By Alex P. Vidal
In Manny Pacquiao’s last six fights in the United States, I missed the presence of our good friend, Crisostomo “Cris” Aquino (sometimes Manila writers misspelled it as “Kris Aquino”).
Cris was a very imposing figure inside the ring. He carried and waved the giant Philippine flag during Michael Buffer’s “Let’s-get-ready-to-rumble” introduction. He added entertainment to the crowd with his unorthodox dancing style while toting the RP flag.
The last time I saw Cris was when he entered our room at MGM Grand in Las Vegas hours after Pacquiao put to sleep Miguel Angel Cotto via 12th round TKO for WBO welterweight bauble on November 14, 2009.
Known for his composure and frankness, Cris instantly caught my attention because he was seething with anger, his face a jigsaw puzzle. He was murmuring expletives and cocked his fists.
“‘Traidor itong si (name of one of Manny Pacquiao’s staff),” Cris exploded. He stayed for several minutes and continued to unload his heartaches. He left when he noticed everyone (there were three other Manila writers accredited to cover the event inside the room) was busy beating news deadline in their laptop.
I learned later that Cris was at loggerheads with some characters in Pacquiao’s inner circle. I had no inkling about the nature of their rift. Months or years later, news broke out that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) dismantled a big chunk of Boracay West Cove, a resort in Brgy. Balabag, Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan.
Joselito Atienza was then the DENR secretary and was always seen laughing loudly in the company of Pacquiao, Cris and other bigwigs in Las Vegas hotels.
The demolition at Boracay West Cove started on July 19, 2012 upon orders of the DENR and Interior and Local Government.
The resort reportedly violated the Forest Land Use Agreement for Tourism Purposes (FLAgT) issued by the DENR to the resort in 2009 during Atienza’s term when it built illegal structures.
Before the demolition at Boracay West Cove, rumors circulated that “Pacquiao owns a big resort in Boracay.” This was later denied by the boxing champion and pointed to Cris as the real owner of the 3,159 square-meter beach property.
Cris grieved for the loss of millions of investments he called “blood money” and threatened to sue his tormentors, including TV host Ted Failon, who made a special report on the resort’s violations.
Even before the controversy erupted, Cris was not anymore present during Pacquiao’s succeeding fights. Based on my own personal observations, Cris belonged to one of at least five factions identified in the circle of Pacquiao. Two of his closed buddies are Cebu promoter Rex “Wakee” Salud and Adriano “Rey” Golingan, Pacquiao’s wedding godfather.
The other four factions are equally deadly when it comes to intrigues and arm-twisting tactics. I personally know many of them and I can pinpoint them one by one, face to face. I know their styles and gimmicks. Many of them used dirty tactics to elbow each other for personal and business motives.
When members of these five factions were in front of Pacquiao, they also swapped jokes as pakitang tao (nagpaplastikan)–dirty sometimes–as if they belong to one fraternity. Without the presence of Paccquiao, they can’t see each other eyeball to eyeball and will even tear each other with a hatchet if given the chance.
Going back to Cris Aquino. I personally liked him without prejudice to his business and friendship with Pacquiao–and stormy relationship with characters jealous of his closeness to the best boxer pound-for-pound. Cris is approachable and amiable. He has no air and behaves like an ordinary person despite his fame and wealth.
Only last month, Cris was back in the headlines when the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Malay, Aklan declared him “persona non grata” (Latin words for an unwelcome person).
According to Aklan Forum, Malay councilor Rowen Aguirre filed the municipal council resolution declaring Aquino as ‘persona non grata’ and was unanimously adopted on March 11, 2014.
“Pinagtutulungan nila ako na mapaalis sa islang ito at ipahinto ang aking operation (ng Boracay West Cove). Wala akong kakampi dito sa Boracay. Ako ang pinag-iinitan dito,” he stressed.
Aquino further said, “hindi naman ako estapador sa island or drug pusher. Ipagtanong ninyo sa aking kabaranggay, kung meron akong niloko at inagrabyadong tao.”
“Ako ay isang investor lang, ever since ay ginigipit nila ako dito. Kaya ito na naman, nagfile sila ng ‘persona non grata’.”
Aklan Forum further reported: “Last month, Nenette Aguirre-Graf, barangay captain of Motag, Malay, Aklan and sister of SB member Rowen Aguirre, had an argument with Aquino near Station 1.
“Graf was hurt by what Cris Aquino uttered against her.
“‘Bakit ganito ang trato nila sa mga investors. Hindi ko nga alam kung bakit galit sila sa akin. Nagkasalubong kami ni (Nenette) Graf sa baybay at sinabi ko sa kanya na anong karapatan niya na husgahan or i-brand niya kami (Boracay West Cove) na mother of all violators,’ he said.
“The luxury resort became controversial for constructing some structures right on top of the natural rock formations and allegedly operating without business, occupancy and building permits.
“‘Ito ay alitan namin ng kanyang kapatid na si Nenette Graf na palaging nagkokomento sa programa ni Ted Failon, na ako na lamang daw ang hindi nagpapagiba, samantalang tatlong beses na akong nagpagiba sa West Cove,’ Aquino said.”