Teflon To-lits

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    BIDA NG Masa. The then-fading action star Lito Lapid was packaged as the champion of the masses in his first gubernatorial run in Pampanga in 1995. His movie persona was transposed, nay, adapted to grounded realities, for optimum political effect.

    So was scripted Lapid’s action scenario against the backdrop of devastation wrought by the Mount Pinatubo eruptions: hanging precariously on cables across the chasm of lahar swollen rivers; wading waist deep in gurgling mud, cradling both babies and old folk delivering them to higher, safer grounds; selflessly sacrificing the produce of his poultry farm to feed the starving ash-covered victims; doing just about everything in his stock-in-trade, his patented tumbling, unarguably, getting the most votes.

    So Lapid avalanched the sitting Gov. Bren Z. Guiao – the Cory magic about the former associate of the martyred Ninoy totally dispelled; his projection as FVR’s fair-haired boy emphatically thumbed down. It warrants emphasizing:

    Not so much on account of bucolic Porac’s unschooled Manuelito, as by Regal Productions’ Leon Guerrero. It naturally followed then that cinematic value assumed premium spot in the standards for prioritization of programs, projects and activities at the Lapid Capitol.

    Prominence, as a matter of course, less on the object of the development packages – the Kapampangan, as on the subject – Lapid; the effect on the beneficiaries secondary to the impact of the imposed benefactor – Lapid – on their collective psyche, addled as it was by the volcanic ash and sulphuric vapors wafting about them.

    As in his movies, so in his governorship, Lapid the hero protecting the masa, standing valiantly, honourably to every challenge of the villain, okay, antagonist, conveniently found in then-Vice Gov. Cielo Macapagal-Salgado.

    Atching Cielo it was, that – within a year of her election as Lapid’s running mate – already found cause to sound the alarm to corruption creeping and graft sprouting at the Capitol. Rather than answer her accusations matterof- factly, Lapid referenced dramatic movie moments:

    “Hindi ko kailan man dudungisan ang puting lampin na ikinumot sa akin ng aking nanay nang ako ay isilang. (I will never soil the white blanket (of purity) that my mother covered me with when I was born).”

    Action in the reel, drama for real. Truly a bida in both worlds. How the Kapampangan lapped this up. The vice governor readily dismissed as an envious ingrato thus: Loser to Guiao in 1992, where would she be, if the Bida did not take her as running mate?

    Land scam

    Not even when Atching Cielo exposed the P104-million Maimpis land scam, complete with all the documents crying “double deed of sale, unauthorized purchase, abuse of authority, kickbacks, payolas, etcetera,” did Lapid indulge her in legalities.

    Resorting to high drama anew, Lapid dared her and all other critics thus: Sabay-sabay kaming lumuhod sa harap ng altar at bulagin sana ng Diyos ang nagsisinungaling sa amin. (We all kneel in front of the altar and may God blind whoever is lying).”

    So the vice governor along with some board members filed a graft case with the Ombudsman over the Maimpis land scam. So the Kapampangan remained enamored with their bida.

    Seeing how his constituency loved, indeed, was awed by Lapid, Porac Mayor Roy David – God bless his soul – told his ward then: “E ka tatakut magkamali. Karapatan mu ing magkamali. Patawaran da reng tau ing pamagkamali mu.

    (Don’t be afraid to commit mistakes. You have the right to make mistakes. The people will forgive you for the mistakes you make.)

    So Lapid did nothing but mistakes from then on. So we joked. Not realizing that the joke was on us. It was by then that those in Lapid’s innermost circle, principally his spinmeister, crafted — unapologetically unoriginally at that – “Tefl on To-lits” arrogating unto his person – To-lits a reverse of Lito – that which was first attributed to US President Ronald Reagan, himself a former actor.

    Reagan was dubbed “Tefl on President” after myriad scandals that hounded his administration did not adversely affect his high popularity with the American public.

    Teflon, as every cosmopolitan housewife knows, is a brand name of a non-stick material used on cookware. It has since been appropriated in politics to define those to whom criticism does not seem to stick. So appropriate too with Lapid.

    In his first re-election bid for governor, Lapid was slapped with a white paper titled 13 Kalbaryo ng Pampanga, detailing Lapid’s alleged masterminding, if not actively encouraging, and thereby benefitting from alleged illegal deals ranging from the P104- million Maimpis land scam to the plunder of the quarry collections, from overpriced and underdelivered medicines and supplies to corruptionridden infrastructure projects, from overpriced employee uniforms and sacks for sandbagging to ghost deliveries of even the littlest things as garbage bins.

    Just the same, the charges did not stick, aye, were hardly noticed, as Lapid landslided Macapagal-Salgado in the elections of 1998.

    Quarry scam

    So Lapid was soon after suspended for six months by the Ombudsman over the alleged pillage of the quarry collections. In the interim, the Natural Resources Development Corp. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources administered the quarry industry, collecting some P150 million in its one-year tenancy. Which made a mockery of Lapid’s pre-suspension collection of hardly P8 million a year.

    So did it bother the Kapampangan that the Bida could really be committing some thievery at the Capitol as can be deduced from the chasm of a difference between his and the NRDC’s quarry takes?

    Not a bit. At the end of Lapid’s suspension, tarpaulins mushroomed around the Capitol and along the main avenues of San Fernando proclaiming: “Welcome back, Gov. Lito Lapid. We are proud of you.”

    Proud of the first ever Pampanga governor suspended from office? For graft at that? Some perverted values, if not damaged culture crying out there.

    Still, Lapid steamrolled Junior Canlas in the 2001 gubernatorial race. Teflon To-lits transcended the governorship.

    It was in 2004, if memory serves right, that then Vice Gov. Yeng Guiao filed with the Ombudsman two graft cases over alleged irregularities in the quarry collections, and double funding of infrastructure projects against the by-then Sen. Lito Lapid and his son and successor to the governorship, Mark Lapid.

    Guiao himself admitted these were “dismissed outright” by then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Little is known today about the charges for the plunder of quarry funds filed by Gov. Eddie T. Panlilio before the Ombudsman during his Capitol watch.

    Whatever, all these did not smear Lapid any in his second successful run for the Senate in 2010. So Lapid failed in his Makati mayoralty bid in 2007. This, not for any issue thrown against Lapid, but for the sheer gravitas of his rival – Jejomar Binay, period.

    Fertilizer scam

    Last week, Lapid was tagged by the Ombudsman as liable for graft for his alleged involvement in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004 when he was governor. The Ombudsman report said Lapid purchased P4.8 million worth of liquid fertilizers in May 2004 out of the P5 million he got from then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocjoc Bolante.

    The fertilizers were 1,000 percent overpriced: the 3,880 liters of fertilizers purchased by the provincial government under Lapid at P1,250 per liter from Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer when the same kind of fertilizer in the market was only P120 per liter.

    Worse, a farmers group in Pampanga denied ever receiving the fertilizers in 2004. Some people close to the senator were quick to connect this “untoward development” to Lapid’s announced – by former Rep.Carmelo “Tarzan” Lazatin – bid for the Angeles City mayorship in 2016.

    Early political mudslinging, they scoffed. Even as whistleblower Benhur Luy has yet to fully unravel Lapid’s deals with purported PDAF scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles! Now, if they really know their man, they should be the least worried about this coming slew of court cases against Lapid.

    To Lapid – as proven through all these years – neither charges nor criticism do stick. Precisely why he’s Teflon To-lits.

    Of course, the non-stick coating can be lost after much burning. And for that, our good friends at city hall are hoping, and praying.

    The analogy there, all too clearly showing.

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