Chito Roque: the alien next door

Why should anyone believe Chito Roque, the man who has come out to name the key players in the underworld of jueteng?

His credibility is in tatters.  His overall appearance is that of someone who has not cared to look after himself in a long time.  There is no trace of the bearing of the De la Salle graduate in the figure that has been giving out those TV interviews.  Nor that of the scion of an illustrious Bulacan congressman. Nor that of the in-law of the genteel Padilla clan.

He was supposedly one of President Cory Aquino’s special security aides, but the former president hardly remembers him.  “He reported to Joker,” was all she could say in a recent ambush interview.  Congressman Arroyo remembers him all right, but professes insufficient knowledge of his activities as a Malacanang employee,  because the office he occupied — Task Force

Anti-Gambling  or TFAG —  “was one of 60 or so offices  under the Executive Secretary.”   He was an original ATOM member, a rather “generous” person, by Butz Aquino’s recollection.  But Butz says he has not really been in touch with him since the rally days.

His acquaintances from the glory days of EDSA have not denied him for sure, but that is different from saying that they will, as a matter of fraternal commitment, attest to everything he says.  Butz Aquino came closest to affirming his credibility, but his statements were qualified by too many “I suppose” to be of any use to his friend.

Roque is reportedly separated from his wife.   No kin from either side of his family has come forward to express solidarity with his cause, or just to stand by him as he faces the media.  By his admission, he was addicted to painkillers like Demerol.  He  has confessed to taking bribe money and guns from jueteng operators during the three years  he was head of the Cory government’s TFAG.  He admits to keeping a portion of the money for himself.  But some of it, he says, he used to monitor the anti-Aquino coups; a part of it he used against the gambling lords themselves.

Who believes such a man?  Representative Roilo Golez who introduced him to the public as jueteng Exhibit No. 1 does.  Secretary Teofisto Guingona who has offered him refuge under the government’s Witness Protection Program apparently does.  This belief is now being bolstered by a report that Chito Roque is, in fact, dying from bone cancer.  And supposedly, no testimony can be more credible than that of a dying person.

But, even so, Secretary Guingona hastens to say: “we will go by the rules and the evidence.”  Like Roque, Guingona was a parliamentarian of the streets of EDSA before 1986, but as Justice Secretary, he has wisely avoided being drawn into the “ethics of intimacy”, preferring the security of the “ethics of strangers” in dealing with Roque.  I owe this insight to Zygmunt Bauman who borrowed it from Stephen Toulmin: “In the ethics of strangers, respect for rules is all, and the opportunities for discretion are few; whereas in the ethics of intimacy, discretion is all, and the relevance of strict rules  is minimal.”

In communities like ours that are governed by the “ethics of intimacy” more than by the “ethics of strangers”, credibility is seldom a matter of evidence. It is largely a matter of face.   Chito Roque may have all the information in the world to indict the jueteng lords and all the politicians who have coddled them, but it will not serve as evidence unless he is personally vouched for as a trustworthy human being by those who have little to gain from being associated with him.  Then, and only then,  can his testimony be seriously treated as evidence.

Right now, Chito Roque is nothing but “the alien next door”.  In time, the public will have to decide what role to cast him in: “an enemy to be fought and expelled, or as an admittedly temporary guest to be confined to special quarters and rendered harmless by strict observance of the isolating ritual,  or as a neighbortobe, in which case he had to be made like neighbor, that is made to behave like the neighbors do.” (Z. Bauman)

Acceptance as the person he deems himself to be is what he desires above all. Unfortunately, in the world  in which Chito Roque was born, to behave like the neighbors would be to shut one’s mouth about jueteng.  It is not normal for people in government or formerly in government  to launch crusades like this unless it is part of a larger political strategy.  The heroism of the solitary politician is practically unknown in our corner of the world.  What is at stake here is not just the reputation of one or two politicians, but the survival of the entire system of traditional politics.

It is ironic that as Chito Roque’s life becomes more public, those who knew him then seem now to know him less.  He has become a hostage to the public self by which his friends and associates had identified him — the pragmatic goon, the lover of guns,  the special operations man.  The more he tells the truth, the more alien he becomes in their perception.  Has he flipped or is somebody manipulating him?

There is every reason to believe that Chito Roque may be telling a truthful story.  But it was a story waiting to be told by someone more believable.  He tells  it vividly and urgently, almost as if the narrating itself is as important as the information it reveals.  One wonders what drives it.  Is it catharsis?  Is it contempt for  the system that gave him power and money but never the social recognition he secretly coveted?   What is it?  A final act of personal expiation?  Or an act of vengeance against a society that consigned him to its moral underside so that those above may thrive in respectability?

Ultimately, the actual evidence from his testimony may be insufficient to convict anybody.  But perhaps to Chito Roque, that is no longer  what is important.


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