How many friends does a man need?

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

PARDON my waxing a little sentimental this time. This is a special day, as you will glean from this piece, and though I am expected to discuss all about politics in my column, the human in me prompts me to lay stress on the day’s specialness. Seventy-one years ago today, Pareng Ito (Ynares) was born, and with me now into my own years as a septuagenarian, I look back to the number of crises I underwent in my life and realize that if those crises were to form fractions, the least common denominator would be Pareng Ito.

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With the complete debacle of the Sisonite protracted people’s war in 1986 and with the subsequent consolidation of bourgeois political power in the election of martial law implementer Fidel V. Ramos as President in 1992, I realized the need to shift revolutionary strategy to the parliamentary struggle. Practically just on my own, I carried out this shift by running as mayor of Antipolo (then still a municipality of Rizal) in 1995. Since none of my comrades in the national democratic movement would listen to me, I had decided to make the run in order to show those kasama the practicality of my idea. I remember telling them, if Lenin had this idea of socialism in one country, we could reduce it to socialism in one municipality. Until then I was still into the romanticism endemic in recollections of the Paris Commune and in my campaign speeches, I, with much bravura, proclaimed to equalize the salaries of government officials to those of workers in factories.

How self-elating to sound like Marx.

It was a Don Quixotic quest I knew, but then being myself the Don Quixote, the knowing was nothing but just that: an illusion. For instance, because I believed I could win on good intentions, I went around shaking people’s hands, making those good intentions known. And on one occasion, when a pesky woman told me to my face that she would vote only for the candidate who can provide her community with an artesian well, I told her that I did not have the money for that artesian well, so don’t vote for me. And I lectured the woman on the fact that the problem of elections is less of trapo (traditional politicians) than trabo (traditional botante).

I never bothered at all to organize a campaign machinery. I didn’t know I needed it. But then in one school forum, I happened to be a guest together with Pareng Ito, and I had the privilege of acknowledging his arrival, which took place in the middle of my speech. Soon after, a group came forward to me their services as campaign staff. I told them I had no budget for their services. They told me it was gratis et amore. I said, thank you. They said, thank Ito.

Governor Ito Ynares comforts a townmate during a medical mission that has been his way of celebrating his birthday on August 26.

So where my communist comrades dropped me like a hot potato, here was a non-friend providing me elementary lesson in bourgeois politics.

Just the same. I was not cut for an election win. How can a candidate win who tells people not to vote for him?

That’s one thing I have never gone far enough in: learning Pareng Ito’s savvy in politics. From the time he was elected Mayor of Binangonan in 1972, he never lost an election. He became governor of Rizal beginning 1992, served for nine years in that post, gave way to wife Nini for one term, then ran once more after Nini’s term and won another term before giving way to son Jun Jun for the gubernatorial post of Rizal.

After he finally gave up politics at the advent of the millennium, I had a long period of non-contact with Pareng Ito. In the second decade of the 2000s, landgrabbers, evidently emboldened by my apparent helplessness, began aggressively coveting my modest property which had grown in value over the years. At one point, barangay tanod personnel themselves assisted by uniformed policemen from the Rizal Provincial Police Office connived in demolishing one portion of the fence of our compound, attempting to take over that portion of my property. Just a call from me to Pareng Ito sent the Rizal Provincial Police Director rushing to the scene and preventing the forcible takeover. At the same time, a lawyer sent by Pareng Ito from the Rizal Capitol legal office stuck it out with my two sons (who had been wrongly arrested by the police and brought to the Provincial Police Headquarters for no known offense), intervening for their release.

Subsequent to that incident, armed security men attacked our compound in the dark of night, rendering me and my sons utterly helpless in resisting them. This time around, Pareng Ito advised: “Pare, paulit-ulit na yan. Kasuhan na lang natin (Pare, it’s been going on repeatedly. It’s better we file a case in court.)” With the Rizal Capitol Legal Office preparing the complaint, a case for grave threat and coercion was filed with the Antipolo City Prosecutors Office, the fiscal finding probable cause for the offense, and charges ultimately being filed in court. Loopholes in the legal system allowed for distortions of the actual offense such that after a long period of litigation, the landgrabbers were declared innocent of the charges. This forms another story, however, and does not diminish the fact that at each moment of crisis, Ito was there to lend a helping hand.

When I had a stroke in 2013, Ito promptly attended to my hospitalization needs all the way to my recovery. My wife had a stroke in 2015 but was not lucky enough to survive; Ito generously assisted in the hospital and funeral expenses.

Looking back now, I suddenly realize that in no grave crisis that had truly mattered in my later life was Pareng Ito not there. In fact, he is the only one who has been there consistently. For this reason, when my youngest son, Augusto, got married in 2013 – the first wedding by a child of mine – my first impulse was to ask Pareng Ito to be the principal sponsor.

That day I visited him in his office for the purpose, I was having doubts. As governor, he was daily swamped with invitations to all sorts of events. Could he have time for my son’s wedding?

He readily answered, “Aba, oo, Pare. Ikaw pa? Matatanggihan ba kita. (Of course, yes, Pare. Of all people. Could I ever refuse you?”

Not only did Pareng Ito arrive early that morning of February 6, 2013 at the Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City but also offered to carry me as he saw me limping on the cane I was supporting myself with, being newly recovered from a stroke.

Talk of friendship. With Pareng Ito, you only need one.

At this writing, Pareng Ito is attending to throng of Binangonan folks flocking to his residence in Barangay Tayuman where a large medical mission is going on. Attending to the welfare of his constituents has been his way of celebrating his birthday.

Happy birthday, Pareng Ito.

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