CERGE Remonde was his usual ebullient self at the post-Christmas party of our coffee club last year. The Press Secretary needed only little prodding (“just like old times”) from his kumpare, Bobby Nalzaro to oblige us with a song after which he announced that it was my turn. I have to acknowledge that, between us, he was the better singer.

He gave me a shirt as he did the others. It had the seal of the Office of the Press Secretary on it. The following day, I proudly wore the shirt to the office but it broke at the seams, unable to bear the excess poundage I gained during the holidays.

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He left the party early because he said he had to join his boss who was somewhere else in the country. He gave us a hug and off he went. I never thought that that was the last time I would see him.

I disagreed with many of the things that he said or did in behalf of his boss but I respected him and what he did. He had a job to do and Cerge was the kind who stood for what he believed in, no matter what the cost. I remember him as a staunch anti-communist at a time when it was neither safe nor popular to do so.

I knew Cerge when we were both struggling to earn our place in the sun. He had earned his and I was proud of him. And now he’s gone. I have lost a friend. Godspeed, Cerge.

***

So the Senate committee of the whole has not only censured its former president, Manuel Villar, but also asked him to reimburse the P6.22 billion that the government allegedly lost in the controversial C-5 extension project.

What can P6.22 billion do? A friend said it can build 10,366 fully furnished school rooms, complete with a restroom (the so called Coca-Cola schoolhouse) or 8,293 houses, enough to shelter 49,758 Filipinos.

It is also enough to lend capital to 124,000 SMEs or to provide new books on all subjects from Grade 1 to 4th year high school in all public schools.

The question, however, is whether it is realistic to expect Villar to pay the amount. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said on television that restitution is proper in a case like Villar’s, but is it doable?

I do not see any chance of the senator voluntarily giving the money back. Doing so would amount to admission of wrongdoing which Villar has vehemently and consistently denied. He would probably ask, what is there to give back when I didn’t get any money from the transaction in the first place?

And that, I think, will be the end of it.

Well, almost. This is an election year, remember? Whether the Nacionalista Party presidential candidate likes it or not, the report will be used against him, more so if the report is approved by the Senate in plenary.

Villar complains about the timing of the release of the report.

I do not know the dynamics in the Senate but indeed the findings couldn’t have been released at a worse time.

The elections are barely four months away and Villar was showing signs of having steadied his presidential bid after a free fall. Then this dampener came. Can his opponents succeed in pinning him to the wall on the C-5 extension controversy?

Or can Villar weather the storm?

To a certain extent, the coming presidential election will be a referendum on the Senate report in the sense that a victory by Villar means a repudiation of the committee’s findings.

I would therefore not be surprised if Villar himself will bring his case directly to the voters under the claim that having been unjustly crucified by his colleagues, the people are his only hope for vindication.

Of course, for him to do that, he has to be certain that his position is defensible.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)