Comedy Relief: Lobsters at Malacanang

Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez F.S.C. of the De La Salle Brothers [ The Brothers of the Christian Schools ] became the Secretary of Education of the Joseph Estrada Administration in 1998.  He was recommended to the Estrada cabinet by Senator Edgardo Angara.  Brother Andrew consulted with Jaime Cardinal Sin who encouraged him to accept the appointment; he received the support of the influential Catholic Church.  His appointment was big news.  Very influential people visited him.  Even the most influential eminence gris of the Estrada administration, who wielded enormous power behind the presidency — whom we had known two decades earlier before anyone else did as an utterly brilliant, big leagues wheeler-dealer on the rise ala Aristotle Onassis and Adnan Khashoggi — came for Sunday lunch.

He was possessed of outstanding intellectual brilliance, an intense managerial drive, a profound social conscience, and several other sterling qualities but he was totally unsuited for the Machiavellian world of politics, even for the relatively small-time world, globally speaking, of Philippine politics.

Initially, and predictably enough, he was thrilled by it all.  He was pleasantly surprised that President Joseph Estrada, like himself, liked to eat well, very well indeed, and that his boss knew how to order a good spread.  Good food was Brother Andrew’s only passion.  He actually enjoyed going to Estrada cabinet meetings — certainly not for the political networkings of which he, the Secretary of Education with the biggest department budget, was usually the target — but because there was always a luxurious and extensive buffet.  Aside from the usual “lechon” [ roasted pig ], which he found prosaic, there was a variety of seafood, including [ well-prepared ] lobsters, which he enjoyed immensely.    The beautiful Gemma Cruz told me that she and Brother Andrew used to compare their choices in the buffet.

He was so naive — or perhaps just too principled — that he made some big political mistakes during his tenure.  He plainly did not understand why some people went to illegal lengths to make big profits.  Because he stood in the way of the accustomed profits of powerful political lords, ways were found to be rid of him effectively.

Years later,  it is especially gratifying — very gratifying indeed — to witness firsthand the vicissitudes of those politicians’ lives:  the disintegration of their families, the diminution of their influence, the dissipation of their power, and the dissolution of their empires, wrought by fate.  It is true that there is justice in this world — not the defective ones of legal systems — but the more exacting, more precise, and consequently far more painful exchanges demanded by forces beyond human control.

The thing was, Brother Andrew really did not concern himself with the differences between luxury vehicles and mass vehicles.  As a visionary executive, he characteristically had far more important things in his mind.  What mattered was that he would arrive at his destination… whole.  What also mattered was that the vehicle could support his weight [ some 300 lbs. at his heaviest ].  But that was it as far as vehicles were concerned.

People just assumed that he had ridden in Jaguars, Mercedes Benzes, Cadillacs, and BMWs all his life.  That wasn’t true.  I used to bring him back to the De La Salle University on Sunday nights after our family dinner in an Isuzu Fuego pick-up truck.  It was the same pick-up truck that I used to go weekly to Nueva Ecija to conclude the mess that Marcos’ agrarian reform made out of our tenants’ lives…

But all that is “water under the bridge” so to speak.

One quiet Sunday dinner after the end of the Estrada administration, I asked him:  “Brother, when did you sense that the administration was falling apart?”

I thought that he would go on a belabored thesis about the faults of the president, of his family, of his associates.  I presumed that he would embark on an encompassing dissertation about the cabinet, about the congress, about the senate.  I expected that he would launch an extended digression on the political ills of Manila, the Philippines, ASEAN, the world.  But he didn’t…

Pausing over the steak, he looked up and thought briefly, then replied with that innocent look on his face:  “You know, I started to think that things were going downhill when, at Malacanang, lobsters were no longer served!!!”

That was certainly an appropriate answer, considering the ignominy of it all.


  1. October 11, 2006 at 7:34 am

    dfbvxfgvb fvbfv:

    Gemma Cruz is one of the most beautiful women I know. Beautiful beyond words. Pictures and videos do not capture her essence. One has to be in her presence to finally understand what radiance and allure are all about. Besides that, she is an intelligent woman. Sheer beauty is indeed sheer power.

    The Spanish mestizo Rochas are an ooooold family. I always thought that they were originally a Manila family until we saw their early 18th century “bahay na bato” in Bohol which was purchased and restored by my friend, the antiquaire Osmundo “Omeng” Esguerra.

    Toto Gonzalez

  2. October 11, 2006 at 2:08 am

    You mentioned langostas. We’d go to Navotas once in a while and get the pick of the seafood kase Mayor Tiangco’s wife is Alita Romualdez’s daughter. That or we’d get those delicious crabs from Catbalogan.


    Here the langosta is very small and it doesn’t have the taste of seafood. Probably because it’s frozen. People here dump it in oodles of butter. Pero I know in Manila it doesn’t need butter. Just a drop of patis or calamansi and it’s okay.

    And Gemma Cruz? I saw some kid in Bal Harbour one time — while my family and I were talking loudly about Manila’s traffic langor. He said his abuela is Gemma Cruz (ex-Araneta). And I thought he was Cuban because his accent is very Miami-ish, very Spanglish. Pero he said he’s visiting from Mexico, D.F and not Manila…I know… Strange…. I’d have expected him to say his Spanish as if he was singing like a papagayo.

    He seemed interested about our country though…I clearly remember how he said our Lechon is called Lechon while in Mexico it’s Lechona…him kidding that the pigs in Mexico are girls only!

    We then proceded about Filipino families he knew in Mexico. And all he could tell me was that there’s this Filipino girl who married into a rich mestizo family with the surname Rocha…but in no relation to the Rochas of Pre-1898 Malacanang/ Pilina Rocha clan.

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