MANILA, NOVEMBER 27, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - Too proud. That’s the only thing to be said about the opposition leaders’ whose rivalry and resentment have escalated since the entry of FPJ – Fernando Poe, Jr. – into the presidential race.

President Macapagal-Arroyo, who had begun to panic, has taken heart and resumed her almost smug belief that with the help of God and the Comelec – the latter in particular for God sometimes switches sides – she will win "re-election". She, after all, has the equity of the incumbent, and the "advice" of Ronnie Puno.

Why did Malacańang’s faltering confidence, its nosedive in morale, experience a sharp resuscitation yesterday afternoon? As soon as FPJ officially announced at the Manila Hotel yesterday, he would seek the Opposition’s nomination to be its standard-bearer, Senator Panfilo Lacson called a press conference to declare that "there’s no turning back". He asserted: "I am determined to run for president and no one can stop us now since we have long prepared for this."

Lacson, of course, is right to be angry and frustrated that, after he had done much of the fighting ("exposed" Jose Pidal, and battered the GMA administration), the prospect of winning the crown of the presidency might fall into another’s – i.e., FPJ’s hands. In sum, Lacson must be personally indignant that he had been slugging it out, in the thick of the battle, then, out of the blue (well, not really out of nowhere) comes FPJ riding in like bold Lochinvar to grab the Opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino’s nomination.

Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? However, for all his courage and chutzpah, Lacson seems to have forgotten the cardinal rule of politics, and this is contained in its age-old definition: "Politics is the art of the possible." In sum, if one defies reality, his candidacy becomes impossible.

The equally vital rule, not just in politics but in everyday existence, was expressed by the late American President John F. Kennedy. JFK said: "Life is not fair." The painful truth of this observation was demonstrated on November 22, 1963 – almost exactly 40 years ago – when the youthful, vigorous JFK, at the height of his popularity as his country’s handsomest and most charismatic president, was cut down by an assassin’s bullets in Dallas, Texas. At the airport, Kennedy had waved aside the bulletproof bubbletop of his presidential limousine, assured that the people of Dallas adored him. It took only one Harvey Lee Oswald with a rifle (perhaps he had confederates) and three bullets to kill Kennedy in his prime, destroy the "New Frontier", and throw an entire nation and much of the world into paroxysms of grief. Life is unfair. And death often comes at the most unfair moments, too.

Yesterday, Lacson, who had been running ahead of Poe in opinion polls, even shut the door on any possible nego-tiations. He stated he would not submit himself to the LDP’s selection process, but would run nonetheless, since he averred that the Opposition party‘s chairman Sen. Edgardo Angara, and Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III had already showed their bias by campaigning for FPJ. He called this "dictatorial".

The Opposition is now irreconcilably divided, unless somebody performs a miracle, and in this fractured society of ours, miracles are in short supply. Don’t forget, too, that former Education Secretary Raul Roco will be proclaimed by his own opposition pangkat this Sunday at the Folk Arts Theater as a definite candidate for the presidency. Can the Opposition "offensive" be divided three ways? Sorry na lang for them.

Not all the stubbornness, hubris, stupidity was on the Lacson camp‘s side (don’t forget, Ping’s "campaign manager" is Congressman Ronnie Zamora, of Marcos-time and Erap-regime fame). When FPJ made his announcement yesterday, it was naturally asked who would be his Vice Presidential runningmate. Without hesitation, Sotto told one and all it would be Sen. Loren Legarda. (Sanamagan, Tito, Loren’s cute and smart, but that blurted-out statement torpedoed any chance of dickering with Ping Lacson, who has ten times a more powerful following, and still plenty of backers.) Don’t lose sight of the definition: Politics is the art of the possible.

Loren, who once topped the Senatorial elections, could be useful, indeed, to FPJ’s campaign – but wouldn’t Lacson, with his blood-and-guts, tough-crackdown-on-crime-and-police-shenanigans image, be of more value to the Opposition phalanx? Susmariosep. When you’re jockeying for position before a bruising battle, never foreclose any of your options. Is it too late?

There’s no doubt the fetching Senadora Legarda has been single-mindedly campaigning to become FPJ’s runningmate for more than a month and a half, after it became clear that San Miguel Boss and ex-Governor/Ambassador Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco was not going to run. (Danding officially announced yesterday that he’s out of it, although it’s rumored he may invest as much as P1 billion in a candidate he believes is "best" for the country – which isn’t small beer).

As for Tito Sotto, he isn’t a shining light either, when compared to the Brothers Zamora (Ronnie and Manny). If the Opposition begins to appear like the Old Face of Yesterday’s scandals, (like Scrooge’s Ghosts of Christmas Past), against the Looters and Scalawags of Christmas Present, who’re also Pidal-ing their own canoe, the people may just throw up their hands and exclaim in despair: "What’s the use?"

It’s either a case of the Filipinos – not being ready for democracy, or else democracy not being ready for us Filipinos.

How could a nation once (believe it or not) admired and envied in Asia, and in equal measure resented, have fallen so low? We had the talent, the verve, the personality, the pizzazz. We even knew how to speak English (and retained some Spanish). Now, everywhere in Asia, we’re looked down upon, even pitied. We couldn’t stand success when we briefly had it. We can’t even stand pity today.

Is there a way back up – and, finally, to redemption and happiness? Only if we learn humility, and relearn generosity and love of country, rather than love of money. Yes, once upon a time there was a spot, in these sceptered isles, that resembled Camelot. Gone with the wind. Gone to grief.

Perhaps, as in Invictus, we may someday be able to battle our way up, from the black pit of despond, into the sunlight. But not if the mood we saw yesterday persists. FPJ’s announcement was greeted with jubilation in many quarters – quite inexplicably, it must be said, in some of the most unlikely. The Americans may even be toying with the hope there might emerge (with a little help from friends) another Ramon Magsaysay, and not of the Junior variety.

Yet the Lacson declaration, and the Sotto misdeclaration, put a damper on things.

* * *

As for President GMA, the readers who noticed it had a big laugh when they saw a big banner in a big-circulation daily newspaper: "WILL SHUN POLITICS FOR NOW – GMA."

Alas, it has been nothing but politics for months now, with the re-election campaign already in full swing long before GMA’s announcement she was (reluctantly?) going back on her word.

The common denominator one can verify in all the candidates, including GMA, is that all of them are making a sacrifice and running to "save" the country.

With so many terrific leaders earnestly trying to save us, why do we ingrates not feel guilty for feeling ungrateful?

Last Tuesday night’s gala premiere of the movie, CHAVIT (starring Cesar Montano, who’s almost as guapo as my cousin Chavit Singson) was a huge political and social success. Crowds deluged Cinema One in Megamall to view the three and a half hour epic (Why so short? It depicted only one-fourth of Chavit’s exciting life, not the x-rated).

We’ll leave it to the box office to decide the merits of this massive undertaking depicting Chavit‘s "fight for truth and justice". In any event, half of tout Manille was there for the grand opening, to see and be seen, not the least of them the President who came zooming in to demonstrate her affection for Chavit (thanks for toppling Erap etc.) and wave at the crowd, not in the pursuit of campaigning, of course. Sus, everybody was there from Imeldific (who was not arrested for defying the Sandiganbayan deadline for her return from abroad) to the glitterati of filmdom and politics, all of them actors and actresses strutting on life’s stage. Senator Bobby Barbers told all and sundry he was running for vice president, too, before departing, his broken arm in a sling, and ex-DENR Secretary Sonny Alvarez called Bobby, "the next vice president" (did he tell that to Loren, too, or Bayani Fernando?). And a good time was had by all.

The other half of Tooting Manille was in the NBC Tent in Bonifacio, getting high on Beaujolais Nouveau (a treacherously innocent-tasting wine) and snacking on French cheese, while onstage the Hunchback of Notre Dame hobbled around a buxom and beauteous Esmeralda, who was being "sexually harassed" to the tune of dance-music which sounded like Gregorian church music. Sacré bleu, such goings-on!

One thing can be said for this town. There’s never a dull moment. If we lost our "sense of doom", for instance, or the usual prophets of sunshine and moonshine stopped predicting that a "revolution", "coup", "mutiny", "bloody civil war", or "upheaval" (beware the people’s "wrath"!) was just around the corner, we’d all die of boredom.

Even Lito Camacho’s departure and the fall of the peso didn’t elicit the moans of dejection and despair they ought to have: It’s become all in a week’s disasters. Next Monday is another week. For, "in the long of time", as Amang Rodriguez said, "we shall success".

Keep on smiling, kids! We shall success!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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