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A Friend in Trouble

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Friend in Trouble
Ronald Roy — December 16, 2011

I was 13 when I received my A-B-C’s in golf from a 14-year-old caddie. He stood 3 meters away holding upright my golf bag as I practiced on the putting green of Wack Wack’s West Course (better known as the Ladies’ Course) while waiting for my flight to be called to the first tee.

I couldn’t help but precociously ogle the beauteous Annie Gonzales Lim—may she rest in peace—as she approached him for some tips on the proper grip and stance for a full swing. I was fairly impressed with the clarity of his Taglish instructions to Annie.

Right away I was glad the Caddy Master named Mang Samson had assigned him to me. I sure intended to learn some basics from him throughout the 18 holes I was set to play. And a good teacher of a caddie he turned out to be!

After the round, I thanked him, paid him, and asked his name. “Abalos, sir, Ben Abalos,” his resonant baritone voice wobbling in the early phase of adulthood. “Salamat po. Patawag lang ninyo ako kay Mang Samson any time you need me.”

One outstanding trait about Ben was his blend of utter humility and civility. When I told him he could call me “Ronnie”, he lowered his head and replied. “Yes sir, sir Ronnie. Salamat po, sir Ronnie.”

I would discover in the coming months that Ben was among the top caddies sought out by class “A” players in the club. He was not a qualified teaching pro, because he was not a licensed professional; but he taught like one.

The kid wowed them all, amateurs and pros alike, in distance, sweet-swinging form, and score. He didn’t ask for stipends for the private lessons he gave. Improving their games was rewarding enough.

Let’s fast-forward to 10 years later, 1958, when I was enrolled in the UPCollegeofLiberal ArtsinDiliman,QC. It was at the UP golf course where I continued to hone the skills learned from Ben.

Wondering why he hadn’t turned pro, I visited him at Wack Wack. To my surprise, I found out he was in law school while still caddying about. He could have embarked on a career giving Celestino Tugot and “Bantam” Ben Arda a run for their money on the pro tour, but he didn’t.

On my invitation, there he was, sipping beer, looking more urbane and sounding more proficient in English. I mused: This guy just might go places someday in the circuit of law practitioners as a trial lawyer, judge or whatever.

After we chatted for 30 minutes, he rose and said, “Sir, Ronnie, salamat po. I’m sorry but I have an appointment to catch with a dentist. Thanks again, boss.”

As he walked away, I noticed him amiably greeting club members. I was sure then that Ben’s unfolding story would be that of a self-made man. He had the looks, the charisma, and most of all: the sincerity to help others. Hmmm… maybe a politician?

A few years later, I helped Ben obtain from my father a strong recommendation for a presidential appointment to the position of Judge, Municipal Court of Quezon City.

His sterling record in the judiciary catapulted him to the mayoralty of MandaluyongCity.  He would be loved and respected by his teeming constituents for his entire stint as their “mahal naming alkalde”.

 It was at this stage that Mayor Benjamin Abalos started to make a climb to prominence in political, civic and business circles. In due time, he became the high-profile Chairman of the Commission on Elections.

He was now the president of the exclusive golf and country club where he once toiled as an underprivileged boy carrying heavy golf bags for his daily subsistence. He was now clinking glasses with captains of industry. He was now heard by stalwarts at major party caucuses.

Slowly however, he became the center of integrity-staining scuttlebutt as he moved in the high strata of privilege. It hurt me deeply to be sometimes snubbed for being his friend. I often felt like screaming back: “Hey, I could not have chosen a better man to stand as the principal sponsor at the wedding of one of my sons!”

In numerous chance meetings, he would set aside official time just to chat with me about old times, and together we would  savor transient opportunities to nurse a fraternal bond that had endured through the years.

We fast-forward to now.

My friend is in deep trouble. My eyes moisten as I read news accounts about his arrest and detention. There’s a lump in my throat when Ben is shown on national television condemned to suffer the same discomforts to which he had once condemned common criminals as an honorable judge.

Karma? Perhaps. Either which way, I silently pray, and sincerely wish him and his loved ones: a very Merry Christmas!

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