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09:04 PM September 1st, 2013

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By: Noralyn Mustafa, September 1st, 2013 09:04 PM

I was among the millions of TV viewers who watched the screen, transfixed, as Janet Lim-Napoles, suspected mastermind in the P10-billion, 10-year-old NGO scam that has shocked the whole country, was ruthlessly followed by the unforgiving camera through the standard police booking procedures. It was a sight to behold.

Napoles, after a few days of hiding, had “surrendered” to no less than President Aquino because, fearing for her life due to clear and present danger of being deprived of it by all sides involved in this sordid mess, the President was “the only one she could trust.”

I just learned a new meaning to being alone. It was hell.

Three weeks earlier, our Op/Ed editorial assistant, the very lovable Tintin Ang, texted me a message relaying an assignment from editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc to write a feature in “6,000-7,000 characters with spaces” for Eid’l Fitr with a two-day deadline.

A little later came another text message: “msg from LJM’s office: Janet Lim-Napoles will be at the Inquirer tomorrow Aug. 8 at 9 p.m. If you’re available LJM is requesting you to attend the dinner with Ms Napoles, reporters, editors and other columnists.”

I quickly texted back: “Of course I will attend! I want to see her in living color so I will know whether she is a liar.”

Wow. I had been observing closely the phenomenon of nongovernment organizations since 2000, when the late Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, a.k.a. “Commander Robot,” disclosed to me that funding for their group came mainly from the terrorist organization al-Qaida led by Osama bin Laden, siphoned through a local NGO.

Actually I very seldom attend even important occasions at the Inquirer because they are held at night, and believe me taking a cab from Makati to Quezon City in the dead of night isn’t a walk in the park. But this I could not afford to miss.

When I climbed the lovely winding stairs (the best part of the building for me) of the Inquirer office I thought at once that I might have misread the date or the time in the text message. Except for somebody who looked like a guest seated in one of the coaches at the lobby, the place seemed deserted!

I heard some subdued voices from a room with door ajar and quickly peeked in. There was our publisher Dean Raul Pangalangan, and hidden by the door was my idol Randy David. I had never met them in person so I entered, dropping just my name like a calling card and noting that seated on the coach against the wall of the small room was “Mareng Winnie” Monsod. She looked like she wasn’t in the best of moods so I just greeted her and restrained myself from giving her the handshake that usually goes with my calling card.

I was very flattered though that the two gentlemen received me like an old friend.

Then things started happening. Somebody must have told the newsroom that a gorgeous woman was out there in the lobby and like a genie a very familiar figure materialized: Jun Bandayrel, our bureau editor when I was still with the Mindanao bureau, who brought with him a most pleasant memory: one lovely evening at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City when he treated my son Alex and me to drinks during a break in one of our yearly bureau meetings.

Picture, picture, especially after Dean Raul joined us. Memories of UP “during our time.” Then editor Chato Garcellano joined us too although she remained standing because she had to go back to her desk, but time enough for more memories: the Silliman Writers Workshop of ’76 where we were batchmates, and even a sad recall of Diana Gamalinda who was one of us.

Then all of a sudden I was starving and Napoles had not arrived yet! Dinner of course had to wait for the guest of honor.

But hungry people are totally devoid of social courtesies. So I complained to Chato and quickly she told me: “Of course! They have started eating. Just go straight …”

I didn’t wait for her to finish. My nose led me to the right door. The gentleman that he was, Jun followed me and together we sat down at an unobtrusive table with a plateful each of the typically excellent fare that the Inquirer spreads for guests—saints and sinners alike.

Then before I had gone through half of my plate (I have a natural dislike for people with a talent for bad timing) Napoles emerged through the door to the mute hostile stares of the Inquirer’s star reporters,  Randy and Mareng Winnie.

Dean Raul called me to sit beside him to his left and on the other side to his right was Napoles.

Across the table from our trio were Randy and Mareng Winnie. Behind them grouped at one table against the opposite wall was the battery of the

Inquirer’s star reporters and to the left, all in one group were the Inquirer’s fotogs and cameramen.

Napoles had walked into the lion’s den.

But if she was intimidated, she certainly didn’t show it. She was, in fact, in control. She just casually sat before the conference table, politely declined the dinner, and armed with nothing but her plastic water container, apologized for being late and for the absence of her lawyer.

Then, with never-ending graceful gestures made by large capable hands to die for, she started her offensive with fragmented, disjointed sentences that always began but never ended; with those spectacular dancing hands providing the hyphens, parentheses, semicolons, commas, exclamation points, and question marks to stress her pointless points.

There was never a period.

Tintin: Janet Napoles is a congenital, compulsive, consistent, pathological liar.

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