Punchline

Rest in peace, Benjie

By Ermin Garcia Jr.

THE surprise news of the death of former Dagupan Mayor Benjie Lim and the early arrival of the remains in Dagupan City finally ends all speculations about his health if not about his life.

It’s about time. It’s been five years of mysterious disappearance and of wild and often foul speculations about it.

It will be recalled that he simply vanished from public eye soon after he was rushed to the Makati Medical Center. He was initially rushed to the Dagupan Doctors Villafor Hospital to stop the bleeding in his brain on the eve of the elections. Nothing had been heard of him since except that he had about two surgeries to stop the bleeding before he left the hospital in Makati.  

Because of absence of any indication of his whereabouts and status of his health, all kinds of rumors flew around the city, from being hale and hearty ready to challenge Mayor Belen Fernandez anew… set to return to campaign for his wife Celia and son Brian when they filed their certificates of candidacies in 2016. Still others rumored that he was continuously in coma and attached to machines. Still others rumored that a bank had confirmed his death.

These confused and disappointed many, particularly, those who wanted to believe the rumors  that he would return to the city soon.

It did not help that his son VM Brian was mum on the issue all throughout like nothing was wrong and unusual about his father’s unexplained disappearance.  I believe VM Brian owes the city, particularly the family’s political supporters, an explanation why the deep secrecy preventing them from extending their love and support for his father.

Now that BSL has passed away, only history will judge his performance as the city mayor and congressman while friends and supporters are left with fond memories of his being a friend, a patron, a leader and a family man.

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BENJIE AND I. While I know too well that many Dagupenõs were aware of the seeming running feud and irreconcilable personal differences between him and I, i.e., how critical I was of his administration and how he equally tried hard to discredit me and The PUNCH throughout his incumbency as mayor, few know that we were in fact good friends and did business together for local tourism for the city before he joined politics.

In year 2000, I encouraged him to run for mayor and leave his congressional post. Instead, he turned things around and encouraged me to join politics instead. He urged me to help Dagupan as mayor while he stayed in congress to secure projects and funds for the city.   But as fate would have it, he eventually waived his privilege to run for reelection as congressman to give way to Joe de V who was set to become Speaker, and we ended up vying for the mayoralty post. The change of plans for us happened 24 hours before end of filing of certificates of candidacy. It was too late for me to withdraw lest I risked being accused by friends who manifested their support for me, of a sell-out.

Soon as he filed his CoC for mayor, I told him I had no illusion of winning the election but that I would take it as an opportunity to learn more about the city. So I urged him to do all to win the election because I sincerely believed then that he was the most qualified to be the city’s mayor. Soon as he was proclaimed mayor, I pledged to him my personal full support through the PUNCH for the first six months the time when he said he would start initiating the reforms for the city.

Alas, the sale of the land in Barangay Awai in San Jacinto got in the way before the first 6 months. With deep regret, I had to tell him, I could no longer support him… and that started the public rift between us.

But also unknown to many, he and I have had few private talks about the issues I raised in the PUNCH over the years. While our issues were never settled, to his credit, we always both parted ways not only civilly but friendly. We had smiles for each other

We both knew and understood that our differences were all about trabaho lang, walang personalan.  I bear no ill will towards him and I pray he didn’t as well.

Rest in peace, Benjie!

My deepest conodlences to Celia, VM Brian and Irene

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GHOST OF AWAI. Regrettably, the demand of COA and the failure of Jose Mariano Cuña to return the P16-M to the Dagupan City government tainted BSL’S last days on earth with a civil (administrative case) over the fraudulent purchase of the 30-hectare land in San Jacinto town by the city government during his administration. It didn’t have to happen that way. His name could have been spared from the scandal if only Mr. Cuña or the Lim family had helped return the P16-M that COA demanded. 

Sadly, the charge is now left unanswered. While BSL’s liability in the case has been erased by his death, only the documents will bear witness to his role in that questioned transaction and the documents which I believe are very incriminating. Not even VM Brian can help clarify his father’s involvement since he was not even a councilor at the time.

That leaves only Mr. Cuña, the city auditor and city treasurer, city administrator and the councilors to salvage BSL’s name. But the records and other documents gathered by COA are incriminating them as well.

The decision to ignore COA was costly at the expense of BSL. Tsk-tsk.  

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UP, UP AND AWAY. I had no doubt that there was going to be a huge turnout for the peace covenant signing in Lingayen presided by the Pangasinan PNP last week, among the incumbents and the wannabes for all the elective positions. It was a time for demonstration of goodwill and opportunities for photo ops.

Most everyone was there, shaking hands, each one patting each other in the back, wishing each one the best of luck with their crossed fingers behind them. In the photos I reviewed, many wore white to prove their sincerity and honesty.

What struck me, however, was the gesture of prayer for peace by simultaneous releasing of white balloons into the air. I felt horrified as I was reminded of the plea of Ecowaste Coalition to Hotel Okada to stop its plan for a 130,000 balloon drop because of the potential harm it can do to the environment.

I thought of the amount of helium gas that was being thrown into the air and the amount of rubber that would eventually drop to the sea. While I have no scientific proof of pollution of the air by helium gas, we still must consider it as a pollutant being introduced in the sky. 

Yes, the sky that brings torrential rains for days that result in horrendous flooding in our province and the city. If Pangasinan residents are now mindful of the damage wrought by constant flooding, then we must seriously try to protect our air and the environment.

And if helium, indeed, affects the state of our skies and cloud formations, then our local governments must completely ban the practice of releasing helium-filled balloons into the air for any occasion, whether during weddings, burials, parades  and public ceremonies.

Think of the flown balloons as contributory to disastrous floods to our area!

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GIVE MEANING TO COVENANT. Back to the ceremonial covenant signing. We’ve seen too many of these in the past only to hear of more killings and ambushes of candidates and their supporters with no accountability to the signatories.

To finally give meaning to the recent covenant signing, PNP and Comelec should call all candidates in a locality where violence erupted. They should be called to discuss the incident, provide insight and help prevent the commission of another violence with new suggestions that will require proactive involvement of all the candidates.

To casually proceed with the campaign after an incident without meaning to establish accountability among them erodes faith and goodwill in the community and the ability of the police to preserve and order during and after the campaign.

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