By Lito Banayo
Their paths will always cross. Across generations of their family even.
Mariano Arroyo used to be the appointed governor of Iloilo back when we were yet to be a commonwealth of the Americans. Together with a Chinese rice trader named Sualoy, he introduced jueteng into his province. And what a hit it made with the timawas who bet daily on the numbers game. Such that the illegal numbers racket hit the pages of a local newspaper published by Benito Lopez, who turned it into a crusade.
In time, Benito Lopez got the government in Manila, through Manuel Luis Quezon, to dispatch a Negrense lawyer named Francisco Moran to investigate. His findings eventually caused the ouster of Mariano Arroyo as governor. Sualoy was thrown out of the country, back to Amoy, now Xiamen in China’s southeast. Eventually, Moran was to become a distinguished Supreme Court justice.
Mariano’s family was in shock at the disgrace that befell them. In time, the Arroyos left Iloilo and transferred to Negros, where they settled in their large haciendas. They were never successful in politics since. Meanwhile, Benito’s sons carved out careers in business and politics. Fernando became a senator of the realm, later, vice-president of the Republic. Eugenio founded a business empire that was among the country’s largest, and he named it in honor of father Benito and mother Presentacion—Benpres Corporation. When the Americans who owned the largest electric power company in the country decided to sell, it was Eugenio who bought what has since become the Lopez crown jewel — Meralco
But though unsuccessful in politics, the Arroyos were successful in marriage. One of them, Jose Ignacio, married an heiress to the Tuasons in her second marriage. Lourdes Tuason married Jose Arroyo, and the union begot Jose Miguel (Mike), Maria Lourdes and Jose Ignacio (Ignacito). Jose Miguel married the daughter of Diosdado P. Macapagal, a wisp of a lady called Gloria. On January 20, 2001, after a phenomenal rise in politics from senator to vice-president in all of six short years, Gloria was proclaimed president of the land on the eighth year of her foray into electoral politics. Phenomenal, even if the method was controversial. Thus changed the fortune of the Arroyo family.
Sometime in the year 2003, one Panfilo M. Lacson, a former no-nonsense chief of the Philippine National Police, forced by political circumstances to become senator of the realm in the summer of 2001, exposed a not-so-intricate money-laundering operation headquartered at the LTA Building in Perea St. in Makati. LTA stands for Lourdes Tuason Arroyo, the mother of the First Gentleman, who as of today, owns two floors of said building, the rest having been sold, condominium style, to several buyers.
Lacson exposed the financial undertakings of one Jose Pidal. He had with him copies of cancelled checks paid to Jose Pidal, even statements of account from several financial houses addressed to Pidal. As the name sounded unfamiliar, Lacson’s source, a former utility and all around gofer for Jose Miguel Arroyo y Tuason called Udong Mahusay, guessed that it was perhaps Lapid spelled vowel-backwards. The governor of Pampanga then was a Lapid, and an ally of the first family. But then so is the country’s top purveyor of cholesterol, Lapid’s, which just might have been Pidal’s favorite snack. Mystery of alias notwithstanding, Lacson went to town, through a power-point presented privilege speech which showed an uncanny sameness in the strokes, loops and penmanship of Jose Pidal and Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Malacanang was dumbfounded. A congressman from the fifth district of Iloilo, one Rolex Suplico, called Lacson to say the name Pidal rang a bell, even if no one in Manila knew anybody else with that surname. But while Rolex scouted around Molo and Jaro and the city, ABS-CBN beat him to the draw. They sent a crew to Iloilo, and established by tombstone and historical marker, what ancestry the Pidal surname had. It turns out that Jose Miguel Arroyo’s paternal grandmother was the daughter of a Pidal, the same mother of Don Mariano Arroyo, the pre-commonwealth governor who introduced jueteng to the fair province of Iloilo. Thus did the paradox of Pidal unravel.
More than a week after, an obscure Jose Ignacio Arroyo Jr., gentleman-farmer from Negros Occidental, appeared before ABS-CBN rival, GMA 7, to claim that he was “Jose Pidal”. Later it was to be discovered that this guy with the self-proclaimed Pidal alias paid income taxes of ten thousand pesos or thereabouts, during the years that his bank account was bulging with tens and hundreds of millions. Through invocations of his “right to privacy”, the Pidals got a temporary “clean bill of health” from the chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon, one Joker Arroyo of Ba-ao in Camarines, neither Molo in Iloilo nor Boao in Hainan. (These coincidences leave you breathless). Ignacito, a.k.a. Jose Pidal even had his clumsy John Hancock’s certified by a Keystone Kop called Mosqueda, another (surprise!) Ilonggo later linked to jueteng (another surprise!), and now recently-elected mayor of an unfortunate town in the province. Ignacito meanwhile, now called Iggy, has since become a congressman of neighboring Negros.
ABS-CBN is controlled by the Lopez family, and is headed by the great-grandson of Benito Lopez, the newspaper publisher whose expose destroyed Mariano Arroyo’s racket and with it, his political fortunes. He is the son of Eugenio (Geny) Lopez Jr., son of Eugenio Sr., the original buyer of Meralco, now headed by his son Manolo. Benpres Holdings, the mother corporation, is headed by another son of Eugenio Sr., Oscar Lopez.
How history turns full circle. The president of the land, through surrogates in GSIS and in Congress, has unleashed the furies against the Lopez family, through their most vulnerable possession, Meralco, which buys power generated both by government and its sister firms which are “independent” power producers, transmitted to them by a government-owned Transco that has been “privatized” recently and awaiting franchise from Congress, which they in turn distribute to consumers like you and me.
Now you and I have been complaining about high power rates, and Mrs. Arroyo seeks to use our vexation and turn the same into unbridled anger against the Lopez family. Is this the revenge of the Arroyos?
So where does Rolex Suplico fit in to merit being in our marquee, along with the fabulous Lopezes and the inglorious Pidals?
Well, Rolex who is now the vice-governor of Iloilo after three full terms as congressman of the fifth district, has of late been in the public eye because he filed a case with the Supreme Court in August last year, against a contract entered into between the government of Mrs. Arroyo and one ZTE Corporation of Shenzhen in China’s southeast. He has since been a resource person in the celebrated Senate-produced telenovela, co-starred with Joey de Venecia in Part One, and appeared in occasional cameo roles in the more explosive Part Two, this time starring Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr.
The villains in this high-rating telenovela, until power interruptions engineered by nine justices of the Supreme Court cut it off the air, include another disgraced official, Benjamin Abalos of Mandaloyon, formerly chair of the notorious Commission on Elections, which under his watch has since become the Commission for Electoral Cheating, a prevaricating bureaucrat called Lorenzo Formoso, a clueless cabinet member called Leandro Mendoza, and even a nervous coward called Romulo Neri. But all signs point to some people higher up in the ladder. Everybody knows who they are, but as Mikey Arroyo, the Pidal-Arroyo great grandson who co-chairs Powercom with an Ilongga kasimanwa (na pud?) always chimes in, guilt requires “proof beyond reasonable doubt”.
Of late, Rolex has produced a certain “Alex” who apparently took photographs of an Arroyo sojourn to Shenzhen in the fall of 2006, where Mikey’s mama y papa played golf with ZTE officials. The telenovela, off the air for two months now, might get a new season, thanks to Rolex.
Whereupon the Arroyos and their hacks called Rolex a Lopez footstool, trotted out in the nick of time to discombobulate their full-court press against the Lopezes of Meralco. One of these hacks is a fellow from Iloilo (again?) called Raul Gonzalez, who accuses Rolex precisely as such.
But Rolex is undaunted. He will not allow the public to forget the excessive and unconscionable greed that surrounds the NBN-ZTE deal, just like Benito Lopez in his time did not give Mariano Arroyo a moment of peace in small-town (then) Iloilo. “The issue of power rates is valid, but equally valid is the issue of corruption in the highest of places”, Rolex told me over the phone. This “footstool” wants to put his foot firmly down against the corrupt.
I could have entitled this article “Iloilo”. Or even “Batchoy”, one of my favorite comfort foods, where the Ilonggos of Molo mix generous slivers of good lean meat with “bitter” slices of pork liver on top of noodles, ladle slowly simmered and truly savory broth, and then top the concoction off with cholesterol-laden bits of pork chicharon (May tindahan na ba ang Lapid sa Iloilo, o Pidal ?).
Who among the characters are like “good lean meat”, and who the “bitter” liver, who the chicharon? Well, tell you what. We are like the noodles, ang dami-dami natin, niluluto sa sariling katas. And Rolex? Paminta, ground pepper, without which the batchoy will not taste as good.