Sino ba’ng walang girlfriend [Who doesn’t have a girlfriend]?”
With those four words, Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez on Thursday admitted to an extramarital relationship with a woman named Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio, an affair spilled out in the open by an ongoing feud with erstwhile friend Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr. of Davao del Norte.
Alvarez made the admission as he sought to keep the focus on the graft complaint he had filed against Floirendo over a land deal involving the latter’s banana firm Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco).
Alvarez’s affair was outed by Floirendo’s partner, Cathy Binag, who claimed that the graft case was the result of a personal feud between the two lawmakers who are among the top supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Floirendo is Duterte’s top campaign donor, contributing P75 million to the President’s 2016 campaign.
Binag reportedly had a fight with Vicencio during the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City last year.
Pre-empting possible cases against him, Alvarez said: “If they will seek my disbarment because of a girlfriend, then go ahead, file a complaint. Well, we might run out of lawyers here. Sino ba’ng walang girlfriend? [Who doesn’t have a girlfriend]?” said Alvarez, who also represents Davao del Norte.
“Huwag na tayong magplastikan. Halos lahat naman may [extramarital]affair [Let’s not kid each other here. Almost everyone has an extramarital affair],” he told reporters in a telephone interview.
The speaker also admitted to having been estranged from his wife, Emelita Apostol-Alvarez, with whom he has four children.
“Matagal na kaming hindi nag-uusap [We haven’t talked in a while],” Alvarez said.
Emelita’s running to Binag and Floirendo over marital woes reportedly got the goat of Alvarez.
Floirendo is himself estranged with wife Margarita Moran, the 1973 Miss Universe.
Alvarez now finds himself in the same boat as detained Sen. Leila de Lima, whom he had criticized for having affairs with married men, including her former bodyguard Ronnie Palisoc Dayan. De Lima, a leading Duterte critic, is detained over drug-related charges that she claims were trumped-up.
Alvarez backtracked on criticizing de Lima’s personal affairs on Thursday.
“I was criticizing her for her involvement in illegal drugs. I wasn’t criticizing her romantic relationship. She raised it as an attack against women, so I had to say that Dayan’s wife is her victim. But I did not condemn her relationship. Who am I to condemn her?” Alvarez said.
DoF official cries foul
The House speaker’s daughter Paola, an undersecretary at the Department of Finance, cried foul over the turn of events, lashing out at Floirendo’s partner Binag.
“My family and I are shocked that the spin on the issues has become so crass and juvenile. It is incredible how personal relationships are exploited by Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo’s live-in partner, Ms. Cathy Binag, to twist an otherwise simple question of facts. It’s completely appalling!” Paola said in a statement.
“We prefer to keep our personal lives private despite my father, Speaker Bebot Alvarez, and I being in public service and we intend to leave it that way. We hope Ms. Binag will respect that and stop dragging us into her personal issues,” she added.
Binag has apologized for her disclosures, saying it was not her intention to harm the Alvarezes.
“It was not my intention to drag the Alvarez family into the issue and [I] was merely answering questions from the media who [are]asking about the Alvarez family. If ever I hurt them, I am sorry. I never intended to hurt the Alvarez family because I know where they are coming from. Truth will set us all free,” Binag said in a statement.
“I know it’s deeper than what is being printed in the papers. It all boils down to greed. Greed for wealth, power and influence,” she added.
Speaker Alvarez also took offense at Binag’s statements and underscored that his private affairs had nothing to do with public interest and governance, unlike Floirendo’s Tadeco deal that he claimed was grossly disadvantageous to government.
“This is about the Tadeco contract which has been stealing from government coffers year in, year out. This contract is disadvantageous to the government, that’s why I filed a House resolution to investigate this and filed a case before the Ombudsman,” Alvarez said.
“Who is this Cathy Binag anyway? Why do I have to answer her? It’s Congressman Floirendo who should explain himself here. This is not about a girlfriend. He should come out on national TV or what have you and face the music. The country does not have a business with these other things,” Alvarez added.
Opposition lawmakers Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list and Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list chided Alvarez for his “double standard.”
“That is double standard, especially from the speaker himself as he has condemned Senator de Lima on the same issue before. The Filipino deserves much more than this,” Alejano said in a text message to The Manila Times.
“Speaker Alvarez must now bear the burden to tell the public that he is as ‘clean as Caesar’s wife’ when he lambasted Senator de Lima for having an affair with a married man. The speaker or any public official should be above reproach when it comes to morals,” Villarin said.