IT WAS a long time ago, I was still a snotty-nosed journalist who was a newbie in tagging along with the mayor. I didn’t want at first, because I’ve been schooled so well on not compromising my position by going too close. But the others were getting the stories by hanging around, and so, I hung around.

Apparently, the mayor noticed that as I hesitated whether to join the group on a boat trip or not when everybody was already on the boat all excited. He’s sharp about such scruples, and he said something that would stay on with me and help me in weighing things outside the strict and straight path.

“Basta huwag ka lang humingi. Kung bigay, diyan mo na pag-isipan,” he said. He was essentially telling me not to cast aspersion on every act of those we encounter as communicators, especially because we are in a small community where our parents and friends and persons meet and bump into each a lot. (He didn’t even know then until now that I was mentored by his mother when I was in high school. That’s how ‘small’ Davao City was.) Only weigh things when favors or gifts are already being handed to us: What do they want in exchange? Is this a token? How do I turn the more-excessive-than-token down (politely or otherwise)?

From someone schooled by very strict mentors who has pounded into me not even to accept a cup of coffee, that was enlightening. It taught me to loosen up, because you know… that cup of coffee always get in the way. The conversation will never come to fruition if you don’t sit down and order a cup as requested. The Filipinos that we are who start every welcome with, “Kumain ka na?” or “Kain tayo!”, will not stop at pestering a guest to get some food or drink first before business.

Indeed, it is a sad life if we regard with suspicion every person whose paths cross with us, especially because we bump into several every day. In media, and any other business, the most amiable and trustworthy wins. As I always tell the young ones: Who wants to buy from a store where the tindera is impolite?

Observing from the sidelines these days, I see a person who has not asked favors nor gifts.

There was the Mighty Corporation that has been hogging the headlines for months until he ordered a settlement. Now it’s Philippine Airlines. Negotiate a settlement or else. Then, there is the Office of the Ombudsman…

Of course, the purists will say: But you are encouraging the big taxpayers to default on their taxes so that they can get it for a lower cost! But you are threatening the Ombudsman!

That is not how the man thinks. He’s a politician who has been through every corrupt antics of people. Those taxes would not have grown to such proportions had nobody been on the take. Those taxes would not have been left uncollected had everybody been doing his job. Those cases wouldn’t have remained unacted on had there been no favors asked and paid for.

Now he’s professed to make government work, and so the tax collectors will have to collect and collect clean, the Ombdusman has to mete out decisions clean. The message being sent to the delinquent taxpayers is that we have all the books to throw at you but we can negotiate it down a little considering that you have already been paying off those crocs the past several years. But you have to cough up now, or else. Once the major delinquents are dealt with, they have to be apprised of their proper taxes every year as they should have been all these years, with the man who wields the power not asking nor receiving anything to curry favors and shut him up, telling them to pay. The same with the Ombudsman on its cases.

Why am I confident in what I am writing now? I wouldn’t if I didn’t know any better. But the private conversation just over a month ago and the chat over dinner during the media dinner he gave just last week, has confirmed that the man before and the man now are one and the same. He’s just more tired and exasperated now.