The last of the statesmen

Patricia Evangelista

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They believe that truth can be found in a courtroom, and that when this is all over, there will be a better country

PALS. The impeachment trial brings them, men young once, together.

MANILA, Philippines – He says he has an old man’s name, and to call him Jun instead. He gives me his home number because he doesn’t remember what his mobile contact is. It is Dan who writes it down, copies it from his own phone.

Leocadio “Jun” Sunga is 67, a resident of Sta Mesa, Manila, who rides the LRT from Sta Mesa to Recto, then Recto to Vito Cruz, then Vito Cruz to the compound of the Philippine Senate. He has done this four times a week for three weeks, Mondays to Thursdays. He says he was a government employee, worked in the Bureau of Immigration for decades before he retired.

It does not matter where I sit in the session hall, it is cold everywhere. Jun crosses his arms, hunches into the dark jacket emblazoned with his old bureau’s name across the back in yellow capitals. A phone rings somewhere in the gallery. Everyone looks to the left, as a woman with a grim expression marches to tap a woman in the second row. The woman shakes her head. It wasn’t her phone.

Talking is not advised here, so Jun and I whisper. He looks very much like Juan Ponce-Enrile, who at the moment is banging a gavel to overrule the private prosecutor Joemer Perez.

I ask Jun why he’s here.

He is here, he says, to guard the impeachment.


He is careful with his words, and speaks slowly. It was the first Monday of the impeachment proceedings when he first met Dan. Dan Ferrer, 56, father of 3, long-haired with white on his moustache, who sits 2 seats away from us. Dan, who sports a pair of earrings on his left ear and none on the other. He got the earrings when he turned 40 because he wanted to feel young and the earrings make him feel in.

Dan owned a sari-sari store in Camarines Norte. Two of his children have graduated, one son is in college. He has been in Manila 5 years, marched in Edsa in 1986, and marched again in 2001. It is Dan who carries a battered brown leather satchel and taps his Chuck Taylors when the session gets rowdy. Jun wears black leather wing tips, well shined.

In the session hall, Enrile slams his gavel. Objection sustained.

Jun mutters under his breath. Sustained, he repeats. A one-minute recess is called. Perez should have stopped when he was ahead, says Jun, but he is young. 31 years old, 7th in the bar.

There are many of them here, says Jun. That one, on the front row, the one in the denim jacket. That’s our spokesman. He came all the way from Siquijor to watch. He talks to the prosecutors sometimes for updates. That one too is with us, the one beside him.

They met on Jan 19, 2012, at 10 in the morning, outside the public gates of the senate. They are now a group, says Jun. There are 5 of them who come every day, lining up for their passes.

Tony & Arnie

I meet Tony del Mundo after the hearing. Tony is 71 years old, an apartment owner whose business was rentals before he retired. He claims he once had his 45-year-old property taken from him by the city government, and that he suspects the Coronas were involved. It happened in the ’80s, and he is here, he says with a grin, for payback. The judiciary is important. People deserve their due.

He pats my head and hands me a bottle of 7-Up from the Senate cafeteria. I am not certain about the ethics of accepting drinks from interviewees, but I suspect to refuse will break his heart.

We drink our sodas.

Arnie Pakilit is 69, a bachelor and former professor of Biology at Siliman University. He took a boat to Cebu and flew to Manila in time for the hearings. He waxes romantic over democracy and justice, and remembers to flirt like the old gentleman he is.

It is the moment of his lifetime, he says. This is history. I am here to learn how public trust can be lost or won. He is retired, he says. Not tired at all. He winks at me. “My tires are new.”

It is Arnie who has given the group a name. The Young Once. He spells it out. O-N-C-E.

His goal is to reach a time when there will no longer be any need for impeachment, when people in high places reach them because of their integrity. In the meantime, Arnie will watch justice battle it out in court. He tells the story like a courtside reporter watching from the sidelines of a Roman coliseum. It is David versus Goliath he says, punching the air with plump fists. Only David cannot be silenced by the might of Goliath. Arnie roars for effect, then grins.


Rey Arana is the last and oldest of the Young Once. He walks slowly, leaning on a metal cane. He tries to hide the cane when I roll my camera, then gives up and crosses the street. In the mornings, the guards give him a plastic chair to sit on while the others wait in line. His back is ramrod straight, the pleats on his slacks razor sharp. A blue cardigan hangs over his shoulders.

Rey worked in an insurance company for over 55 years, his wife died five years ago. He is a Marcos loyalist, unlike Dan, who is proudly pro-Aquino. Rey is waiting for the day Bongbong Marcos will be elected president.

When his children have time, Rey gets a ride to the Senate from his home in Las Piñas. When they don’t, he uses what is left of his pension to take a cab from where he is dropped off on Macapagal Avenue. He spends maybe P500 or P600 a day on food and transport, but he says it is worth it. It is the effort more than the money that is his biggest contribution.

He is here, he says, so he has something to say on the off-chance his children or grandchildren ask about the impeachment. He wants to tell it like it is, and not how the media reports it. It is his duty to be here, and the duty of all those of his generation who have the time and the strength to find their way to the gallery.

They talk about the presidents they’ve seen, and the fact that one of them has a gold toilet bowl. They gossip about the daughters of politicians and howl over a dirty joke (although they worry I am too young to hear it). They believe that truth can be found in a courtroom, and that when this is all over, there will be a better country.

It is Dan who puts it best. The others rib him about his good looks. He is their rock star and when they stand outside the session hall, the bad boy of The Young Once rests a casual arm around the older Jun’s shoulders.

“I am here,” says Dan, “because by being here I can make sure there will be no swindling of the public. The senators will be mindful, because they know the public, including me, are watching.”

They ask me if I’ll be back. I promise to return, but perhaps not every day. I am young, but not as young as they are. –









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