BENJAMIN ABALOS OFFERED ME SOMETHING TOO
These days, I have to admit that I do miss my days as a journalist. Each day, I instinctively look for the name Armand Nocum when I read the Inquirer, a habit I had nurtured for 14 years as an investigative reporter of the paper.
For a journalist, many of the names and faces you see and hear in the media are not just ink, voice clips and images, but they are actual people that one met along the way in pursuance of one's journalism career.
One of them is now the much-aligned Benjamin Abalos, who recently resigned as chair of the Comelec in the light of the lobbying and bribery issue involving the multi-million telecommunications deal with
I met Abalos years ago when he was then mayor of
Modesty aside, I would say that I was considered one of the groups of young journalists perceived to have been giving Abalos hell in reporting about all these alleged irregularities. By that time, I have already honed my skills in investigative journalism and was fairly successful in getting documentary evidence and testimonies to pin Abalos down.
Stung by my write ups, Abalos invited me to a posh hotel in Mandaluyong one morning and there he made his defense from all the issues I have written about him. An hour deep into our conversation, he finally offered to make me one of his in-house writers in city hall.
New in the print industry and highly idealistic, I politely refused the offer, saying that my editors and the Inquirer readers are following up the issue and they would surely notice my change of stand relative to his alleged irregularities.
Later when I went to the restroom, his press relations officer followed me and handed me an envelope which he said contained P10,000, a substantial amount back then when all I had for a vehicle was a beat-up Yamaha DT 175 which I brought straight from
I told the mayor's PR that I already made my point and that I'd rather they respect my decision. When I returned to our table, Abalos was clearly distraught, perhaps having noticed how even his PR failed to get me to drop my investigations on him.
But being a consummate politician, Abalos was not about to throw in the towel and had laid out one more weapon or argumentative tool to get my sympathy – the appeal to my emotions. This, I would learn later in my career, is the politicians’ ultimate weapon of choice when intimidation and bribery had failed to get their targets among members of the media.
At this point, he then started to recount his humble beginnings, how he grew up the son of a caddy at the Golf and Country Club and how he completed law school working at a textile factory.
With watery eyes, he relayed how his classmates made fun of him because he still had pieces of textile and cotton on his hair when attending night classes. ``That was because I barely had time even to wash my hands because I have to rush from the factory to the law school,'' I recalled him saying.
He then said that it was a pity if all of his sacrifices will be lost as his name continuous to be maligned in media. Hearing that, I admit that I then felt sad for him and at the same time I felt a surge of admiration towards the self-made mayor. He nearly got me there.
But it was only a matter of time before I again resumed my investigation of him when fresh issues of graft again hit the controversial Abalos.
Apparently failing to get me, Abalos eventually won our little war when he reportedly went to one of my bosses and complained against me. Soon after, the investigative stories I was writing on Abalos stopped appearing and I was eventually transferred to another beat.
Later, rumors went around that that boss of mine got a hefty share of the stocks at the Wackwack Golf and Country Club, but I don't believe them, mindful of the fact that the former mayor had political enemies of his own who could have cooked up such yarn to hurt my boss.
Like I did to my former boss, I gave Abalos the benefit of the doubt following our unfinished war. However, Abalos went on to become Comelec hair and got mired in allegedly far bigger scams -- multi-million computerization program, Hello Garci and now ZTE. Is there a pattern here?
So, as these negative stories on Abalos continue to haunt him, I can only smile with the thought that I too – in a tiny way – got to experience what former NEDA Chief Romulo Neri supposedly went through.