When two top officials of the old Iloilo provincial capitol transformed the governor’s office into a boxing arena, I did not only witness the bloody encounter, the event became my baptism of fire as boxing referee.
The brawl between then deputy governor Ruben Bermudo and provincial tourism chief Manny Benedicto at around 11 o’clock in the morning on July 3, 1990 exploded while DYRI “Radyo Agong” reporter Arsenio “Kamlon” Ang and this writer were doing interview inside the governor’s office with Vice Governor Robert “Bob” Maroma, then the acting governor.
There were only five of us inside the governor’s office present– Maroma, Bermudo, Benedicto, this writer, and Ang, who had just won a labor case in the Supreme Court against the defunct DYRP “Radyo Tagring.”
Even before the interview with Maroma started, we noticed Benedicto and Bermudo, then in their mid-50’s, swapping dagger looks like Crassus and Spartacus.
At one moment, Bermudo removed his eyeglasses like Eddie Garcia to plant a sharp stare at Benedicto, who reciprocated with his own Pacquito Diaz-style look.
While Maroma was answering our questions, the two disappeared surreptitiously. They entered inside the conference room about four meters away on Maroma’s right side.
Minutes later, we heard a loud commotion.
The noise didn’t stop Maroma from talking but our eyes–Maroma’s, Ang’s, and mine–started to exchange tacit signals alternately like actors in a silent movie.
When the conference room’s divider started to shake violently and two angry voices dished unprintable, Maroma stood up and rushed to the scene.
I grabbed my camera and followed suit. Kamlon scrambled to prepare a tape recorder.
Inside, we saw two gladiators literally holding each other’s throats on one hand, and throwing rabbit punches on the other hand.
The sight was reminiscent of two Tokyo Dome somo wrestlers.
Blows rained from all angles–a chaotic scene.
Maroma tried to separate the two but was in awkward position, and could receive one of the flying fists on the face if he forced the issue.
So determined were the two Capitol bigwigs to maim each other they refused to let go of their grips–Benedicto’s shaking fingers came closed to drilling holes on Bermudo’s neck; Bermudo locked Benedicto’s jaw with a tight Steven Segal grip.
Both were gasping for breath like sprinters in the 100-meter dash, their false teeth threatening to jump out.
Maroma lost balance on his second attempt to act as third man in the ring.
Instead of taking photos, I grabbed Benedicto’s hand to prevent his fingers from committing cannibalism.
Having lost much energy, he obliged.
Bermudo, also fighting for air in his lungs, let go of Benedicto’s jaw–but not after leaving some souvenirs on his skin.
“Tama na ina!” (That’s enough),” Maroma, who was himself losing some energy–and patience, shouted while scratching his head in disgust.
When the smoke had cleared, the protagonists could manage to release Mona Lisa-like smiles as if King Kong did not vandalize their mangled faces.
Either the pain from their violent physical activity did not yet take its toll, or they were ashamed for acting like kindergarten pupils and tried to suppress it.
No arrest was made even as Maroma hinted of slapping the misbehaving officials with administrative cases.
Kamlon, who hit a jackpot with his tape recorded “eye-witness account”, had a field day repeatedly playing the violent episode to friends and politicians, including Bermudo and Benedicto, who just grinned to hide their embarrassment.
We found out their conflict emanated from the province’s preparations for the arrival of the Miss Philippines-Guam in Iloilo that year.
As tourism boss, Benedicto, of Dumangas, Iloilo, begrudged Maasin, Iloilo-based Bermudo’s decision to bypass his authority and disapprove some items in the budget, among other reasons.
If there was one person so terribly upset and mournful that awful morning, it was neither Benedicto nor Bermudo, who had kissed and made up.
It was Maroma, whose interview with us had been cut off unceremoniously, thus he failed to deliver an important message to people as news the following day was dominated by the skirmish of his warring subalterns.