Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Jubilation of Eagles

There was a hot time at the La Cumbre residence of the Bondocs, Nitoy and the lovely Milo, last Friday, the eleventh of March. The occasion was for the homecoming of Bert Bengson, a Grupo58er who had been away for long years residing in Switzerland. It was a much awaited happening, thanks to the unflagging effort of Danny Olivares to reach Grupo58 (Ateneo batches GS54, HS58 &Col62) classmates especially those who do not attend the regular first Friday masses at the Ateneo Rockwell. Danny was helped by other batch mates who were still in touch with some of the “long lost” classmates.  To ensure the success of the gathering, Danny continuously emailed reminders of the March 11 event and would brook no excuses for a no-show having gone to the extent of preparing a detailed map to get to the venue.
According to Danny all the hard work was rewarded by the showing up of 44 members and twenty three wives/girlfriends, an unprecedented record in the annals of grupo58 history for attendance of the group’ s social events. Noel Trinidad, jokingly commented later, that it was to be expected knowing the penchant of members to be attracted to free dinner, drinks, entertainment and merrymaking.   
I was a bit giddy upon arrival at the place having gone through severe traffic conditions in the Tandang Sora Avenue, the day being a Friday and it was at the height of the rush hour. To add to the difficulty it was night time and I couldn’t recognize any of the landmarks that I have been used to. The Tandang Sora that I recall was a narrow road that led to Commonwealth Avenue. It has long since been widened and all the landmarks that I knew like the palm of my hand before can no longer be seen, but, thanks to Danny’s cartographic skills we did not lose time in finding the place.
It was a relief to finally realize that we were at the front door of the Bondoc residence upon seeing familiar faces walking towards the house’s front. The first thing that struck me was the elegance of the porch and the impressive carved wooden door where grupo58ers were streaming through. As my wife and I stepped out of the car I saw a figure at the front door who seemed familiar, not one of the regulars of the Rockwell crowd, but, someone I was pretty sure I have met before. I introduced myself and then my wife Alma; as it turned out he was the feted one, Bert Bengson. We were neighbours in Loyola Heights, then known as Varsity Hills during the mid fifties. I wasn’t sure if it was Bert or his brother Tad that I knew well; it has been more than fifty years since I saw him last. After a few exchanges of snippets down memory lane I sensed that we were clogging up the entrance so we moved on leaving Bert to welcome the other new arrivals.
We entered a rather large area with rows of tables arrayed on the main hall and with more tables on extended spaces on the side. There was a space provided at one side which would serve as the stage for the emcees and those who would want to address the audience. I supposed that this would have been the living area but with the usual furniture giving way to the dining tables. One couldn’t help but remark about the beautiful art pieces on display, the paintings of Filipino masters on the walls and the antique Chinese jars perched on the ledges. Despite the crowding of tables you would know that the decor is tastefully minimalist in its normal state (without the dining tables I mean).
I joined a table where my golf buddies were comfortably seated. I introduced my wife to the guys on the table. There was Ting San Diego whom my wife knew from an early employment at the Solid Bank, Pong Lustre, Jun Atendido, Jimmy Morelos, Mon Aviado whose wife was also with Solid Bank and Danny Olivares whom she remembers from PTA days where our sons were classmates. Before I introduced my wife to Milo Rodrigo I warned her that Milo was the joker of the group and not to be taken seriously at any instance at all. True enough immediately after my introduction I could see Milo's mischievous face light up and was about to do the usual "was it you I saw him with?" line, but luckily Neomi Olivares took Alma out from our group and brought her to where the other wives were seated.
I had to go back to the entrance since I missed registering our names at the front. Jenny, the smart and lovely daughter of Nitoy and Milo was managing the reception quite efficiently and was quick to spot those who have gone in without passing through the registration table.
It has been a long time since my last attendance of corporate to dos where one is obligated to go around to meet as many guests as possible before settling down to a group that one is more familiar and comfortable to be with. This being a reunion of sorts I felt obligated to try to meet as many of my batch mates as possible. There were a few faces that I did not recognize having had a relatively shorter stay at the Ateneo than most; I was just there for the grade school and for an abbreviated stint in high school.
I talked a while with Ed Bunyi whose late brother was my classmate, Bob Alvero who looked very different without the curly locks of long ago, Rene Anel, Louie Ongpin, Vic Barrios, Ver Pineda and Bert Tajonera whom I knew from his JWT days.
Wine and other fine spirits were flowing copiously. This added to the liveliness of the conversations which were in progress in all tables. The boys were having a grand time reminiscing youthful escapades then and the occasional now. The table Alma went to were composed of the wives, in their table were Mely de Jesus, wife of DJ; Lally Laurel, Noel’s better half; Jess’ wife Beth de la Fuente; Lita Bunyi; Neomi Olivares; Estelle Nievera, wife of Timmy; Chito Siopongco’s wife, Odette; Linda, Bert Tajo’s wife and others who have escaped my mind (the pressure to not omit names is awesome- “parang society column hack”).
In another table, Vic Reyes and wife Flo were together with Boy Flores and wife Jean with other couples I now fail to remember (just so I won’t miss mentioning anyone I should come with a list of attendees at the end of this write up).
Somebody announced that dinner is served. We were asked to go to the second floor of the house where an array of sumptuous dishes were on the buffet table. The dinner fare was well chosen. There was “lechon at the far end of the buffet table which was difficult to resist but I had to forego because of recent doctor’s orders.
At dinner I sat beside Gary Lising. I was surprised to find him a little reticent, not expectedly because I knew him to be a real livewire when performing on stage. In a few minutes, Noel introduced him onstage to the group as a batch member who never was because he was not in any of the school level batches, but a member nonetheless.
Like a light bulb that was switched on Gary began to shine. He started off by calling Vlady Olivares the Penguin, “pero dinedma lang siya ni Vlady”.  Gary’s jokes invariably are off colour and some are rehashed but they never failed to elicit rollicking laughter from the audience. Who could resist being floored by his  a’la Woody Allen joke of a team of sperms about to invade the uterus? Or the one about the “orange bird” malady of his friend; his “bon app├ętit” joke and many more scintillating witticisms?
Neomi and Milo had organized some parlour games to liven up the crowd. The first one was the guess the logo game where one was asked identify the company or institution the logos represented. The other game played was the “pinaka” game. Two teams were created made up of men and ladies. Each team had I think eight or ten members. The teams were asked to anticipate what the “pinaka” question is and will send team members as an answer. If the “pinaka” is “mahabang kuko” then the team member sent forward who has the longer finger nails win. This went on for quite a while until the team who had the most points emerged as the winner.
After the games Noel took over the stage and asked the batch mates to form groups according school level batches (GS, HS, Col)and for the members to identify themselves one at a time. There were mild ribbings when some did some adlibbing as Ateneans are wont to do. Section A guys couldn’t help saying that their section was the honours class, not to be outdone Bert Tajonera mentioned that he was the valedictorian of grade school batch. Someone from the higher letters sections mentioned that their group was known as the notorious and worst class, a somewhat dubious and uncomplimentary classification.
Then we had more of Gary Lising. Encouraged by Dodie Agcaoili Gary resurrected some Erap jokes which despite their being “gasgas na gasgas na” they were truly enjoyable and was still able to evoke laughter from the group. Gary’s dead pan delivery, impeccable timing and sad sack mien make long dead jokes come alive. He is truly “messianic” in that sense, perhaps manic is a more apt description. Someday he would walk on water without wetting his socks but for now he should be content with not wetting his pants.
After Gary’s number the party went on circulation mode again. I chatted for a while with Butch Lopez, Bobby Roces, Nitoy and others. Joey de los Santos, Onofre Santos, Boy Roman, Ed Acosta, Felix Bautista and Rey Ilusorio  were there but I hardly remember them because of my limited stay in the Ateneo.
Ed Gatchalian and wife Bing arrived late because of some urgent work on a project that is in the works. Noel invited him on stage as he had something of great importance to announce. Those in the grupo58 email circuit have been given a hint of a top secret musical project which he said he might be ready to announce on this occasion. This has been a work in progress for a year now and couldn’t announce it earlier lest the concept be pre-empted by some unscrupulous individuals in the music industry.
So what’s the big secret project?                    RIVALRY - ATENEO-LA SALLE THE MUSICAL
Wow What a Blast!!! Guys, you have lived with it, dreamt it, smelled it, cursed it, felt it, saw it, spent for it, fought for it, died for it, rumbled for it’s a musical!
 Ed G has put together a group which he refers to as his “consultative team” made up of Lasallites and Ateneans (Jimmy Morelos is a member of this group) to bounce ideas and scenarios for them to react and respond to as in a test situation. Additionally, the daughters (Nikki and Carla) of our batch mate Boy Guevarra will play major roles in the musical. Both of them are seasoned stage performers having had experience in the UK production of Miss Saigon.
Ed G has scheduled January 27, 2012 as opening night in the Meralco theatre. Pre opening activities will comprise of press conferences internal liaison and coordination from both schools and their respective alumni organizations, some drumbeating and a myriad of details such an undertaking entails. He is asking for volunteers in this worthwhile project.
I found the evening truly enjoyable and judging from pleased faces of group58 and partners I could say without fear of contradiction that they too had enjoyed a marvellous evening, thanks to Bert and to the gracious couple Nitoy and Milo Bondoc and daughter Jenny.
I had to leave the party sooner than most of the guests as I had a wake to go to that night. Funny, because I was reminded of the time I went to the wake of Nonoy Quimbo and had to go to another wake on the same evening. I think it was Noel Trinidad who said that I schedule or cluster the passing away of my friends with my other socials in Manila because I live so far away from the city and that it would be practical to do just that. Excuse the digression,  I’m funny that way.
Anyway, I wish to tell Bert Bengson to go away soon so that we can miss him some more and then he will be obliged to organize another reunion of sorts like this one where his freebie...hmm...freedom loving batch mates will surely queue up like bees towards a honeypot.
Fly high, Bert.
This was the list of those who said they will come:

1.  Butch and Connie Bonoan
2.  Noel and Lally Trinidad
3. Ed Piccio and wife
4. Jess and Beth de la Fuente
 5. Danny and Neomi Olivares
 6. Timmy and Estela Nivera
 7. Bert and Linda Tajonera
 8. Rene and Cora Anel
 9. Jun Atendido and girlfriend
 10. Ed Garcia and wife
 11. DJ and Mellie de Jesus
 12. Butch and Agnes Lopez
     13. Vic and Flo Reyes
 14.Nitoy and Milo Bondoc
 15.Boy and Jean Flores
 16.Ed and Alma Roa
17.Bobby Alvero and wife
18.Chito Siopongco and Odette
19.Ed and Lita Bunyi
20.Ed and Bing Gatchalian
21.Rene and Genny Nieva
22.Pito Simon and wife
23.Joey and Mary Luison
 24. Eric and Macky Quema

Guys Going Solo

 1. Leony Francisco
 2. Joey de los Santos
 3. Onofre Santos
 4. Ex Javier
 5. Ting San Diego
 6. Mahar Mangahas (Late?)
7.Boyer Syquia
 8. Resty Lerma
 9. Gary Lising
 10.Vlady Olivares
 11. Bert Bengzon
12. Pong Lustre
 13. Bobby Roces
 14. Jimmy Morelos
 15. Boy Roman
 16. Ed Acosta
 17. Milo Rodrigo
 18. Teddy Catindig
 19. Douglas Mondonedo
 20. Rufo Colayco
 21. Dodie Agcaoili
 22. Ver Pena
 23. Vic Barrios
 24. Tony de Castro
 25. Louie Ongpin
 26. Rey Ilusorio
 27. Felix Bautista

Thursday, March 03, 2011

March 3 Senate Inquiry; The Plot Sickens

It has been two weeks since the last session of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee was convened to question litigants, prosecutors and others who may be able to contribute to provide information which would help the Senate to strengthen the existing graft and corruption laws and also possibly enact new ones in an effort to stamp out corruption in government.

I counted the days leading to today’s session as my appetite has been whetted by the preceding episodes much like daytime soap operas on television. I am not privy to the Nielsen audience ratings but it would be safe to say that the following it has generated could be sizeable and could very well compete with the standard daytime TV fare. The drama presented by the main protagonists are truly mind gripping. There is intrigue, betrayal, stone walling, face to face confrontations, colourful language, lies, grandstanding, tearful engagements and all the ingredients found in a formula for a great TV serial.

The proceedings started off with the presentation of Edgardo Yambao who was summoned to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee as his name was dragged into the case by virtue of his being the brother in law of Gen Ligot and the brother of Erlinda Yambao Ligot where there were documents to show that he had been in connivance with the accused couple by having assets of the couple in his name. Not much was accomplished by the interviews. Like the Ligots he invoked his constitutional right to remain silent for reasons of self incrimination. Additionally he also invoked his right to privacy and security when asked about his addresses in the Philippines.

The recitation of the constitutional rights to self incrimination and privacy had been invoked repeatedly and had become a tired refrain all throughout the hearings. No matter how hard Jinggoy Estrada pressed for answers to the questions posed on Gen Ligot all he got was the invocation of his constitutional right to remain silent because the information sought are subject to an existing litigation in the Sandigan Bayan. Mrs Ligot, although present in the Senate hall, was excused from the inquiries because her blood pressure shot up to an intolerable level.

Former prosecutor Villa Ignacio had his turn to be questioned. Sen Jinggoy continued with what seemed to be his thesis from the last session that the former ombudsman Marcelo and prosecutor Villa Ignacio wilfully filed a weak and shoddily assembled case in the Sandigan court precisely to ensure its failure. This, of course, was vehemently denied by Villa Ignacio averring that they proceeded correctly and that the unresolved cases were all transferred to current Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for her disposition. The present ombudsman is the subject of a congressional impeachment proceeding at the lower house mostly stemming from her inaction on graft cases filed in her office. At the moment she stands foursquare by her decision to stay put in her office despite the clamour for her ouster. She has maintained her innocence of the allegations of mal/misfeasance in office and would live out her term up to her retirement in 2012.

Setting the audience entertainment value aside, it seems that the Senate Inquiry has become a futile exercise because the case inquired about is still in litigation in the Sandigan Bayan and therefore any topic taken up in the Inquiry which has reference to the case may be considered sub judice and that the accused parties may invoke their right remain silent lest they be incriminated by their statements outside the courts.

During the last session, Feb 24, Frank Drilon was miffed by the prosecution team’s dallying with what was agreed in earlier sessions for them to file a manifestation to the Sandigan court to drop the plea bargain filed by the accused on the encouragement by the prosecution team. This was not complied with and the prosecution team again reneged from their promise. In agreeing to the senate’s request to drop the charges they, in effect, admitted that it was the wrong move. As was being explained by Johnny Enrile, if the plea bargain filing prospered and the compliance with the restitution of some of the plundered loot, the case would have been closed with the accused getting a lenient penalty and the rest of the plundered loot unattached by the government. Further pursuit of the case will no longer be possible because it constitutes double jeopardy. Ombudsman Gutierrez maintains that the prosecutors did the right thing because they felt that the people’s case was weak and that we are bound to lose the case if pursued. Further, she says that an agreement of the restitution of a part of the plundered loot was a requisite and by so doing the government is able to recover at least a part of the plundered loot (130 million pesos out of a total of 700 million pesos). “Mukhang naisahan na naman tayo. Ayon kay Gutierrez pasalamat tayo may nakuha pa tayo.”

In an earlier write up that I made about this case, I insinuated that the Sandigan Bayan may have a share of the culpability. All the happenings would tend to indicate that a cabal does exist and the unholy alliances would include the generals, their family members who benefited from the crime, their legal teams, the current Ombudsman and the prosecution team (former ombudsman Marcelo and the prosecutor Villa Ignacio may be suspect), the Sandigan judges who may have acted in collusion with the rest to see to it that the graft cases in their salas were doomed to fail. “Laglagan na!”

From what has transpired between the Sandigan and Ombudsman and her prosecutors the whole affair seems to have been a comedy of errors. It seems unlikely that the legal luminaries involved can make mistakes that seem so blatantly done. The extent of the negligence committed by the prosecution team is unimaginable and the courts seem to have taken a cavalier attitude towards the cases and allowed these things to happen. Senator Enrile marveled at the gross negligence of the prosecution. If the Sandigan courts are truly working in behalf of the people’s interest then they would have chastised the prosecution for their ineptness. Contrary to expectations they seem to have abetted the crime by having played along.

If by some evil wand these scoundrels will win their case I seriously implore to have a media blackout on it. Please, not in front of the children.