BY ALEX P. VIDAL
THE old city hall building at the Plaza Libertad, Iloilo City Proper was a scene of so many unforgettable events — violence and otherwise.
When former city mayor Rodolfo Ganzon refused to obey the suspension order meted by local government secretary Luis Santos in 1989, city hall nearly became a crime scene when Ganzon loyalists barricaded the building. We will write a separate story about this event in some other time.
Sixteen years ago on July 27, 1995, city councilor Restituto “Agent Kurantay” Jotes and his arch enemy, Leonardo “Nardong Damak” Grande (Mr. Grande had repeatedly told me he was never a “damak” or dirty. All his life, he said, he lives decently and was shocked how did he get this moniker. His critics must have taken it from a Tagalog movie “Nardong Putik”), almost came to blows when they crossed paths near the mayor’s office located in the adjacent building of the Sanggunian Panlungsod.
I was with the late treasurer’s office division chief Ray “Nono” Terre and broadcaster Boy Pablo following Jotes when Grande, a contractor and one of Mayor Mansueto Malabor’s trusted allies, spotted us.
Grande, who was holding a copy of Panay News, a regional newspaper, was coming out from the office of the late former city administrator Angelo “Bebot” Geremias.
“Ma ano ka di? (Why are you here?),” an irate Grande, then 66, blasted the city councilor, his tummy bulging from his small body like Don Pepot.
In a loud manner, Jotes, then 48, shot back: “Ay sus, ari ka gani imo di nga manog taghol ka lang ako pa nga konsehal sang ciudad! (But why? If you think you have the right to be here when you are merely a barker, I have more reason to be here being a city councilor).”
Their verbal joust attracted attention from employees and visitors who scampered away in different directions. The two almost squared off when they halted trading insults for a few seconds and gave each other Bruce Lee looks like in the movie “Enter the Dragon.” Tension could be felt by horrified employees as far as the city assessor’s office when Grande squeezed the newspaper with his two hands and Jotes, who also had excess baggage in the belly, copied the fight stance of Jinggoy Estrada in a Tagalog action film.
“Tama na ina pre a. Aga pa ni. Kalma lang kamo bala (That’s enough, buddies. It’s early in the morning. Relax both of you),” Terre interrupted, like a boxing referee giving instructions in the 12th round.
“Wala ka pag taha sa opisyal sang ciudad (You have no respect for a city official),” Jotes bewailed, pointing his finger at Grande. “Wala ka man pag taha sa meyor ta permi mo lang gina insultohan (You also have no respect for our mayor whom you always insulted),” answered Grande, his left hand locking his hip like a mafia boss.
There was a bad blood between the two. Grande, who was also maintaining a radio blocktime program for Malabor, had been lashing at Jotes, a former radio reporter, calling him “incompetent,” among other unsavory remarks both on air and in the coffeeshops — where, sometimes, those in the hearing distance included Jotes’ relatives and fellow market sweepers before he became a radioman and politician.
At one instance, Grande took potshots at Jotes’ ill-fated interview over dyBQ Budyong Kapehan program: “Maayo ina bala nga e disseminate ya kuno ang graft and corruption? Tarso nga tawo (Is it right for him to declare that he would disseminate graft and corruption? He’s a funny person),” Grande lamented.
When asked by dyBQ Budyong Kapehan program host Leo Dumagat at Hotel del Rio what would he do now that he had been elected, Jotes, who admitted he only finished grade school, replied seriously: “E disseminate ko ang graft and corruption (I will disseminate graft and corruption).” Grande could not forget this mea culpa; he could not forgive Jotes for “putting to shame the Ilonggos.”
As a Bombo reporter, Jotes was extremely popular; a household name and Iloilo’s version of Noli de Castro. Jotes’ participation in politics came at a time when popularity or name recall was the ne plus ultra of entry into public office.
Meanwhile, when Geremias heard what happened in city hall that morning, he blew his top: “Yots, ka tigulang na inyo ma inaway pa kamo. Maayo lang wala di si meyor (You are told enough to engage in a fight like this. It’s good the mayor is not here).”
It was Grande who filed a libel suit against Jotes, not in relation to their near-riot city hall encounter. “Ipa priso ko gid siya (I will send him in jail),” he vowed. Grande claimed Jotes had accused him of “overpricing” the lot in Brgy. Bitoon, Jaro he had offered to sell to the city government.
An appropriation of P3 million had already been set aside for the deal which would serve as relocation site for squatters. Jotes had also threatened to file a counter-charge against his tormentor “for insulting and defaming my person as a public official.”
Former Tanodbayan and future congressman and justice secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. acted as Jotes’ lawyer while Grande was represented by future city councilor and RTC judge Rita Bascos-Sarabia. The cases they filed against each other did not prosper.