IT’S BEEN five weeks since I did an interview with the young man, but I have been dilly-dallying on writing about him.
And it’s not because the congressional-son-cum-Sangguniang-Panlalawigan-member is uninteresting. In fact, Kris is any journalist’s ideal interviewee. He is brilliant, conversant, open, candid, reflexive, and, above all, sincere. He is also sensitive. You can talk to him for hours (in my case three) without ho-hum.
But then you may say that I am an academic, and, being such, I can stand long conversations even with the nerd of nerds with the thickest spectacles ranting with nosebleed-inducing jargon. Maybe so, but not quite.
I first met Kris when he ran as chair of the UP Diliman Student Council in 2004. “He is the son of Congressman Ablan,” said my friend, pointing at Kris who was then doing the “otso-otso” routine during a campaign activity in a student dormitory inside the campus. Surprisingly, Kris, then a virtually unknown at UP, won over Atom Araullo (now with ABS-CBN), standard-bearer of STAND-UP, the more popular political party.
You would expect, dear karikna, that I voted for Kris. After all, he is our kailian, and Ilocanos are known to be a tight group. Nope, I voted for Atom, and for good reason. He was a brother in the struggle. A couple of times in the streets, I had locked arms with Atom to fight a regime Kris’ father so ardently supports.
Three years after, I would meet Kris again in front of my house at Ablan Avenue, Laoag City. He was then campaigning for a seat in the provincial board. Warm and convivial he was, but, he did not, yet again, earn my vote.
Roquito Ablan, Kris’ faher, is known to be a skillful politician, you would think that his son’s venture into local politics is part of the former’s political master plan. Barred for another reelection, the old Ablan could just be fielding his son as a dummy (like one mayor in the second district is perceived by many).
“Not really,” says Kris, who explains that he, the youngest among nine siblings, is the only one drawn to law and politics. Thus, their family does not constitute a political dynasty, unlike other known clans in the country. Kris says his father never pressured him to take up law, but that he was happy, no doubt, when he followed his footsteps. He adds that when he was growing up, his dad was already “just an ordinary congressman,” no longer the force he was during the Marcos dictatorship.
That Kris is the first district representative’s son is a double-edged sword. On one hand, having an institution for a father means the political infrastructure is laid out on a red carpet for him, which could prove helpful as Kris is now a hundred percent bent on running for the post his father will be vacating next year. On the other hand, a lot of people I know are not inclined to vote for Kris simply because he is his father’s son.
Remember that Teteng Sales, a lightweight, almost beat the reelectionist congressman in 2007. In fact, Ablan’s win is even under protest as Sales challenges the veracity of poll results. The former Pagudpud mayor almost won not because he had sterling credentials, but simply because the people had grown tired and weary of the old Ablan. Many would say, “Ubingak pay lang ket Ablan idin, awan met mapaspasamak.” (It’s been Ablan since I was a child, but nothing is happening.)
Kris agrees that his father is not much into doing landmark legislation but it is because he allows the younger ones to carry out that role. He further defends his father by saying, “It is not in the mold of an Ablan (he speaks of the name, fully cognizant of its prestige) to brag about his accomplishments.”
But a colleague in media texted me this when he learned that I was going to write about the bokal, “Kris is in a bind. He’s sincere but he’s still the son of the prince of darkness. If only you know how much damage the father has and is doing to our Ilocos Norte.”
Methinks Roquito Ablan may, by all measures, be a traditional politician, but mainly because it was the game of his time. He served his province by playing politics in ways he saw fit, which include swaying loyalties from one power to the other, and just by simply being the typical congressman who savors receiving his share of the pork barrel fund, a fuel for corruption disguised as aid for countryside development. He may not have been a spectacular legislator, yes, but he was not terrible either. At 78, he will soon take a bow from politics, without getting himself and our province embroiled in any major controversy.
But, Kris is his own man. In spite of (or is it because of?) his father, Kris consciously packages himself as politician of a new breed.
He first got my approval when, last January, he released calendars that featured beautiful scenery here in Ilocos Norte. Kris thought well not to include his face in the calendar. He only had his name on a small corner. The print was so minuscule, most people would need a magnifying glass to read it.
In his blog, window to his ruminant mind, Kris wrote, “The project was actually conceptualized many, many years ago when my dad came out with calendars with his face as the main picture (like all politicians with calendar giveaways). I thought to myself, ‘What if people didn’t want to look at your face every day?’ ‘What if they just wanted to see scenery?'” From then on, he got my attention.
While opposing parties engaged in a media war at the height of the proposed Laoag mall controversy, Kris worked swiftly, bringing in Ivan Henares of the Heritage Conservation Society to drum up support in the fight to save a rare architectural beauty which the city government and the Diocese of Laoag wanted torn down in the name of profit. He would later sponsor a resolution imposing a moratorium on tearing down or renovating school properties at least fifty years of age, thus saving the majestic Laoag Central Elementary School.
It is a breath of fresh air that Kris performs his duties fully cognizant that the power he bears is not a birthright, but a mandate emanating from a people he is duty-bound to serve. For instance, even if it’s not required by law, he prepared an annual accomplishment report which details his legislative accomplishments, and his disbursements of public funds for programs and projects. The moment he sat for the interview, he handed me a copy of the report, not unlike a student passing a course requirement to a professor.
At one point during the interview, Kris was misty-eyed (or so it appeared to me). The struggle he faces is real, and I could feel it. He has to win an election, but our rotten and immature political system makes it very hard for decent people to claim victory without sacrificing ideals, without getting desensitized.
Still, he is unafraid to make decisions his jaded colleagues consider as political suicide. Also, Kris refuses to engage in tried-but-tired political propaganda, unlike his potential opponent who has cluttered public spaces with “Happy Graduation,” “Happy Fiesta,” and other happy greetings. Likewise, he refuses to have his name bannered prominently in any project, big or small. The moment I saw some of my students and colleagues at the state university (including fab Ianree Raquel) silently shed tears while the bespectacled young man, in a well-attended forum, detailed his sojourn as a young politician crying for reform, I knew, Kris Ablan is an antidote to politics-as-usual.
But, while showing qualities that run counter from those of his father, he may eventually have to take advantage of the perks of being an incumbent’s son. That is why he has been seen lately in inauguration and turnover ceremonies of his father’s projects funded by the pork barrel fund. “Unfair!,” cry his critics, but I am willing to blink on this issue. Kris can be a noble congressman, but first he has to win.
There are many other interesting things Kris told me “off the record,” but I assure you, dear karikna, that they are all good, and they but heightened my respect for the young man.
Yes, I dilly-dallied on writing about him not because he is uninteresting, but only because I did not want to be so hasty in saying: Let’s support Kris, in spite of, not because of, his father. If you are a decent, mature, forward-looking citizen, there is no way you cannot like him.
Unless he gets desensitized too soon, Michel Kristian R. Ablan, grandson of a Japanese resistance hero, may yet be his family’s biggest gift to the nation.