At the City Council this morning, I learned from media colleagues that former basketball star and veteran politician Francisco “Paking” Rabat of Mati, Davao Oriental passed away last weekend. He was 74.
The Davao Region lost one of its most colorful leaders. He served as Vice Governor and Governor of the Davao Oriental Province during the martial law period. After the people power revolt that threw away his close friend Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, he became mayor of the capital town. Mati bacame a city last year just in time for Paking to retire from politics to give way to his daughter Michele, the new city mayor.
Paking and his wife, the ex-beauty queen Edith Napkil Rabat, were so close to the Marcoses that the dictator built an airport in Mati during martial law. The airport was one of the vanity projects of the military regime that was never ever used for any commercial operation. It is idle to this day.
Paking rose to prominence during his younger days as a tall and handsome basketball player at the Ateneo de Manila. He became a member of the famous 1954 Philippine basketball team that won the bronze medal at the World Basketball Championship held in Brazil. It was the highest award ever reached by a Filipino basketball squad. He proved to be an outstanding rebounder during the games.
One of the wealthiest men in the Davao Region with vast coconut plantations and other businesses in Davao Oriental, Paking was known to be easy going, friendly and a man of the masses. At his prime, his cars were said to have more room for beer than any guest rider. Mati is about three hours ride from Davao City and he reportedly sips his favorite beer from end to end.
I last met the illustrious governor in Mati last year when his province hosted the Davao Region Business Conference. His son Louie, also a former basketball star at Ateneo, heads the province’s Chamber of C ommerce. He was already sickly at the time. In fact, he did not deliver the welcome remarks during the conference due to sore throat. It was Mati Councilor Alan Andrada who welcomed us. I taught Alan how to blog but I lost touch with him thereafter.
Although he was considered as the political king of the province, he did make political enemies in his long political life. After a failed gubernatorial comeback, Paking’s province saw a string of three lady governors. Whether friends or foes, I am sure many in the province and the whole of Mindanao would surely miss Paking, the “Rajah of Rebounds” when there was no Shaq or Yao Ming yet.