What's in a name? Viral motorist Christopher Lao says not the one linked to dubious pandemic deals

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 03 2021 06:12 PM | Updated as of Sep 03 2021 07:21 PM

NOT THE SAME GUY. In 2011, Christopher Lao (left) became viral for trying to drive his car through floodwaters. He is now a lawyer and a law professor. His namesake, Atty. Lloyd Christopher Lao (right), is tagged in the purchase of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Christopher Lao/Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System website
NOT THE SAME GUY. In 2011, Christopher Lao (left) became viral for trying to drive his car through floodwaters. He is now a lawyer and a law professor. His namesake, Atty. Lloyd Christopher Lao (right), is tagged in the purchase of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Christopher Lao/Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System website

MANILA - In 2011, Christopher Lao rose to internet fame for a viral video of his car floating in waist-deep floodwaters.

Lao became a meme for saying that he "should have been informed" before he tried to drive his car through the flood.

But he would like you to know that he is not the Christopher Lao now embroiled in the controversial purchase of allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields.

Two weeks ago, Lao--not the Budget undersecretary--tweeted to clarify that he is not the government official who allegedly bought face masks for the government at P27.70 each.

He is still making jokes about his name.

"It’s really crazy," Lao said of his uncanny similarities with the Budget official. "We’re both lawyers, and we obviously have the same name and we’re from Davao."

He said it's funny how their name can't seem to catch a break. "It's infamous, right?"

Still, Lao said that their common name making headlines again does not bother him. 

"When this exploded, of course I got text messages from people and I thought it was, you know, it didn’t really bother me so I kid about it," he told ABS-CBN News.

"I’m not bothered at all. It’s a pretty common name. And it happens," he said. 

What worries him, however, is the controversy his name twin is now linked to, especially amid the government's alleged poor handling of the pandemic. 

"We borrowed a lot of money for the COVID response. Yet we have to rely on community pantries," he said. 

"It’s really awful when businesses are having a hard time and of course the response to the pandemic is so unpredictable, there just isn’t any plan, and our healthworkers are all protesting and unsatisfied. So they're not being recognized or not being rewarded, not being protected at least."

He's also worried that the allegedly mismanaged funds will be used by some government officials to fund their 2022 election campaigns.

"I’m afraid that they have a lot of money. I worry that they're just gonna buy the elections. All the money purloined and were talking about a lot of money so I hope that we resist," he said.

MOVING ON FROM TRAGEDY

After his viral video in 2011, Lao went through a dark phase in his life. 

In a 2013 TEDx Talk, Lao opened up about the cyberbullying he he had to endure. The harsh online comments sunk him into depression and caused him mental instability.

But a trip to Chiang Mai in Thailand helped him clear his mind and pushed him to make meaning out of his suffering.

Lao lobbied for the passage of Republic Act 10627, also known as the Anti-Bullying Act os 2013. The law helps reduce--and hopes to eventually eliminate--bullying in schools.

Now, apart from practicing law, Lao also teaches at the law schools of the University of the Philippines and the De La Salle University.

"As far as names go, they do have value, especially if of notable pedigree. I don't think the name "Christopher Lao" has that sort of advantage. But a name that's neutral as far as prejudices go certainly helps," he says.

"Ten years ago, the brand Christopher Lao took quite a beating so at the height of the controversy, I started the next chapters of my life handicapped. I survived because I had navigated handicaps and prejudices all my life."

"A good name will give you a headstart but it will not see you through. That you're only as good as your last work is still the rule in this game of life," he said. 

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