A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BENCH BIDDER

It was a quite day in the office. With only his secretary pounding on her keyboard when the landline rang.

He thought it was one of those clients penny-pinching on his e-load.The guy on the other line was a former undersecretary of a government agency and having got wind of his application in the Judicial and Bar Council as regional trial court judge in the outskirts of Manila, called him up to relay some good news.

“This is good news, pare, the city mayor called me up to ask if I knew you. Apparently the other two aspirants are hotshots both and by appointing either of them is knotty. So the mayor wants to meet you and introduce you to his padrino.”

He was excited about the turn of events. He was losing hope already as this is the fourth time that his name was submitted in the shortlist of nominees for appointment in Malacanang. His padrinos turned out to be allies of the opposition what with the fluid political situation, loyalties melted with the prospect of better portfolios.

“Sigue, that’s good pare. Tell the mayor I will be at his house first hour in the morning. Pare, thank you.”

“Basta you. Just don’t forget me when you get the slot,” a repartee of a paternity claimant in case of success.

He found himself in front of the imposing gate of the mayor in Ayala Alabang. He wondered how come this local official got elected in his hometown while residing 11 kilometres away from his city hall. Easily he valued the mansion as anywhere from seven figures and north bound. He remembered that the government loses forty billion pesos from graft yearly, and this is exhibit A, among the many proofs of theft in this well-appointed village. Forty billion does make an upscale subdivision.

Like an opera curtain, the gate electronically opened and out came a Jaguar from the spacious garage driven by a teenage issue of the politico. Once inside the patio, it boasts of other top of the line vehicles duplicating an auto show. The BIR does not conduct lifestyle checks on local officials, he thought. Maybe the private army of these bunch strikes fear in the hearts of the tax probers. They don’t want to end up dead in a shallow grave of Pampanga, or ambushed on the way to work or abducted like what happened to still missing San Pablo City regional director.

He has to show some facial admiration on the fantastic show of wealth for that is expected to ordinary mortals seeking favours from destiny’s children. He was led by a polo baronged gofer to an inner sanctum of the cavernous Mediterranean abode where he found the pedestrian looking local chief. They proceeded to a long table where breakfast was waiting and on they partook the meal. While at it, the mayor was humouring him apologetic as he was for the short appointment notice from their common friend.

They talked about the current travails of the president and that of his governor. The mayor showed him some court decision and asked him patronizingly what he thought of it. He gave his one cent worth and spewed some legal foretelling only to be cut short by the confident remark from the chief that lawyer’s knack does not count but on who has the exclusive pipeline on the decider. “That is the reason why I called you”, the mayor chimed in. “I want assurance that whomsoever sits on that bench is my friend. This is my hometown remember.”

It dawned on him that all three nominees in the JBC are the protégés of the mayor. It was only him who hailed from the city that the mayor has not met and endorsed. His name was finally included on account of his qualification, 25 years in active practice and enviable scholastic record, not as a prop as three entrants are mandatory in the selection process. The problem was the other two proved a pain in the neck as neither of them does not want to move any quarter. By appointing either of them has political cost that the local top honcho does not want to pay. The city guy is the easy way out, qualified both in and out. And the mayor has his blessing.

They proceeded in convoy towards Makati, the mayor backstopped by two other SUVs weaving in and out of traffic reminiscent of Moses parting the ocean of cars in the center of the financial district. Finally they reached one Makati landmark along Pasong Tamo. While at the lobby the mayor chatted with a well-dressed fixture one could mistake as a Makati lawyer. “One thing, Attorney. If you want to see personally a VIP, befriend his bodyguard. He would invariably tell you his whereabouts.” Or his secretary, he mentally added. He was told that the business tower is now owned by an evangelist noted for his flamboyance.

They were seated in a special anteroom where a couple of congressmen were seen in boisterous banter. Upon seeing them, the two solons rose to greet the suburban mayor. He was introduced in the process. The talk among the destiny’s children was about the suspension of the mayor’s governor. They asked how the provincial boss is handling the situation. The mayor quickly volunteered that it was a fight between two Malacanang foes, the governor an ally of a Senator who hailed from their place and a bitter critic of the First Gentleman, while the vice governor the logical beneficiary of the suspension and the ensuing fallout, belongs to the Erap camp.

The two congressmen sucked on up with the mayor, “o since it is your last term, pang-gobernador ka na!”

The mayor is identified with the Lakas monolith and the lonely figure who escorted the president last elections in his province. But Malacanang is unconvinced. “Pinagdududahan pa rin ako.” The southern province is known for machismo and palabra de honor and his overt support for the president was doubtful. It goes against their grain not to support a cumprovinciano.

“If I am malakas as you claim, I wouldn’t be here asking the blessing of Brother ….. I will go to the palace and insist on my RTC judge nominee. As you know, kailangan sa ‘yo ang mga judge mo.” The message did not escape him as “I can’t afford a judge with a mind of his own.” This candid exchange among these elected officials made him shrink and thought of himself as just one of those factotums accompanying a titan descending from Mt. Olympus.

Finally, the religious imam emerged from his room clothed in his signature outfit.

The magnificent trio to a man rose from their seats and sought the blessing of the rabbi by clasping his right hand and bowing, touched their foreheads. He joined the sanctimonious gestures as the last man who sought the indulgence. The mayor introduced him to the holy man. In the pious fray, what he noticed was the marvellous gold ring of the preacher. “He was near a cardinal,” he thought.

“Unahin ‘nyo na po si Mayor,” one of the guests implored.

The two of them were led inside the preacher’s room approximating Donald Trump’s.

The amenities were long and winding, interspersed with private jokes. Finally they get down to business. “Attorney’s name is already in the shortlist submitted to the president, Brother ….. All he needs is your endorsement.” The preacher asked how many applied for the post. “30 po,” the mayor answered.

He was assured of the holy man’s support. “I can’t say no to Mayor.” His parting words were “don’t forget your benefactors.”

Coming home, his wife could not believe that he actually touched the hands and sought the blessing of the pastor, knowing that he is agnostic.

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