MANILA, December 4, 2003  (STAR) A second movie star leader for the Philippines need not be a disaster for the country if he avoids bad advice, Vice President Teofisto Guingona said yesterday.

Local movie icon and high school dropout Fernando Poe, known to generations of fans as "FPJ" and "Da King" of action movies, has a serious chance of beating President Arroyo in the May elections, independent surveys have shown.

Poe wants to follow in the footsteps of his friend Joseph Estrada, who stormed into power with a landslide win in 1998 but was toppled after being embroiled in a massive corruption scandal three years later.

Asked if a Poe presidency would be a disaster for the country, Guingona, a fierce Arroyo critic, told a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap): "No, not necessarily."

Even Estrada, accused of plundering a P43-billion fortune in his 31 months in office, "had the potential" to become a good leader, Guingona said.

"But it seems that his perceptions were influenced by friends whose agenda was not for the good of the nation, but... for their own benefit. And they shared the agenda with him, including the profits," he said.

Guingona warned that a Poe presidency could be subject to the same temptations, "but it is unfair to say that he (Poe) and Estrada are of the same mould."

The financial markets wobbled and the peso fell to an all-time low of 55.85 against the dollar last week when Poe declared his candidacy.

Many businessmen fear his political inexperience would be bad for the economy and that he would pardon his friend Estrada, jailed and on trial for corruption.

Guingona admitted that "one of my options was to run" for president, but added without giving details that "circumstances have made me decide not to pursue it."

Picked by Mrs. Arroyo to be the vice president when she assumed Estrada’s post, Guingona swiftly fell out with her after she allowed US anti-terror troops to be deployed in the southern Philippines. He later quit the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Guingona denounced "intelligence operatives" allegedly belonging to the National Security Council (NSC) for "feeding President Arroyo malicious information" that he and his newly organized advocacy group Bangon! were involved in a plot to overthrow the government.

Appearing before the Focap forum, Guingona also said government intelligence agents are wasting public funds in conducting surveillance operations on him and the convenors of Bangon!, a multisectoral alliance of civil society groups advocating nationalism and reform in government.

"Quite clearly, a police state mentality is creeping into the administration," Guingona said. "They have no right to spy on me. I have not done anything wrong. Their allegations are baseless, malicious and malevolent."

He added that "it is disturbing, distressing and deplorable that President Arroyo is reportedly being told by her not too imaginative, so-called intelligence operatives that Tito Guingona is engaged in treasonous acts. As Vice President of this republic, as leader of Bangon!, as a freedom-loving Filipino who fought the (Marcos) dictatorship, I categorically deny — and condemn — the allegations against my person and Bangon!"

Guingona may have been reacting to a newspaper report quoting "Malacañang intelligence sources" as saying that the Palace is watching the activities of Bangon!, which was allegedly involved in a plot to overthrow the Arroyo administration.

The report said Guingona and former executive secretary Renato de Villa, founder of the Reporma party, met with two retired generals in October to discuss "ways and means of dislodging Mrs. Arroyo from Malacañang, as they are said to be convinced that the elections will be manipulated to ensure for Mrs. Arroyo a presidential victory."

In a brief statement released by the Palace, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Guingona "must have been misquoted or misinformed when he reportedly stated that the government is spying on him."

Golez said the vice president "is a very open person and all we need to do is read about him in the newspapers or tune in to the news or even talk to him or his daughter, Marie; they are both personally close to me."

"We also respect (Guingona) as a staunch constitutionalist and a firm enemy of any extra-constitutional effort," Golez said. "We assure the vice president of our highest esteem and respect."

It will be recalled that the President admitted Monday that she received "inaccurate" intelligence reports of a coup attempt that prompted the issuance of a battle alert to all presidential security troops at the Palace Sunday.

Guingona said he had a breakfast meeting with De Villa and other individuals on Oct. 16 and not on Oct. 18 as was allegedly reported by government intelligence agents.

"There was nothing secret nor sinister about the breakfast gathering of friends," Guingona said. "Those also present at the meeting in my residence were former agriculture secretary and Reporma vice chairman Roberto Sebastian, former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Jose Mari Gerochi, former University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law dean Merlin Magallona, lawyer Ricardo Nepomuceno, my chief of staff Atty. Jimmy Guerrero and spokesman Danilo Venida."

When asked what could be the motive for the government to spy on him and Bangon!, Guingona said "perhaps they fear that Bangon’s reform initiatives could further expose the ineptitude of the administration." — AFP, Sammy Santos

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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