ONE rainy afternoon reminded me of the exercise I had been neglecting. So I turned on the television set to look for something that would get this old heart racing.
The news roundup on two channels showed photos of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the First Gentleman, taken at the Shenzhen Golf Club last Nov. 2, 2006.
Ah, my old ticker leaped at the sight of the familiar conjugal trademarks. Mole and Waistline, according to the report, played golf with officials of the Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited (ZTE), a Chinese equipment provider that won the bidding for the $329.5-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project, five months after that November date on the green.
Why does golf seem to be at the center of the national cesspool of wheeling and dealing?
When Ping Lacson was chief of the Philippine National Police, one of his first mandates to reform the heirarchy was to declare golf courses taboo for officials during office hours. Perhaps he was thinking PNP bigwigs could work harder for the salaries paid by taxpayers.
Or he might have been bothered by the negative publicity stirred up by stolen photos and leaked stories of PNP officials swinging the iron while in the company of drug lords and other shady characters they were supposed to be investigating.
In the 1930s, William “Bill” J. Shaw and a small group of enthusiasts converted a small golf course in Mandaluyong City into a meeting place to foster “harmony, cooperation and friendship among nationals of different countries.”
Nearly eight decades later, Wack Wack Golf & Country Club sticks out in the memory of news watchers as the playing grounds of Benjamin Abalos, former elections chairman, Wack Wack director and immediate past president, and allegedly one of the three fat cats in the NBN-ZTE mess.
If Wack Wack has become part of the political news domain, it is the coup of Abalos, who, to finance his studies, first worked there as a caddy.
Then elections chairman, Abalos frequently met First Gentleman (FG) Mike Arroyo over a friendly cup of coffee at the Wack Wack club house (confirmed by Abalos); brokered the NBN deal with the FG in between breaks off the green (denied); witnessed the FG, during a “chance” encounter at the same golf club, wag a finger to warn off Joey de Venecia III, representing a competing bid, from the NBN project (denied); treat ZTE officials to a “friendly” game of golf (confirmed); bribed, during a game of golf, then Neda director general Romulo Neri with P200 million to endorse the ZTE offer (denied by Abalos but reported by Neri to PGMA, who allegedly said, endorse the firm); threatened to silence NBN-ZTE whistleblower Jun Lozada for opposing the $130-million bribe sought by Abalos from the Chinese firm (denied by Abalos; asserted by Lozada, who paid a P6,000- fee for using the green at Wack Wack and P485 worth of Tee House refreshments, alleged by wags to be “hamburjer sa wack-wack ni abalos”).
It looks like, with Abalos’ signature, Wack Wack may come upon a new meaning to its name, reminiscent of the sound made by a crow, harbinger of omens.
To be fair, the game is beloved by real gentlemen. But even in China, golf has its critics, who call it “green opium” because it ruins green fields better used for agriculture, as well as civil servants who fall victim to a mania for “golf-related corruption.”
According to Asia Times Online, venal communist party officials spend taxpayers’ money in unsanctioned holidays or broker deals with businessmen. One official even died on a golf course while negotiating with potential investors.
Like the majority of Chinese peasants and the Filipino working class, I will never set foot inside a nine- or 18-hole course. But thanks to our politicians, I looked up the word in Wikipedia and learned that golf was first listed as “gouf” under a 15th-century Scottish statute on forbidden games. It means “to strike or cuff.”
Although it has been claimed that golf is an acronym for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden,” I know that is strictly an urban legend. If you want to skip Wikipedia, drop by Malacañang.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 18, 2008 issue