WASHINGTON, December 4, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - See? In its 4th Quarter Social Weather Report, SWS (Social Weather Stations) has just reported FPJ – Fernando Poe, Jr. – already the "1st choice of registered voters for President in 2004".

Asked who they would vote for "if elections were held today", the survey’s respondents replied: FPJ (25 percent), previous frontrunner Noli de Castro (24 percent), then Raul Roco (18 percent), President GMA (17 percent), Panfilo Lacson (10 percent), with six percent "undecided".

True, it’s early days, and it’s possible that, as one veteran, much-respected political analyst opined a few days ago, FPJ might eventually "self-destruct", but right now he’s rocketing upwards – only a week after he confirmed he’s running for President.

Mind you, FPJ has not even begun to campaign – and if reports are accurate, he’s down with the "flu". Is this political flu, or the real thing? Is he just malingering, while his think-tankers knock a political platform together? When da King emerges from his cave, and starts speaking for himself, not Sotto voce or Miriam-inspired, we’ll see what he’s really made of.

However, his fans, who can be surmised to number in the millions by mere calculation, are not even bothering to ask questions. He’s their "idol", and that’s that.

Another actor? That’s what they sneered in California when beefcake Terminator 3, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had the temerity to announce he was going for the Governorship in the recall elections. The powerful Los Angeles Times frontally attacked Arnie in a front-page series as Der Gropenfuehrer, citing the testimony of some indignant women who alleged he had groped them. Sanamagan, that cheeky Austrian-born Schwarzenegger still had his heavy Teutonic accent, and only one Spanish phrase, "Hasta la vista, Baby!" The laughter didn’t subside, but even amplified when he – to the surprise of many pundits – "terminated" his rivals, and was swept into the Governorship. Yet, let’s face it, Conan B. is now boss in the State Capitol in Sacramento. But that’s California, some may protest, where they do crazy things – the home of Hollywood and Disneyland.

What do you think we have here in this country? Hollywood East and Disneyland in real time, not merely visual reality. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Pacific-China Sea version, with real bullets.

FPJ for President? If you’ll notice, GMA wasn’t worried until he entered the lists. Once more: He may self-destruct. But there’s the possibility he might pull a Schwarzie. Or the Ronald Reagan hat trick. Or – shudder – do an Erap Estrada.

* * *

Instead of rejecting the idea, President Macapagal-Arroyo ought to seriously consider getting the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in cracking down on the escalating wave of kidnappings. The Chief Executive spurned the plea of the Chinese-Filipino community and other concerned sectors that she enlist FBI assistance.

Getting on her high horse, La Gloria reaffirmed confidence in her government’s efforts, and the just-cobbled-together National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force (Naktaf), now under Teacher’s Pet, the many-splendored former Defense Secretary now also anti-terrorism "Ambassador" Angelo T. Reyes.

Doesn’t our President get the message? Many of our frightened people don’t trust the police to tackle the problem because they believe our policemen are part of the problem, if not the masterminds and protectors of certain KFR gangs. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the perception. This is why both GMA and her "loyal" policemen don’t get cooperation from the victims’ families, or from the population in general.

Secretary Reyes has just published a Wanted List of top kidnap gang leaders, plus a series of rewards for their detection and capture. Let’s hope this works, but if you’ll recall, the kidnap syndicates by now have accumulated a much bigger cash reserve and war chest than the proffered bounty payments owing to the malevolent success of their "industry", which just keeps grinding on, despite the announcement of one government anti-crime drive after another.

One television report said the other day that in the past few years, kidnap victims have paid P1.3 billion in ransom. Wow. The cash return is even better than being a Senator with "pork barrel".

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone has already said that the FBI and other American law enforcement agencies are at the disposal of the Philippine government, if we so request. C’mon, GMA. Getting the G-men to join the anti-kidnap battle, and reinforce the dragnet, won’t hurt. Would calling for foreign assistance "insult" our sovereignty as well as hurt our pride? In this case, it’s false pride – and many of our citizenry would rather be insulted than kidnapped, or worse, murdered in the process.

This is a fight to the finish we’ll have to wage. If we don’t fight – we’re finished. Our society itself may fall apart. Foreign investments? Tourism? Forget it. On our mean streets, the name of the game is deteriorating into survival, not even a march, however feeble, towards progress.

* * *

I think the President, although beleaguered on many fronts, should also turn her attention to the many businesses and factories which are closing down, resulting in thousands of employees losing their jobs. How can we talk so glibly about attracting foreign investment, when it’s being broadcast abroad that scores of investors who put their faith and money into the Philippines not just yesterday, but thirty years ago, have now lost their shirts?

Even more detrimental to manufacturers here than the domestic and worldwide recession is the fact that aggressive labor federations, encouraged by the tacit support of some officials in the Department of Labor and Employment who are either leftist or outright avaricious, have been staging ruinous strikes which deal a "death blow" to already reeling enterprises.

What do the big shot labor federation chieftains care? They direct the poor, trusting workers in these small industries to go on strike to demand higher wages and more benefits when it’s already clear that business is awful and those enterprises are on the edge of bankruptcy. Dutifully, the workers and other personnel of those enterprises go on strike, despite the pleadings and warnings of their worried managers. The firm collapses. The misled strikers end up on their bums on the sidewalk, without employment. The federation leaders don’t seem to be personally affected. They’re not suffering. They didn’t lose their own "jobs". They have their pockets bulging anyway with union contributions. What were the intentions of those who instigated the welga? Were they bent on striking another telling blow in the "class struggle"? Anyway, this could be the malicious agenda of some firebrand agitators. The "destabilizers", Madam President, may not all be in the political opposition.

The other night I bumped into an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for some years. This is Armen Aslanian, who told me, to my surprise, that his company – which had been manufacturing "brassieres" and other women’s undergarments in the Philippines for the past 26 years – had ceased operations and shut down for good last September 30.

What? I exclaimed.

By way of background, Armen is an Armenian businessman who settled in this country, and put his heart into developing that export business which just went to pieces. After a colorful career, in which he had once even served in the Egyptian Army, Aslanian believed he had found a happy home here. (He was due to retire next year.)

When the demand for "bras" went down, owing to stiff foreign competition from lower-cost countries like Indonesia, China, etc., Armen managed to secure the franchise to manufacture Victoria’s Secret (the famous lingerie line) and another well known brand of swim-wear.

When the union in his firm suddenly filed a strike notice, Armen asked them not to do so since this would ruin the company. They went ahead anyway, put up their picket lines, and stopped production. Victoria’s Secret cancelled its contract, pulled out, and went to another country. (I don’t recall what Mr. Aslanian said, but I think he mentioned that the renowned brand transferred its operations to China.) The swim-wear line also decamped. The firm went belly up.

Would you believe? After Armen settled all separation payments and other goodbye-benefits for his 1,200 workers now jobless, a group of ex-employees calling themselves "the real Union" sued him in the Labor Department alleging "illegal" lock-out! Here is the poor guy, after paying millions of pesos in final settlements to his employees and with his company shuttered (never to reopen again), still having to defend himself from that weird case being entertained by the labor ministry!

Is this the way the GMA administration hopes to entice "new investment" to come into our country? Susmariosep. The President had better look into this.

Those 1,200 ex-workers, mostly from the squatter areas of Dasmarińas, Cavite, can’t say they’re better off today because they went "on strike". That’s the tragedy.

By the way, another big firm which had been manufacturing and exporting children’s garments for 33 years, Novelties Inc., also closed down for good last September 30 – leaving 4,000 employees out of work. The problem? Labor troubles and "losing business", of course.

Are the government’s so-called "populist" policies helping the poor, the working class, and the masa? America’s thoughtful President Abraham Lincoln, who rose from log cabin to President, from a laborer’s job as a rail-splitter to the White House, wisely warned:

"You do not uplift the poor by impoverishing the rich".

Armen Aslanian and small businessmen like him were not even among the "rich". They made a good living. They trusted and gainfully employed Filipino workers. And now they’re "bankrupt". Multiply this problem by scores of other shutdowns, and you’ll get a picture of what ails our nation today.

THE ROVING EYE . . . And what’s this? Out of the blue, we’ve got a "media advisory" purportedly coming from Rep. Agapito "Butz" Aquino (through "Armand Padilla"), declaring that their group of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino will "formally endorse Senator Panfilo Lacson as their presidential candidate for the 2004 election" at the Club Filipino in Greenhills today – Thursday – in a gathering to be held from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Gee whiz. There goes the LDP. Does this mean the Opposition is now split? I won’t say it’s "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", but this pre-emptive strike seems worse than the Bush doctrine. Abangan.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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