MANILA, December 1, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - Fernando Poe Jr., alias FPJ, must find his tongue soon. Otherwise, too many people will be volunteering to speak for him – and, before you know it, he himself will be confused as to what he’s supposed to be promising the people.

It’s beginning to look like Ronnie Poe (his actual name) thinks the stage is equivalent to a platform – i.e., party or political platform. Upon reflection, he’ll realize that when you’re onstage, a prompter (or a teleprompter) throws your lines to you. All an actor has to do is mouth the prepared script. Or will FPJ, if he becomes President, simply walk around being pa-pogi, while lip-synching lines supplied by unseen puppeteers? Or, just as bad, simply drop all pretense and let assorted "advisers" speak for him?

Can you imagine Ang Panday letting somebody else pound the anvil for him, and using a stuntman to hammer the Bad Guys and various vicious kontrabidas in his place, while admiring his own muscle-flexing in the mirror?

It’s even worse than Manny Pacquiao delivering his lethal double-punch by proxy. When you’re in the ring, you’re the one who’s got to throw the punches, most of all the spectacular haymaker that decks your opponent and sends him crashing to the canvas.

The strong, silent type may be okay for the movies, but in politics you’ve got to stay something, not just smile, appear mysterious behind dark glasses, and light a candle to send your Christmas wishes out to your legions of adoring fans.

FPJ’s got the advantage of being the "idol" of millions, but idolatry only gets someone a certain distance – somewhere along the line, preferably before the New Year, a candidate has to clear his throat (and his head) and tell the huddled masa what he’s going to do for them, and at the same time convince middle class and the rich that he won’t rob them to help the poor, but instead give them the needed boost to get richer, so they can help and employ the masa.

And he’ll have to assure everybody that he’ll crack down on crime, on the corrupt, on the police (yep, they too) and ensure not just the physical survival of the citizenry, but also their economic redemption. Whew! What a mouthful. Alas, for FPJ, other mouths are speaking for him!

Anyway, the above-mentioned are the major concerns of the nation, but alas, outside of two or three one-liners, FPJ has not even begun to address them.

* * *

This is the land of "What should have been done". We’re all wiser after the fact, when ad hoc we tend to stumble. Many are now saying that FPJ should have sent former Senate President Edgardo Angara – who’s been one of his biggest boosters, anyway – to represent him before the Businessmen’s Bunch in the Manila Hotel, instead of Sen. Vicente Sotto III. Sure, Sotto is the Senate Minority Leader, and has been years in the Senate, and looks handsome indeed. But somehow you always expect him to drop that solemn demeanor he carefully cultivates and crack some silly or comic line – for he’s even better known as a comedian. Everyone I know still remembers him vividly as Tito Sotto of the hit comedy television series, Tito, Vic and Joey. The Senator was "Tito", while his brother "Vic" also starred in Eat Bulaga, and "Joey" is naturally Joey de Leon, remember?

Even when Tito Sotto vouched for FPJ being "a true Filipino" after Ang Panday’s "citizenship" came under unfair attack (his mother wasn’t related to Grace Kelly), listeners expected Sotto to follow this categorically expressed guarantee with a hilarious quip.

Angara would, at least, have convinced some of the skeptical businessmen-delegates to take FPJ’s candidacy seriously. Edong’s known sobriety – he sometimes sounds too much like a college professor (after all, he was U.P. president) – would have had a more salutary effect. But heck, it’s too late for Monday morning quarterbacking.

Or, FPJ could have sent over his charming wife, Ms. Susan Roces, to make Mano Po to the businessmen and bankers gathered at that conference. She could simply have expressed FPJ’s "regret" that he was ill, and unable to come himself. Then she would have won many of them over with her sweet smile. No need to expound on economics or business. (Some would scoff, of course, that when he ran for the presidency, Ferdinand E. Marcos was assailed as being a corrupt politician and a crook, to which the beauteous Imelda – she was not yet Imeldific – retorted in words to this effect: "Look at my (innocent and pretty) face. Do I appear to you like someone who would marry a crooked and corrupt husband?" They long afterwards couldn’t decide who deserved to be called more crooked.)

I think Susan and Ronnie, who’ve had an obviously happy marriage, untainted by scandal in a scandal-mongering and salacious society, won’t fall into such a pitfall. But FPJ might have "minders" and backers who may yank him around to support their own selfish and greedy agendas. That’s the question.

This is the doubt he must dispel.

* * *

Now comes former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago – only a week after she publicly declared she was "through with politics" (a newspaper even quoted her saying at the wake of her son that she was "removing herself from politics") – jumping back into the arena to speak for FPJ.

I wouldn’t have believed this amazing turnabout unless I had seen her myself on TV declaring that she was volunteering to represent FPJ in any public debates against other aspirants for the presidency. In Tagalog, Miriam challenged FPJ’s foes and the critics of his preparedness to lead the nation. As translated, she had asserted: "Let them show they are as smart as they claim they are. They say that Ronnie Poe knows nothing. Okay, I’ll face them for him!"

Sus, Miriam. By those words, haven’t you confirmed that you, too, believe that FPJ does not know enough to speak for himself? Or explain his proffered policies? Or defend himself?

Miriam was tragic in her bereavement, and I’m sure we all prayed for her to be strong and triumph over her grief. We join her in her anguish over her loss. But why this surprising change of mood? From the tearful to the bellicose and belligerent? I admire Miriam’s brilliance, and her gutsiness, but her tongue is too barbed and indiscriminate. FPJ doesn’t need a Miriam at this stage when he’s busily and necessarily engaged in winning friends. He will only inherit her enemies.

But that’s the problem. If Poe is speechless, it is a temptation for the ambitious and the self-seeking to jump into the breach and claim to be speaking for him. In these troubled and confusing times (although the masa and Erap’s minions are expected to vote mindlessly, and without hesitation for Ronnie Poe), we need a leader with a clear vision of the goal he is pursuing, and what he plans to do for our suffering and frightened populace. We need one clear voice, not a Tower of Babel.

In the meantime, the political Dirty Tricks Department is already hard at work, trying to demolish FPJ. That nasty "snippet" about him not being a natural-born Pinoy but instead a US citizen is the same outrageous ploy played against former Manila Mayor and Interior Secretary Fred Lim when he ran for President. (It was falsely claimed by the Wrecking Crew that he was a "Chinese", not a valid Filipino, until the very last minute.) In the case of FPJ, let the black propagandists beware. The movie action star is so popular that such a ploy is certain to backfire – and blow up in the faces of the instigators.

* * *

FPJ, and the other candidates out to supplant President GMA, had better do a fast double-take and consider the faces and characters of those who surround them. All of the contenders have too many Old Faces of Yesterday’s Crimes and Corrupt Activities clustered around them, hoping to ride back to power on their coat-tails. Or clutching to the horse-tail of Da King.

Consider those who shared the "HOPE" stage with former Senator Raul Roco last Sunday – one was a cop whose girl friend ran colorum buses with total disregard of the law, another was a "Lawyer of the Mob"; another a former big shot who had, in his heyday, clinched a number of megaback "deals". Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson has a group of fellows who made hay in three administrations, but were eased out in the GMA Administration by equally bulky crooks. All of those Has-Beens and Wanna-be-Agains have engraved on their sweaty palms (they have no hearts) the pledge, "I Shall Return", but NOT "I Shall Return the Money". Their consuming desire is to get back aboard the Gravy Train.

GMA’s pangkat, sad to say, appears no better. If she gets re-elected, with the help of God (not the Comelec?), they’ll become even more arrogant, as well as arrant in their knavery. Those "lifestyle" checks are being conducted by them, not on them.

As the witches of Endor used to chant, "double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble." This line describes the Year-End 2003, and New Year 2004 campaign. New election, old sinners – in every camp.

Is there a sun shining behind the dark cloud? Or is there, behind the dark cloud, an even darker cloud? Our only consolation is that, as the adage goes, God must love fools – He made so many of them. The one big plus in this country, is that, for all our cares and disappointments, and our fears, we remain foolishly happy.

Merry Christmas! That’s a greeting, not a solicitation.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . At 6:22 p.m. yesterday, a man boarded a northbound AC TRANS bus on Quezon Avenue. He was wearing a prominent Philippine STAR I.D. and started soliciting "contributions" for Bahay Kalinga, waving a certification supposedly coming from the Department of Social Welfare. He was able to collect from some of the bus passengers. Let me say this loud and clear: NOBODY is authorized by The Philippine STAR, this newspaper, to collect contributions for Bahay Kalinga (even though that project is a good thing, it is not ours). In short, no one can solicit in the name of The Philippine STAR. We have our own foundation, Operation Damayan.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved