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A Haunting Memory

PRESS Undersecretary and veteran journalist Jose “JoCap” Capadocia has passed on a few years back. But his untimely demise left me a memory to reckon with, a memory that has been keeping me restless for 10 years now.

It was early evening of 15 April 2000, to be exact, when I was first introduced to JoCap by a fellow journalist. He pulled up a chair and offered it to me. Sitting beside him our conversation began.

“I used to read you when you were still writing for Ang Pahayagang Malaya,” was his opening salvo. “Your publisher (the late Jose Burgos, Jr.) told me about your harrowing experience while covering Mindanao.”

I was about to ask him how did he know me, but he butted in: “How? I saw your photo in your weekly column Straight from Davao.”

We were at the restaurant and bar of the National Press Club (NPC) of the Philippines at that time. Over bottles of beer, our conversation continued. We talked about the Marcos era and Edsa 1. We dissected the present military setup. We weighed the strength of the underground movement. We shared ideas how to professionalize the Philippine media. And, finally, we touched the life and soul of the NPC.

It was at this juncture that he tapped me on the shoulder just to say that he was running for NPC president. “Can you help me?” he asked. I was reluctant to say yes. But I answered him with a nod.

It was already past midnight when we left the NPC. On my way home, I asked myself: “Can JoCap beat Manila Bulletin?”

At that time, Jocap was running against Fred Gabot of Manila Bulletin, a publication with almost 200 NPC members. Gabot was seeking for a second term. The question as to whom shall I cast my vote was not very important. As former senior deskman of Balita Sa Hapon, a sister publication of Manilla Bulletin, my loyalty was for Gabot. As the election fever was heating up, the campaign to change the NPC leadership was likewise getting stronger.

But my dilemma did not end there. JoCap kept calling me at my office. Telling me that he was my kababayan because of our previous connection to the same company, I could not refuse his invitations. Tired of his incessant calls, I bowed down to his request with a condition: I will gather votes for him, but I will write the name “Gabot” as my choice for president in my own ballot.

The deal was closed without much ado. And for the nth time I saw that “killer smile” flickering on his face. I became his think-tank and supporter silently gathering votes for him. Nobody knew that I was campaigning for JoCap in a discreet way. In visiting press offices of the different government agencies, I often reminded him to bring into play his “killer smile” in wooing reporters and correspondents. I told him it was his potent weapon to topple down the then-NPC leadership.

My political strategy worked! While the campaign to change the NPC leadership was getting hot, I made my own survey to evaluate who of the two contenders was ahead in the race. Surprisingly, JoCap was almost in the lead against Gabot. I did not pass him the result. It was my idea to keep it secret until the day of the election. I wanted to find out if I really did a good job. But he knew pretty well that my vote for president was for Gabot.

The day of the election came. I cast my votes early before proceeding to work. I went back to the NPC in the evening to watch the canvassing of votes. Looking at the tally board, it was a close fight between JoCap and Gabot. Before the last ballot was read, Gabot and JoCap got the same number of votes. There was a tie, so to speak.

Nervousness began creeping down my knees. I was trembling and felt very uncomfortable. If it was my ballot, then Gabot would be the victor. If I changed my mind beforehand and went for JoCap, it would be him.

True enough, Gabot was proclaimed winner by only one vote!

It was my fault. I worked hard for JoCap only to cast him away on the day of the election. I should have not cast my vote for president to create an NPC history about two winning candidates tied to the same post, sharing the same power.

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