By Herbie Gomez
A VIDEO clip posted on a Facebook wall showed the slightly overweight-looking congressman trying to burn some fat in a gym. What was unseen to viewers was the cost of getting such boxing training in a place that burned more money than fat.
The gym was allegedly the one at Edsa Shangri-la where the cost of membership was P76 thousand a year, where trainers received a fee of P500 an hour and where patrons paid P600 per hour for the use of the boxing ring. The boxing facility was reportedly closed down recently.
The congressman frequently dines there and other five-star hotels like The Peninsula Manila and Makati Shangri-la, according to a reliable source.
The source said Rep. Jose Benjamin Benaldo of the city’s 1st District draws his “inspiration” to undergo training from international boxing superstar Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, a fellow congressman from Sarangani.
“Benjo wants to be popular like Manny,” said the source who is privy even to small details about Benaldo’s lifestyle.
The source said Benaldo emulates Pacquiao to the point that he manages to keep himself updated about the boxer cum politician’s designer clothing and accessories.
Once, Benaldo allegedly told a confidant, “Manny was wearing this Hermes belt. I think I want one.”
That, according to the source, explains Benaldo’s Hermes belt which allegedly costs US$1,400.
“I think Benjo has to make up his mind. Does he want to be a congressman or Mommy Dionesia (Pacquiao’s mother who has a penchant for Hermes bags)?” asked the source rhetorically.
Benaldo allegedly ridicules congressmen whose fashion sense differs from his. Several times, he allegedly made fun of Rep. Yevgeny Vincente Emano of the 2nd District of Misamis Oriental over the way the latter dresses. His exact words, according to the source: “Morag taga bukid magsanina.” The source said Benaldo also jests at Emano’s suit, said to be relatively cheap and tailored “only in Cagayan de Oro,” which the Misamis Oriental congressman allegedly wears in the Lower House over and over again.
There’s nothing wrong with being fashionable. But Benaldo’s idea of fashion is screaming and high-priced clothing and accessories by Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Hugo, Boss and Valentino, among others.
The source said going out with a US$1,400-Hermes belt, US$400-Louis Vuitton cellphone pouch, US$300-Burberry shirt, US$200-denims, US$700-boots and a Rolex watch that costs at least P1.4 million, is exactly Benaldo’s idea of fashion.
And that’s not all. The source said Benaldo has a collection of Ralph Lauren shirts that cost P10 thousand to P15 thousand each and a set of Lacoste shirts that are relatively cheaper.
Benaldo has no problems telling people about how much his wardrobe and accessories cost. For instance, former councilor Teodulfo Lao said he was once told by congressional staff members about how Benaldo showed off and told them that he was wearing a P40-thousand suit.
Lao said, “I found it appalling. Until that time, I was never aware of any suit that costs that much. I told myself, ‘What kind of suit would cost P40 thousand?’”
The P40-thousand suit, according to the source, carries the name Ermenegildo Zegna, a leading Italian fashion house specializing in men’s clothing that manufactures suits for labels like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford.
Benaldo’s strong liking for designer clothing, however, was already evident even when he was still serving the city as a councilor.
“At that time, he had nearly worn-out Kenneth Cole boots that had a tear on the side, old and faded Polo shirts and a Tag Heuer watch, not a Rolex,” said the source.
Not only does Benaldo want to be fashionable. He wants to be a fashion arbiter, according to several sources.
At the Cagayan de Oro Press Club, a reporter told a group about how Benaldo relished the thought of being a trend-setter. He allegedly told the reporter, in jest, about how some congressmen started wearing bow ties during the House sessions because of him. He claimed to be responsible for setting the bow-tie trend.
“The bow tie is cheap,” said the source, pointing to one of the photos posted on Benaldo’s Facebook wall. “But he has expensive ties.”
One of the neckties, again by Hermes, costs some P12 thousand, according to the source.
Such lifestyle, described by ex-councilor Celestino Ocio III as “imeldific,” could have been due to the forty-something congressman’s alleged urge to be “in” in the Lower House.
The source said Benaldo wants to be in the circle of congressmen like JV Ejercito of San Juan, a son of ex-president Joseph Estrada’s, “but JV does not seem to like him.”
The source said Benaldo also emulates the “rich and intelligent” Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte whose involvement with actress Vivian Velez at the height of her popularity became controversial because of the Betamax technology. Fariñas subsequently married Filipino-American beauty queen and actress Maria Theresa Carlson who, on Nov. 23, 2001, leaped from the 23rd floor of a Greenhills condominum in San Juan.
“He (Benaldo) has ambitions of becoming a senator and dreams of being President. He said people would take notice of him if he dates actresses,” the source said.
Early this month, Benaldo brought Brazilian actress, model, and television host Diana Menezes in time for an activity he supported in Bulua.
A few years back, Benaldo was sharply criticized for allegedly shelling out a hefty sum just to bring in softcore actress Maui Taylor for a performance here. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Antonio Montalvan II, who wrote a stinging commentary about it, said the sultry actress came in time for the Xavier University High School alumni homecoming.
Various sources said Benaldo cherishes the thought of being romantically linked with sexy actresses.
One source said the congressman even bragged that he was dating Taylor.
Another journalist said people in Benaldo’s circle laughed when this paper published a photo showing Benaldo with a 35-year old Russian blonde. The congressman actually told people that he was “happy” and “thankful” about the photo because “now, Cagayanons know” that he, allegedly, is a ladies’ man.
Another paper quoted Benaldo as saying that he can go on dates because he was supposedly “single,” a claim a source disputed. The source said there is no truth to the claim that Benaldo’s marriage to the now US-based Gladioly Longson has been annulled.
The source said Benaldo was told that times have changed and that going out with celebrities may no longer be an effective political antic these days, except for a few instances. But Benaldo, the source said, believes that “bad publicity can still work for name recall.”
He has to stay looking good if he is to be in the limelight. That means, according to the source, “going to Bioessence every week, usually on Sundays.”
At the Bioessence Megamall, a facial treatment costs some P2 thousand per session.
“He applies toner on his face. He takes Glutathione capsules to further whiten his skin. He puts dark-colored eyebrow pencil on his brows to make them appear thick… He takes zinc tablets to make his skin glow,” said the source.
Another source said Benaldo was seen visiting a new spa cum skin center in Cagayan de Oro owned by one of Mayor Vicente Emano’s staff members where he allegedly had an oversized “BFB” (Big Flat Bread) quickly delivered on the owner’s prodding.
Looking good also means taking business class seats in his trips to and from Cagayan de Oro and––hold your breath!––flashy cars. The list of vehicles Benaldo allegedly uses is mind-boggling and doesn’t figure if one has to take into consideration the congressman’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN)––he declared P18.5 million in real property assets, P14.3 million in personal assets and P2 million in liabilities or a net worth of P30.8 million.
The list provided by a source showed a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer, Ford Expedition Gold, Ford Explorer Sport Trac pickup, Kia Carnival, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Patrol, BMW X5 luxury crossover SUV, and a new Chevrolet SUV.
“The Expedition alone consumes P1 thousand worth of fuel daily,” said the source.
When he was still a councilor, Benaldo reportedly drove a red Pajero that belonged to a relative. The Pajero was allegedly carnapped in 2010.