POSTSCRIPT / August 1, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Lito, Fred and Imelda to slug it out in Manila

STILL, Mayor Lito Atienza may have to call in exorcists to drive away the evil spirits inhabiting the notorious jai alai building on Taft Avenue being demolished to give way to an imposing Hall of Justice.

Hizzoner would not want the ghosts of the game-fixers in the old jai alai reappearing and shifting to the buying and selling of TROs, decisions, and the like in the new Hall of Justice, would he?

He would not want it said that when an aggrieved party goes to court, it is more akin to embarking on all-night gambling than the invoking of the law and the meting out of justice, would he?

When cases are randomly assigned in the spanking new courthouse, would the supposed raffle be no better than the fixing of a string of jai alai games? Will the spirit of the old den of thieves live on?

* * *

MAYOR Atienza may want to compare notes with former de facto Manila governor Imelda R. Marcos — who incidentally hints at wanting to recapture the capital city as mayor — on how effective exorcism was at the ill-fated Film Center in the reclaimed bay area.

Years ago, exorcists had to be called in to drive away or appease the restless spirits of workers who were killed in a deluge of fast-drying concrete from a collapsed floor of the pantheon that they were building.

Stories had it that every now and then, some poor security guard assigned to the dank premises would be found dead in the morning without any sign of foul play. Strange moanings were heard in the night and a room reserved for some VIP reportedly smelled of blood!

With scared personnel assigned to the building, which was also sinking in its sandy foundation, refusing to work, the decision was made to exorcize the spirits.

Exorcists of various sects, including one from a mountain tribe who brought a chicken to slaughter and dissect its guts for some divine message, did their respective things. Mayor Atienza may want to know how effective it was.

* * *

FORMER Public Works Secretary Aber Canlas, the wonder worker of the Marcoses, would grab pen and paper when he explains to me why it was impossible for scores of workers (as claimed) to have been buried in the Film Center.

Canlas, by the way, was on a mission abroad at the time, and Mrs. Marcos frantically called him to salvage the building set to be inaugurated in a few days for the grand opening of Ma’am’s international film festival by the bay.

The P100-million center was not a Canlas project, but one handled by a private firm of then Human Settlements Undersecretary Jolly Benitez. Canlas the trouble-shooter had to cut short his trip and fly home.

Taking charge of the “impossible mission” of finishing the collapsed building for the filmfest opening, Canlas the miracle worker opened it for Ma’am just as the limousines bearing the special guests started to roll in.

* * *

RE the pen and paper mentioned above, Canlas — who is Tatang Aber to his cabalen — would patiently sketch for me, to scale, the section of the structure that collapsed. He sought to show me that reports of scores of persons having been covered by concrete instead of being jackhammered out were technically impossible.

Before it could harden, the slab of the fourth floor (which was the high ceiling of the main theater), fell on the theater under it. Some workers who were right under died on the spot. A few had to be extricated from the fast-drying concrete.

Canlas denied that the dying workers were just concreted over so as not to delay the work. Were that done, he said quickly sketching the cross-section to scale, there would have been created a mound where the trapped workers were supposedly covered with concrete.

There’s no such mound and the view from the rear of the theater to the screening stage is free and unobstructed, he points out. The floor’s slope is consistent.

How many actually died in the disaster? Canlas, a disciplined and quiet professional, is not talking beyond saying that he does not know the exact figure.

* * *

ON Jolly Benitez, our police source said that when Mrs. Marcos heard of the accident, she had him summoned. They said it took aides a long time to locate him — reportedly drinking at some plush hotel.

The construction firm, whose name sounds like Wecons, did not have any track record. It did not even have any tools and equipment or a ready army of construction workers. The Film Center was its first, and last, job.

The question was how come Wecons was given the contract when it had no solid experience to show. The speculation was that Wecons was organized precisely to grab the juicy contract.

But the roof literally fell on it on its first attempt at serious construction. We’ve lost track of the case. Did anybody go to jail? Were all the victims identified and their heirs compensated? Are there still restless spirits in that dark, dank Imeldific dungeon?

* * *

IF Imelda is running for Manila mayor, so is Local Government Secretary Alfredo Lim. Together with reelectionist Atienza, that makes them three in the pot that is starting to simmer 10 months before the local race.

Lim copped the No. 1 slot in a recent survey of preferred candidates for senator. But his Senate survey standing does not distract him from his goal. His eyes, narrowing into slits as he takes aim, are set on City Hall.

Looking at him from a distance, we think the ultimate objective of the former presidential candidate is Malacañang. Manila is just an intermediate point along the way. But it would be politically imprudent for him to admit that at this point.

* * *

ERAP Estrada the lame duck president is out of the running. After him would be a free-for-all since it is not evident at this point (2004 is still a long way off) that he has any preferred successor.

It would be crowded at the administration party’s starting gate with the likes of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (?), Alfredo Lim, Edgardo Angara, Orlando Mercado and a few other figures jostling for choice position.

It’s too early at this point to predict how the presidential pieces would fall. Very crucial in the shaping of 2004 is the 2001 local elections. A presidential election, which is national, is usually foreshadowed by the local election preceding it.

It is unlikely that Erap would attempt to create an extraordinary situation that would justify his holding over, so it is safe to presume that the way is clear for others to follow him according to schedule.

* * *

ANOTHER interesting question is whether or not an endorsement by a lame duck president is important. Put another way, while “anointment” may be the key to nomination by the administration party, is it enough to carry the candidate to victory?

Specifically, will an endorsement by the outgoing president be the winning factor?

In the case of Erap, if his stock goes down (contrary to his claim that it is going up again), it could even be a negative factor, depending on how tight is his hold on the greater mass of voters.

The opposition can be expected to keep hammering away at the mediocrity, if not incompetence, of the actor-turned-politician to loosen his hold on his millions of fans.

In fact, if the Erap party is expected to be heavy on showbiz (including TV) personalities, both in the races for the Senate and local posts, the opposition could work on a subliminal program to show the folly of electing such characters into office.

* * *

HAVE you noticed, by the way, that even with President Estrada away on an extended foreign trip, everything still functions and the situation seems to be normal?

What does this mean? Take your pick: (1) Mr. Estrada has an efficient team in place and he is in full control, or (2) He is irrelevant and this country can get on without him.

Maybe you could tell us?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 1, 2000)

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