MANILA, December 1, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The new kid on the block, aspirant Fernando Poe Jr., perhaps cannot be blamed for deciding to be a "no show" at the 29th Philippine Business Conference at the Manila Hotel. Sus, those businessmen might have maliciously been waiting in ambush for him with questions about… well, business and the economy. (As it turned out, most of the business-delegates’ worries were about security, peace and order, and government corruption.)

Senator Panfilo Lacson and former Senator/Secretary Raul Roco showed up, and gave good presentations of their own platforms, Lacson’s being particularly impressive. Indeed, the public is clamoring for a tough, no-nonsense, give-’em-no—quarter crime fighter, particularly someone who can clean up the police.

For his part, FPJ’s cop-out, while it shielded him from early embarrassment (obviously, he‘s not ready to pronounce his platform, outside of flashing that two-fingered "peace" or "victory" sign), reinforced the slander being assiduously disseminated by his rivals and critics that he doesn’t have any idea about how to run the country, outside of his "Erap-style" heroic lines culled from his past action movies.

In any event, FPJ used the oldest dodge in the book, the excuse that he was "running a fever". (Used that myself in grade school, I’m ashamed to admit, since I’m no George Washington who didn’t chop down the cherry tree.)

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What’s disquieting, too, is that FPJ sent the wrong envoy to deliver his alibi, "represent" him, and read a speech that his messenger said Poe had personally been raring to deliver, but could not, since he is "nursing a fever". Indeed, in a 5-page letter to the conference organizers, FPJ outlined some sketchy initiatives.

Okay. Why was Senator Vicente Sotto III the wrong emissary? Sotto is already too well-known to be FPJ’s "bosom buddy", and his going to Manila Hotel may have served to confirm that Da King’s royal court, if he gets to be formally crowned in the Palace, will be composed mainly of his old-time pals among the show biz personalities. Though they will clearly look and sing much better than the current "Three Terrors", will their sage advice be more meaningful in tackling the nation’s problems, the economy’s and peso’s woes, the desperate state of criminality, and our corrupt justice system?

Then there’s the glimmer of suspicion – mind you, just a suspicion – that Senator Sotto (whose platform in the Senate was prominently "anti-drugs") was too buddy-buddy with the Chinese "hollow-block" manufacturer who was found manufacturing shabu (deadly metham-phetamines) in his water-surrounded compound in deepest Lubao, Pampanga, by coincidence the hometown of President GMA. Sanamagan, what a scandal that was – but it soon disappeared from public view and controversy. The case against the Chinese-Filipino suspect was dismissed by the court "for lack of evidence". Wow, that fellow miraculously got off the hook!

What happened to the hue and cry about it? It simply evaporated. This is not reassuring. It is terrifying. We in the media, surely, are not blameless. Either our attention-span is short, or we are too easily cozened, fooled, or "persuaded".

As for Senator Sotto, it’s important to say that nothing was ever proved against him, establishing complicity or that he had been this Lubao naughty fellow’s "protector". But it’s like when you emerge from a room filled with cigarette and cigar puffers – the faint smell lingers.

Those of us who’ve known FPJ (or Ronnie) for years, and who know he’s a straight-shooter don’t want him "categorized" so early in this campaign as having so narrow a circle of cronies that he won’t, as he announced, be a "President of all Filipinos" – but only of a very few. Already, Malacańang has been trumpeting the warning that GMA’s opponents will be funded by an immense amount set aside as a war chest by the "narco kings", the druglords whose multibillion-peso empire is growing alarmingly by the day in this archipelago. FPJ, if he’s smart, even just street-smart, would do well to shun anything – anything at all – on which the Palace spin-doctors and propagandists can pin an odious label.

When the President declares that her "rivals" should stop politicking and enable the people to peacefully enjoy the Christmas holiday season, she certainly did not mean she was also giving the Administration’s Wrecking Crews a holiday, too.

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For his part, survey frontrunner Raul Roco rallied 10,000 ardent boosters yesterday at his convention in the Folk Arts Theater by announcing his "Agenda of Hope".

But what the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and other international cable news networks got from the proclamation convention was Roco’s threat that, if the government "cheated" in the coming elections (meaning, cheated him, of course), the people must descend in a mob on Malacańang to sweep the bad you-know-whom from power.

"If they will cheat," Roco roared to the cheers of his supporters, "we will charge to Malacańang on my command!" Aba, already the commander-in-chief? All this violent talk indicates that GMA’s rivals believe she will try using the Commission on Elections to perpetuate herself in office. Unfortunately, Comelec Chairman Ben Abalos still has to work much harder than he’s currently doing to dispel that impression.

Yet, why did Raul junk his earlier statesmanlike style so abruptly at the Folk Arts Theater? Possibly it was to dispel the notion that he’s too tepid. Yet, threats to invoke "People Power" (what else was he talking about?) hurt us, both domestically and internationally. We are already being dismissed abroad as a country in which there‘s a revolution or coup alert every minute. Ergo, we are an unstable nation.

With so many bocas grandes dominating the everyday scene, the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" is no longer a fairy-tale, it’s everyday news.

People Power? The first time it was glorious. Today, it’s in danger of becoming self-defeating, tiresome and obnoxious.

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Finally, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita has officially admitted that Jemaah Islamiyah militants have been training Muslim "insurgents" (terrorists, say it, please!) in Mindanao with funds believed to be supplied by al-Qaeda.

It’s about time.

What Ermita is still not willing to concede is the fact that these terrorist training camps – one at Mount Cararao and another elsewhere in Mindanao – are being blatantly operated by the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government, led by Ermita himself, has been parleying in an on-again-off-again peace process, sponsored by Kuala Lumpur.

Ermita said he did not want to accuse the MILF leadership of bad faith, but urged them to spank their local commanders (or words to that effect) for cooperating with the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists – you know, the monsters who bombed those tourists in Bali killing 202 in October 2002, the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, killing 12 – and were the al-Ghozi bunch who bombed that LRT coach and the Metro Manila bus in December 2000, let’s not forget. The JI and their cohorts killed dozens of Filipinos, too.

So, let’s stop kidding ourselves. This Administration and its Surrender Gang have been in a state of denial about those Moro rebels for too long. The Wolf is at our door, with bombs in hand – and, what’s more, the brotherhood of that Wolf is training terrorists in our country to menace other lands.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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