Jojo Binay’s basketball game

Patricio N. Abinales

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Jojo Binay’s basketball game
'In his younger years, the Vice President played basketball much rougher than his comrades did. I see that cold-blooded determination again in his ambush interviews now.... He might just win again'

I first met Jojo Binay in a pick-up basketball game at St Scholastica’s College. We visited “St Scho” frequently because a former UP acquaintance dated someone who was teaching there. It was all political banter at the beginning, but later on someone suggested we bring our debates to the basketball court. The losers would pay for the beers afterwards.

Jojo and his faculty friends were some of the smartest people I had known during those years. There was the political theorist Mario Bolasco (whose partner Karina now heads Anvil Publishing); the political scientist Rolando Yu (whose partner Professor Rose Torres-Yu is one of the top scholars on working class literature); the human rights lawyer, spokesperson for the late President Corazon Aquino, and ex-Senator Rene Saguisag; and the labor lawyer Eduardo Araullo. 

St Scho hired them for their intelligence and their progressive politics. Sister Mary John Mananzan, the school head, must have thought highly of Binay (as well as the others). He was, after all, one of the stalwarts of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which was founded by the late Senator Jose W. Diokno. FLAG defended those arrested, tortured, made to face trial by the dictatorship’s kangaroo courts.

These folks were avid basketball players. They took on the pick-up games with fervor. I recall a lot of shoving, forceful body blocks, and deliberate foul – all to prevent someone from scoring. The comradeship that drew us together as anti-Marcos activists was set aside. For the next two hours, we were fierce opponents on the court.

(Not everyone was fanatic about the game. One time, Rene Saguisag was so riled up by the jostling that he walked out of the court, bringing with him the ball, which he owned. I laughed at his antics for they were so similar to what he used in court when confronting military prosecutors or on TV when he defended President Aquino from her critics.)

Binay played much rougher than his comrades. He was quite liberal with his wayward elbows and in tripping opponents wanting to drive to the goal. He was relentless in his pursuit of winning the game. According to people, this was the same tenacity that Jojo displayed when he defended political detainees in court.

He was also methodical, even cold-hearted, in his approach to the game. To us it was mere pick-up basketball, a chance to break a sweat or flex a muscle. But to Jojo it was like the last game of his life. He had a well-thought out strategy for winning the game – and no elbow, hard tackle, or a shove could stop him from pursuing his goal. 

The St Scho gang always prevailed in these games, and we ended up buying the beers.


Fast forward to today…

I have been reading the media reports about Binay’s alleged corruption. The charges seem to have a basis in fact, although I also did not discount the fact that this is a well-planned, brilliantly implemented demolition job against the Vice President. 

I ignored the reactions of Binay’s marionettes and media defenders and focused on how the Vice President responded to these political muggings on camera. What I saw in his eyes brought me back memories of those pick-up games and the way Jojo manhandled us.

I saw that cold-blooded determination again in ambush interviews. Pundits who tagged him as pikon miss the point completely. He does not stare down at the media because he is irritated at how the fourth estate is eroding his political edge; he expected these hard queries. If he did not smile, it was because he knew they do very little harm to his campaign. It would only make him look petty.

He has learned a thing or two about Machiavellian politics from his dealings with Marcos’ minions and for being exposed to the Leninist praxis of his communist clients. And he definitely continues to draw lessons from small town politics, where the real base of power in the Philippines lies. He combines the politics of spoils with his other organizational skills to cement an enduring alliance with mayors, governors, and congressmen. 

He has an administrative record to show, turning Makati into a small version of Singapore. His political record is likewise something to be proud of: anti-Marcos activist and one of the defenders of a restored constitutional democracy. 

Finally, he may be corrupt, but people could also see Binay as the Filipino edition of the 1950s Brazilian politician Ademar de Barros who was famously associated with this phrase: “Rouba mas faz (He steals, but he gets things done)!”

Jojo Binay is once again in a pick-up basketball game. This time the bet is the highest office of the land. And he might just win again. – 

Patricio N. Abinales teaches Philippine and Southeast Asian politics at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.



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