MANILA, NOVEMBER 28, 2003  (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - FPJ: An Erap repeat?

Ronnie Poe looks the same and he doesn’t look the same.

The resemblances are striking. FPJ and Erap Estrada are cut from the same bolt of cloth. In their prime, they looked like Adam on the day of creation – audacious, dashing, swashbuckling. And this is what they brought into their movie careers, the Robin Hood genre, fighters of the finest cut, fighters for the poor and oppressed. Their fists spat lethal lightning, their guns damnation. And always, always, the bad guys, the scalawags and the scoundrels, lay like discarded sweet peas on the floor, nevermore to defy these two indomitable warriors of the silver screen. They faded gloriously into the sunset after every fight. For decades, the movie audiences were rapt and roared their admiration. Erap. Da King.

This – largely – is what Joseph Estrada brought into politics. In the beginning, he was a sensation. In the end, he was an abject failure. His Erap para sa mahirap proved to be a despicable mirage. His "walang kumpadre, walang kaibigan" peroration was a falsehood, symbolized by that ne’er-do-well scoundrel Atong Ang who stuck to Estrada’s coattails with the tenacity of Al Capone. Erap was a midnight reveler, a lover of women, a gambler, builder of mansions for his mistresses, a part-time president who could prodigiously balance his love life but not the president’s books of account. Eventually, he was hounded out of the Palace by People Power and now stands trial for plunder, a capital offense.

This spectacular movie career too is what FPJ seeks to bring into the presidency. And, with Loren Legarda as his vice presidential teammate, he now seeks what Erap sought. Many are of the opinion FPJ, with his tremendous masa support, could very well succeed.

Will he? If the presidential elections were held today, it is unlikely FPJ will triumph. The surveys show him in fourth place at 12 to14 percent behind Raul Roco at 20 percent, and GMA at 16 to 17. Ping Lacson has 10. We are not factoring in the fabulous Kabayan, Noli de Castro, who currently leads at 27 percent. He has foresworn running for the presidency. But if GMA gets him as vice president, then you could have a battle royal shaping up. Bethlehem will break loose, you can be sure of that.

But of course, in the days and weeks and months ahead, FPJ could surge forth like a white streaking stallion in the Kentucky Derby, assuming his charisma, like that of Erap Estrada, spreads like a prairie fire.

And there are, of course, the differences. FPJ is clean as a hound’s tooth where money is concerned and will not – they say – dip his hands into Malacańang’s cookie jar. Asked why he was running for the presidency, FPJ replied with characteristic simplicity, "I am sincere, dedicated, and I love my country." That could very well be. In retrospect, many doubt that Erap Estrada was sincere, dedicated and loved his country. He certainly loved his wimmen. There is no indication so far that Ronnie Poe has a roving eye, a roving libido and legs roving in and out of boudoirs. He loves to drink however, they say, and can get into a blue funk.

Another difference. Where Erap grew into politics, and knows its grammar quite well, FPJ is an absolute, green-at-the-gills amateur. Erap could mount the hustings with the glib, almost silvery spiel of a snake oil merchant, and neighborhood humor thrown in. FPJ – anyway at first blush – doesn’t talk too much. He is not a jokester either. But he makes up for this with the physical gosh, golly and gadabout of a Russell Crowe entrancing the audiences with his gladiatorial prowess. See that FPJ face, as though carved out of Mount Rushmore?

Now to the core issue: Is FPJ "the candidate of the people."?

Even if he says so, even if his handlers like Senators Tito Sotto and Edgardo Angara say so, this "candidate of the people" pronouncement is a lot of bunk, blarney and balderdash. FPJ is no more a candidate of the people than Erap Estrada was. Once he enters the realm of traditional politics, FPJ will find out a hundred, a thousand hands and arms from the political elite will take him over. The logistics will not be his, it will be the party’s in this case, the LDP. The campaign strategy will not be his, again it will be the LDP’s core of experts calling the shots. Oh shure, the LDP nomenklatura will furnish him with a political, economic, and social program.

What the hell, this will be the easiest thing in the world to do. They also did this for Erap Estrada, gave him a cluster of financial and economic experts and "geniuses" like Mar Roxas, Titoy Pardo, Ed Espiritu and the like. But the whole thing bombed. Mr. Estrada failed to provide the most essential element – leadership. The thing is he didn’t know – and admitted it – from the very beginning what leadership was all about. What he knew couldn’t even fill half a thimble. And so Erap para sa mahirap danced the St. Vitus dance, and eventually lost its way to the kangkungan. One thing was sure from the very start. Estrada was in a political barbed wire enclosure operated by the elite. Except he couldn’t handle scandal. The elite let him go.

FPJ may very well be sincere.

But he has the naivete of a virgin blonde out to reform a brothel while in its employ as appointments secretary. This was also a blunder of the Left when their assigns were given choice positions by Estrada. They thought they could persuade Erap to pursue a populist course. The exposes of Ilocos Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" Singson showed Erap for what he really was – a poseur, a card-carrying member of la dolce vita, whose espousal of populist causes proved to be a fake reproduction of the Rosetta stone.

I am afraid that FPJ, assuming he enters Malacańang, will slip, stumble and sprawl on a litter of banana peels. If he thinks he can be his own man, he is dreaming. If he thinks he can assign his own worthies to the cabinet and important government posts, he is smoking an opium pipe. What is worse is that FPJ has opted to occupy the most difficult job in the Philippines – the presidency, no less. This is gall. Almost mountebankery.

FPJ knows next to nothing about this job. It’s like hiring a sloop to circumnavigate the globe, its captain completely ignorant of the ocean tides and turns along the way. FPJ enters presidential politics at a time knowledge has rocketed to a bewildering constellation of specialties and categories in science, economics, technology, international relations, cyberspace. This is an entirely new world where wars are fought differently, where multi-headed terrorism continues to rear its ugly head, where economic and political diplomacy requires a president who had the instinct to lead, the brains to cope with a battalia of problems, the gravitas to spot a silver lining when everything is dark. FPJ’s fists are simply useless in Malacańang.

I’m sorry, Ronnie, but I have to call a spade a spade. Your political handlers are depicting you as the greatest since Moses delivered his people to the Promised Land. Beware. They have an agenda for perpetuating themselves in riches and power. Like the proverbial beast of burden, they need you to pull their caravan across the desert.

And so, at this juncture, how will the campaign and the elections go?

First, we’ll see how the presidential surveys behave on a month-to-month basis. As a journalist, I have always placed great store by these surveys, principally the SWS (Social Weather Stations) and Pulse-Asia. We’ll find out if Raul Roco maintains his lead, and whether GMA closes in or slides down. And, of course, whether FPJ goes up like a rocket booster, becomes a trail-blazer or just remains on the frontline. Whatever Sen. Panfilo Lacson says about staying the course, and running for the presidency even if FPJ grabs the LDP nomination, I figure he is already a spent bullet. He can’t win.

Will the elections be clean, honest and orderly?

I twice told Raul Roco if the playing field was even (kung patas ang labanan), he had good if not strong chances. But knowing Philippine politics as we do and presidential elections as we do, I’m almost sure we are headed for a very stormy ride on a very stormy sea. Massive cheating will possibly be in the cards. Roco has no machine, no storm troopers. Instead of improving on or alleviating the counting, the introduction of computerization could further muddle the atmosphere, because much of the tabulation will still be by hand. And the computers could be rigged to "trend" a pre-selected winner. I foresee what could be the ugliest, most contested elections in our history.

As we have always said in this space, the 2004 elections may be our last. The last that is under the present constitution. That is if they are held at all. A campaign maelstrom seems to be building up as many shadows move, take position, prepare to lunge. The worst that can happen is a military takeover. The military, our military, simply is not fit to rule the Philippines. Nor were they fit in other countries, like Latin America, whose political, social and economic culture is akin to ours.

The military mostly resorted to killings, to political vendettas. Butchers they were, not enlightened political leaders. Remember Augusto Pinochet? And the bloodthirsty generals of Argentina and Brazil?

Caveat emptor. Let the purchaser beware.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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