I am MANOLO LOPEZ

Don Manolo Lopez
Don Manolo Lopez

His driver now takes the initiative of opening his door once the Volvo stops to dislodge him. From the darkened rear of his top-of-the-line car, by Manila standards, he could see the sharp silhouettes of his Pillars of Makati, the well-appointed Rockwell.

From across the Pasig River, he covets the 5-hectare detritus that was once the mighty Noah’s Ark Sugar Refinery. The family dreams of connecting Rockwell with Noah’s Ark and transform it into a theme park. A private bridge between Makati and Mandaluyong is a perfect landmark. How much is it is for Meralco to take care of. But there was that pestering calls from the bagmen of the two mayors asking for earnest money to smoothen the ground breaking of the new metropolitan landmark.

Grimacing, he sticks out his emaciated legs to touch the forgotten soil of the earth. One old man years back told him the secrets of longevity: take hold of a tree with your bare hands, drink water from a stream, and, always without fail, walk the uneven ground.

With great difficulty he grasps the passenger handle atop the door and swings himself out at the approach of the Manansala where all the buildings of Rockwell seem to converge like a children’s choir piously in heaven’s gaze.

Ah…. arthritis finally slaughtered his once malleable knees. He gets one final look at the rear view mirror capturing his whole visage now frighteningly shrunken, a far cry from when the media last blasted his handsome face on FrontPage in 1998 when his son Beaver married Jackie, the only daughter of Erap, with Loi.

He has that distinct Lopez eyes, woeful yet devoid of sympathy. There is that much humility put-on. They were not to be heard chastising a subordinate as rule number one. Only within the enclaves of his house does he allow himself the luxury of spewing his favourite expletives addressed to his equally favourite Philippine personages. The family dinners are where his family critiques the habitués of Maurice Arcache’s crème de la crèmes and of course the parvenus‘ follies. They talk about parties or gatherings they attended and delight in the funny arrangements of the silvers and chinas or the skewed protocol of their hosts-arrivistes.

Among the Lopezes, he has that notorious blank stare once owned by the grand old man, Don Eugenio. He has that rare facial structure. Compartmentalized. Once his lips crack into smile, the lips are left to their own devices. Genie once owned that trademarked patriarchal stare. Upon Genie’s death, his brothers Oscar and the latter’s son, Gabby,

Don Eugenio Lopez Sr.
Don Eugenio Lopez Sr.

deferred to him as the new emperor of the mighty Lopez Empire.

Genie, his father’s favourite son. Did he resent it? He did. But he is a dutiful son. He loved his father more than Genie did. His father saw himself in Genie, not the similar features, but the drive, the ambition, the courage, the character to get even. In his father’s hoarse baritone they were constantly reminded, “We are the Lopezes. Unlike the creoles and the mestizos, you have your own destiny to fulfil. No one stands in our way!”

Now out of the car and stretching out his entire height, he finds his shoulders quickened as if they bore the weight of the Lopez possessions. Do they have a mission to fulfil in this godforsaken country? This question makes him sleepless.

The voices of his father, Don Eugenio and his uncle Don Fernando, dinned his now fading auditory faculty. And Genie? Why does he appear in most unlikely places? His ghost is all over the once deserted power plant that spewed sulphur particulates around Bel Air. He was sure he saw Genie near the Ateneo Law School on that late afternoon when his friend Francis de Borja of Cagayan de Oro told him to wait. “We are the Lopezes,” Don Eugenio without fail reminded them. “A Lopez waits for no one,” when his publicist tells him to go on air to refute the swirl of accusations against the Lopezes. And in a typical self-deprecation, shifts gear, “unless my wife tells me,” glancing at his clasped hands and breaking into that famous compartmentalized smirk. Of course, they are the Lopezes.

This was the mantra of his father spoken with extreme conviction, prepping them up before the family plunks in their money in any venture. Just short of ten years from buying the power behemoth from the former Charles Swift successors, the old man, against his better judgment, was prevailed upon to acquire a media empire.

As a young boy, he remembered his father talking to one aging radio announcer. They were in deep argument. The commentator was convincing his father to buy a TV installation including its radio stations. His father was most vehement in parrying the most telling points of view of the radio personality. Don Eugenio was dismissive of the suggestions of absorbing the media outfit on account of his ignorance of the business. The old man said he was an industrialist, not a purveyor of lies. To him, broadcasters believe that the news was made for them. That they are personalities more than mere readers of events. And just like the politicians, they have their own destinies. They have their own peculiar universe denied the politician for example. Nobody, like Manolo, makes them wait. Their calls are enough to waken the bejessus out of these politicians or government hotshot. Their daily broadcast is all about them.

Unless, you own the media empire, Don Eugenio’s visitor retorted.

To Don Eugenio, broadcasting was one big racket, selling nothing but intrigue and entertainment. To the last characterization, he relentlessly wringed his hand as a gesture of his aversion and contempt to entertainment business.

Don Eugenio said he had no talent of capturing the perfect word to describe an idea or a situation. He heard his father uttered the French phrase “le’ mot juste“. The old man said he’d rather had his secretary or his lawyer do the job for him. This was exploited by the radioman. He said that all the more he needed a mass media outfit. He can make public his philosophy or advocacy. Don Eugenio had all those demons bedevilling him. ABS-CBN was the perfect vehicle to deliver him from his torment, the radioman assured the old man.

Was he his father’s son after all? He too has his demons consuming and possessing him. He knows he has the economic power to rattle and discipline those who posture out of the die to behave.

Why can’t he be like Danding? Danding has his empire and yet he wields unseen political power. Danding’s minions are legions spread all throughout the country, afresh with funds and confidence but whose loyalties never wavered. Only Danding, the Bossman, and no other can order them around. Even the tenants of the Palace obey the biddings of Danding without fail. But unlike Danding, he has his television kingdom. His plethora of strategists has come out with a roster of future senators, and with enough persistence, capture the palace itself. His list of media personalities ready to do battle in the political field is long. He started off with Loren. Loren’s initial foray in politics startled him. She topped the 1998 presidential elections in the senatorial run. His old man was proved correct. The power of the media can be harnessed after all. At last, the possibility of erecting transmission line to the corridors of power dawned on him. After Loren in 1998, he fielded the Mindoro Wonder Boy, Noli de Castro. Running as an independent, the Boy from Polo topped the senatorial race. Waiting in the pipeline are Mrs. Palengkera, and Ces Drilon. With these four media heavyweights, who needs a political party?

fernando lopez
Toto Anding and Ferdinand Marcos

Along this drift is a shrift on Danding’s archaic strategy. He wants to send a message to his secret rival Danding that politics need not be personal. He didn’t have to field a relation like what his father did to Atty. Fernando Lopez whom the former egged on to run as senator and later as Vice President to Elpidio Quirino and Ferdinand Marcos. Fernando, within the league of Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal, never lost an election. Diosdado Macapagal lost in 1955 midterm elections, landing ninth below the eight winning candidates, topped by the erstwhile Social Welfare secretary and society pages’ bestseller of the day, Pacita Madrigal-Warns, which saw the complete annihilation of the Liberal Party in the polls. In 1945, with no prior political experience, López was picked by President Sergio Osmeña to be mayor of Iloilo City. In 1947, he ran for senator and won the election. In 1949, he became vice-president under President Elpidio Quirino, victorious over Manuel Briones and the top honcho of Philippine industries at that time, Vicente J. Madrigal, snatching 52.19% of the votes cast. As Vice President to Quirino he concurrently worked as secretary of agriculture and natural resources, serving until 1953. He was then elected once again as senator, and re-elected in 1959. In 1965, he ran with Ferdinand Marcos, pitted against Gerry Roxas, Senator Mar Roxas’ father, and Raul Manglapus’ Progressive Party’s Manuel Manahan, and won as vice-president with 57.14% of the votes cast. He was re-elected in 1969. Fernando trounced Genaro “No Comment” Magsaysay, the brother of the charismatic late President Ramon Magsaysay, with a whooping 62.76% of the total votes cast.

In the 1950s the Senate was peopled with stooges of the new emperors in Philippine politics, industrialists and businessmen in the mold of the Madrigals, the Antoninos, and the Puyats.

Why can’t he be like Lucio Tan, the Teflon billionaire? PCGG raked every imaginable ledger of El Kapitan and found nothing. All his companies were cleared of sequestrations.

In 1992, when the Chinaman acting on bad political advice threw his support to Speaker Mitra, the plurally elected FVR trained his cannons in Marikina where Fortune Tobacco holds fort. Tan was the only businessman of note who was singled out by the tax agency helmed by Atty. Liwayway Chato, a brilliant lawyer and tax expert. Tan was haled to the Courts facing every crime under the tax codes.

Commissioner Chato never went to battle unprepared. She shovelled all records from the securities and exchange watchdog, local assessors, past tax payments of El Kapitan dating back from 1965 when his patron, Ferdinand Marcos, was elected President, and piled them up in one data base. From there, she organized the best and the brightest prosecutors from the tax office and the justice department. But she was derailed by Titong Mendoza, the equally brilliant lawyer of Danding Cojuangco. As Marcos legal mind, Titong fortified his ramparts in anticipation of his patron’s departure. In the OSG, his best young researchers were given plum positions. While bench warming as Solicitors, they moved to the judiciary. Titong knows the weakness of his protégés. They shun circumstantial evidence. Without the smoking gun, Titong intones, El Kapitan must walk.

In twenty years, these wet-in-the-ears solicitors turned out to be respected magistrates cum book authors and sought after lecturers or professors in law schools. Of course most of them were not bought. They were merely rented. But Titong has their ears in private arguing Danding’s and the Kapitan’s cases.

Except the Firm, no other lawyer in this country has the expertise that approximates that of Titong. He lawyered on with Lucio Tan. Even taunting the young Marcos on the witness stand that the latter has nothing on the Chinaman. It was Ferdinand Sr. who made Titong, uprooting him from the UP Law Center. It was not the brilliance of Titong that made him attractive to the dictator. It was Titong’s unconventional delivery of his marshalled arguments bordering on conversational as opposed to stentorian.

The Lopezes, on the other hand, settled with the Firm when their friend Francis de Borja recommended them. In de Borja’s simplistic compute, the entry of the Firm is enough to soften the GSIS hurricane. And that was how he, before de Borja, looked and his family at their House Counsel with condescension. An In-House Lawyer is just the professional like the Accountant who fixes their records. Don Eugenio was dismissive of lawyers as nothing but a bookworm in starched de hilo. While Fernando was himself a lawyer, the elder brother gave legal guidelines straight to the judge himself.

With the entry of appearance of one Sonny Marcelo, a barrister with an alleged enviable record of nary a loss, the GSIS might wave the white flag in utter surrender. The game plan is to terrorize or send signal of taking-it-easy to the First Gentleman with the shrill sopranic voice of the former Solicitor General who resigned amid controversy of unspeakable pressure from Atty. Mike Arroyo. But the bluff was called and de Borja, the man with lizard eyes, is in danger of being convicted of apparent buying-off  a Court of Appeals justice. It’s just a matter of time when some clerk of court reads the dispositive portion of conviction of de Borja beyond reasonable doubt as no judge worth his salt would ever believe his own yarn.

The Lopezes wanted Titong’s services but they were stymied by the company he keeps. How could the Lopezes engage his services when they know that he crafted most of the Letters of Instructions that legitimized Marcos’ theft of their assets? It would have been a spectacle if Meralco is represented by Titong in the proxy war with GSIS. But there has to be another way.

With the entry of San Miguel money into Meralco, Danding now sits side by side with the Lopezes. Not far from the Chairman’s chair is an old man crowding eighty, with that all too familiar grin, the lawyer the Lopezes coveted all these years, a fellow Director of the power behemoth, Titong Mendoza.

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