[PHOTO AT LEFT: Movie star Fernando Poe Jr. is shown with his love child Ronian in this video grab from GMA-7 television last night. - Val Rodriguez]

MANILA, February 5, 2004 (STAR) Acknowledging a love child may be a lethal indiscretion for many politicians, but in this part of the world, it could gain more votes and sympathy, political analysts said yesterday.

Joel Rocamora, of the independent think tank Institute for Popular Democracy, said the frank admission made by popular actor and presidential aspirant Fernando Poe Jr. may pull in more votes for him than criticism.

"In Philippine politics, questions of integrity are not very serious," Rocamora said. "Twenty percent of men are womanizers but another 60 percent would like to be, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue," he said. In a televised interview Tuesday, Poe admitted he had a child with Ana Marin, a movie starlet in the 1980s.

Yesterday, Poe told a big crowd in Davao City that he loved his son Ronian by Marin, and his having an illegitimate child should be a "non-issue" in the campaign.

"I am proud of my son," Poe said. "It is not an issue. It is the truth. "I am proud of him because he is about to finish his studies while I haven’t finished my schooling," said Poe, a high school dropout. Ronian is reportedly a graduating student at the De La Salle University. "I leave it to him. He knows what he wants in life," Poe said of his son.

Poe said the matter of his affair with Marin was already resolved as far as his wife, actress Susan Roces, was concerned. Poe, who has been married to Roces since 1968, stressed his affair with Marin had been over "for a long time."

"He (Poe) said the minute he enters the presidential race, he’s pretty sure that we will lose our privacy and that we should be ready for it," Roces told television interviews last night.

"I know all about it. This was a long time ago," she said. "This is a chapter in our life that is a phase and it would be wrong to deny it."

Marin, on the other hand, is now an understudy to the star of a political satire called "Electile Disfunction," running on stage in Manila.

It is not uncommon for children to be born out of wedlock in the Philippines, where Catholic clerics preach personal restraint and condemn artificial birth control.

For the rich and powerful, keeping a second family can be a statement of status. At some high-society parties, bodyguards can be called upon to gracefully shield wives from mistresses, or vice versa, the analysts say.

Middle-class voters may fuss about the "morality question," said Ricky Abad, a sociology professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, but few are Poe supporters to begin with.

"For a large number of voters, I don’t think it will matter," Abad said, noting there was no such thing as a unified Catholic bloc that could be summoned to punish Poe at the ballot box. "It’s also part of the macho culture," he added. "But if it was a woman, probably there would be much more uproar because of this double standard."

Amado Mendoza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said the news would have little impact on Poe’s election chances because Filipino movie actors fathering children out of wedlock is "nothing new." "It may even earn him (Poe) some... points," Mendoza said.

The analysts agreed the tolerance of Filipinos in general apparently overlooked the infidelities of fellow actor Joseph Estrada who won a landslide victory in the 1998 elections.

They said this tolerance should also allow Poe to escape the love-child revelations unscathed in the May 10 elections. With general elections just three months away on May 10, the revelation added another twist to a campaign rife with rumors of plots against President Arroyo who is seeking a full six-year term. A Morality Issue The President, for her part, said she would continue with her campaign and would not be drawn to morality issues triggered by Poe’s admission.

Another presidential candidate, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, running under the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), also refused to be drawn in. "It (admission) is too personal. I don’t want to comment on that," he said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo refused to comment on Poe’s private disclosures. "The President refused to comment on these things, but if you ask her about what she has done to push the country’s economy, to get more investments to open new factories and jobs, she would happily respond to them," Bunye said.

Despite Poe’s admission of marital infidelity, Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is not one politician who could capitalize on morality issues with her rivals in the May 10 elections.

But for opposition Sen. Vicente Sotto III, he believes Poe’s admission would be utilized by the administration to derail the actor’s presidential bid. Sotto said the administration will capitalize on the issue until the May 10 elections.

"The problem is because of the lack of issues that could be raised by the administration against Poe, they want to throw even the kitchen sink to FPJ (Poe’s initials). They will definitely capitalize on everything, even a non-issue. For me, it’s a non-issue. FPJ has an illegitimate child, so? What’s wrong?" Sotto asked.

Sotto claimed he himself had a love child even before he got married to actress Helen Gamboa. "It (the issue of having an illegitimate child) will not affect (Poe’s) candidacy. Not at all," Sotto said.

Poe’s allies at the House of Representatives also moved to lessen the possible political impact on the actor’s presidential bid.

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said Poe having admitted he had an illegitimate child will enhance his integrity as a person. "This is the kind of president that we need, one who is not afraid to face reality," he said. "It will not affect his chances (of winning) because people will appreciate him more."

Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said Poe’s personal policy has always been to admit the truth about himself and deny anything false.

"If he’s (Poe) being transparent in his personal life, we can expect a transparent government from him," Escudero said.

Some from the administration also expressed their admiration for Poe in admitting he has an illegitimate son.

"I salute him (Poe) for that. I think that it was good for him to admit. What is not good is that he will not admit it. It will have a bad psychological effect on his son," Sen. Ralph Recto said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Roque Ablan said the issue should not be used against Poe since it will not affect his performance once elected.

Even some militant groups like Gabriela, which advocates women’s rights, said Poe’s admission indicated he is a good leader for being honest and brave enough to face his responsibility. "We’re happy that Poe is open to this particular aspect of his private life," said Gabriela president Liza Maza.

On the other hand, Poe’s critics led by House Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez of Iloilo said the admission only shows the actor "is not as clean as his directors portray him to be."

Gonzalez said Poe’s disclosure can "add to his (Poe’s) incompetence."

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles however said it can work both ways. "Sometimes the truth hurts," Nograles said. "It can hurt the family and his politics too."

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay said the controversy generated by Poe’s statement should be treated a "non-issue." "What he should disclose is his platform of government," Pichay said.

Bukidnon Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said some of Poe’s supporters could be disheartened since they idolize the actor as morally upright.

The admission may not be the case to determine a responsible and good leader, according to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) yesterday. "If you were not able to keep your commitment, which you signed with your wife or other people, how can you keep your promises to the country?" said Henrietta de Villa, PPCRV founding chairman.

Msgr. Melchor David of the PPCRV’s youth committee cited the importance of morality for a government leader.

He said it will now depend on the voters exercising their right to vote "consciously and intellectually whether such an issue will have a big bearing on their choice of a candidate."

Poe, whose lack of political experience and links to Estrada have rattled financial markets, enjoys huge recognition among the masses after playing a hero to the oppressed on screen for nearly five decades.

Despite his close friendship with Estrada, well known for carousing and gambling as a movie star before he was ousted from the presidential palace by a popular revolt in early 2001, Poe has managed to maintain an image for clean living. - Edith Regalado, Marichu Villanueva, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Aravilla, Evelyn Macairan, Ann Corvera, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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