I was covering the Manila City Hall beat in 1992 when one day, I noticed a long queue leading up to the office of Mayor Fred Lim. I learned that it was ‘People’s Day,’ a day designated for the residents to get a chance to see and personally bring up their problems with the mayor. It was Lim’s first term in office.
I was able to enter the mayor’s office though I wasn’t wearing a Press ID. Everyone seemed welcome. While there, I was observing the goings-on when Lim got out of his office and gave a piece of paper to his secretary.
As he was going back to his office, his attention was drawn to an old woman. He returned and pulled the woman from the long line and gave her a seat at one corner of the receiving area. Lim then pulled a chair and sat infront of the said woman. He asked the woman why she was there and after learning that she needed money to buy some medicines, Lim went to his secretary and told her to take care of the woman’s needs. He then gave specific instructions, thus: “Pag nakita naman ninyo na matanda, ‘wag nyo nang papipilahin pa” and then went back to his office.
Lim did all that without knowing a media member was there. His concern for the old woman was therefore sincere and it was then that I knew, he had a good heart and his concern for that old woman was genuine.
Before that, my only encounter with him was when Jerry and I conducted an exclusive interview with him at his NBI office when he was due to retire as its director. At that time, he shunned calls for him to run for mayor saying he intended to enjoy his retirement by taking care of his grandchildren.
After seeing what he did to the said old woman, I and Jerry began covering him more often. It was fun since everything he did and said were page one material. It did not matter if they were one-liners.
At first, it was a ‘quid pro quó’ type of relationship for us. He would grant us interviews and give us ‘exclusives’ and in return, he gets to land on page one.
As years went by, our reporter-source relationship flourished into a very intimate friendship where he had become our second father (at that time, ours have already passed on), mentor, adviser and best friend rolled into one. He was there for us all the time, during ups and downs and we, for him, specially during down times.
Over coffee, short meals or snacks in or outside his office, when attending occasions and even while inside his car, we would always engage in endless talks, mostly on matters not related to his work or ours and other light topics that made us laugh our hearts out.
With everybody calling him ‘mayor,’ I began addressing him as ‘Yorme.’ It was meant to be a term of endearment and I simply wanted to address him uniquely. Not accustomed to street lingo, he asked what it meant and I had to explain that it was the reverse pronunciation of ‘mayor.’ He liked it and the name stuck. Others began calling him ‘Yorme’ too and he eventually became used to it.
Believe it or not, even Mayor Isko Moreno, then as a councilor and later as vice mayor, also used to call Lim ‘Yorme’ too.
Lim laughed whenever I used street language, would always ask what the term I used meant and then kept it in mind.
Whenever we covered him or we attended events like simply having breakfast, lunch or dinner or going to an occasion, we always rode in one car. It was his black car which was also a trademark, although it was not the high-end type. He found it funny when we told him that getting off his black car while wearing black shades made him exude more authority.
Mind you, those shades are mere imitations of the original RayBan which his best friend, Daddy Turing, had bought from the sidewalks in the US and gave to him as ‘pasalubong.’ Daddy Turing used to be Lim’s boss as a warehouse man who ordered the future mayor to deliver buttons, threads and the like and who, by the way, was the first to introduce blue jeans or ‘maong pants’ in the country, called ‘Macomber.’
Lim would often complain that he had a hard time seeing clearly while wearing those shades and I told him flatly: “What do you expect? Fake ang shades mo. ‘Yung original, itim ang salamin pero pag suot mo maliwanag ang paligid. Sa fake, pag maitim ang salamin, maitim din ang paligid.”
So when his birthday came, we gifted him with a branded pair of dark shades. He asked how much it cost and we never told him because we know he will only complain that it is expensive and may even feel uncomfortable using it.
People who knew would often wonder what we talked about while inside the car. They were terrified at the thought of having to ride in the same car with someone like Mayor Lim, moreso spend so much travel time with him. They perceived him to be a stiff, very serious type of person who does not joke and whom you cannot joke around with. Well, they are wrong.
His other constant companions, pilot cum security Nato Tarca and niece Beverly Anne Siojo-Garcia, along with Maj. Nick Amparo, Levi Arce and ret. Col. Caloy Baltazar, knew first-hand that when we were in the car, all we did was talk about funny, nonsensical things, showbiz rumors and even green jokes, mind you.
Mayor Lim would not allow a joke told to him go unretaliated. He would always fire back with one. Sometimes, they are either corny or old and we would still laugh because he would always laugh at his own joke and his laughter was infectious. Most of the time though, to his credit, his jokes were funny. (to be contitinued)
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