In Blighted, he tells the story of three young men caught in a web of circumstances; through what happens to them he exposes what he so painfully abhors: corruption in government, in the judiciary, in the police and military, in the corporate world. It must be noted that all the bad forces and elements in Blighted take place during the past administration. I must add that these evils existed even before, but, as narrated by Frank, quadrupled during the Arroyo administration, and which the present dispensation seeks to scuttle via the strait and narrow path.

The three, coming from different social backgrounds, are thrown together in jail because of different infractions. Rico de la Paz, 18, from Baseco compound, a community of extremely poor dwellers making their living by scavenging at Smokey Mountain in Tondo, is in for snatching two cell phones from jeepney passengers. The second is Paolo Marco “Pabs” Garcia, 20, born and bred rich, utterly spoiled by his father, a corrupt businessman, is taken in for smoking shabu in the toilet of a five-star hotel. The third, Leandro Roman, was among 50 University of the Philippines students caught for demonstrating in a rally demanding that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resign. It is at the detention cell that Leandro makes Pabs aware, for the first time, of the state of affairs of the nation. After their release, the three continue their friendship, meeting from time to time in a pub in Makati for drinks and more conscientization.

At one point, Pabs, under the influence, sideswipes a brand new Aston Martin One-77 being test-driven by a wealthy businessman, Don Joaquin “Jake” Zurriaga. Pabs, obviously under the influence, cuts down the rich but honest and respected businessman with nasty words. Finding out who Pabs’ father is , Jake says, “So you’re the son of that notorious contractor who pays off everybody in government and in business circles and who thinks everybody is for sale and has a price…,” and his wife Daniela spits on Pabs’ face — acts that so humiliate Pabs he exacts his revenge by killing the Zurriagas. To the surprise of Leandro and Rico whom he had asked to accompany him to deliver an advanced birthday gift for an uncle (actually Zurriaga), Pabs points to them as the ones who committed the murders. The description of the act of killing the victims by Pabs shows author/narrator Frank Chavez at his best.

How the case against the three turns out has Chavez balking at the judicial process whereby the decision of the judge of the Regional Trial Court to convict Pabs is overruled by the Supreme Court which also acquitted Leandro and Rico. The irony is that the ponente in the case for reconsideration filed before the SC belongs to the circle of friends of Johnny Garcia, who moves heaven and earth, and showers money, wine and women on lawyers and contacts at the lower court and the Department of Justice to reverse the lower court’s decision convicting Pabs. Chavez blasts the Department of Justice for delaying tactics to set Pabs free, despite evidence pointing to him as the murderer.

Chavez finds there is no total darkness in the scheme of things, i.e., the City Prosecutor of Muntinlupa, Edmund Majarucon, and Judge Uldarico Cabahug of the RTC of Muntinlupa could not be bribed by Johnny Garcia’s lawyers and emissaries to stop the arraignment of the accused, on the promise of their elevation to the Court of Appeals, and other material rewards. Weeks later, though, Judge Cabahug is murdered and Majarucon disappears, and a trial prosecutor dies from multiple stab wounds inflicted by a jeepney driver. Coincidences?

The Supreme Court’s decision meant nothing to the general public “that had become callous, impervious and indifferent to situations like this,” writes Chavez. But a sensitive fictional columnist decries the SC decision: “In the Zurriaga double murders, Paolo Marco Garcia was not the real killer. He was the gun, but somebody else pulled the trigger. The real killers are those who prop him up and support his wrongdoing; those who prostitute the blindfolded lady of /justice; those who disregard the value of human life; those who bargain away justice as if it’s a commercial commodity; those who defile the truth to obtain exoneration at all cost; those who syndicate themselves to a lobbying, influence-peddling group; and those who couldn’t care less that each act of injustice emaciates our inner selves.”

Readers of the book who admire Chavez’s legal and literary skills, are further cheered by the comments of reputable columnists on his first novel.

Randy David writes on the book’s back cover of Blighted being “a riveting account of the Filipino nation’s dysfunctional institutions. . . In measured prose (Frank Chavez) weaves strands of real events into the filter of satirical fiction. The composite corrupt characters he depicts are all recognizable. We can smell their rot on every page.”

Pete Lacaba describes Chavez as a “legal eagle, social gadfly, and now newbie litterateur rolled into one. His first novel is a literary cocktail of documentary realism, investigative journalism, political satire, activist teach-in, law-school lecture, travelogue trivia, historical tidbits, and courtroom drama, mixing memory and desire, desperation and dreams. It is at the same time (if one may be allowed to mix metaphors) an indictment penned by a justice leaguer contemplating a landscape perpetually blighted by corruption and injustice.”

My friend Letty Jimenez Magsanoc writes that Chavez “chronicle(s) the pervasive culture of corruption in all departments of the national and local governments, the corporate world down to the grassroots and the family…(He) minces no words to denounce scandal after scandal under the Arroyo administration. This is a monumental reference book for a detailed summary of alleged massive corruption under the present dispensation. Only in the Philippines!”

Frank donates all proceeds from his novel to the following beneficiaries: 12 housing units for Gawad Kalinga, UP-PGH Cancer Institute, Bantay Bata (Rotary Club of Makati), Gawad Kalinga (Rotary Club of Makati), two-year monthly continuing rehabilitation program of sexually abused children c/o the Makati Social Welfare Department, medical expenses of three cancer patients, the Salesian Mission, Philippine Band of Mercy, Living for Christ Foundation, Inc., Stepping Stone, and Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus.

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