MANILA, December 19, 2003  (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - If you’re going to go by brains, experience, grasp of leadership and mayhaps integrity, your best bet for the 2004 presidential elections has to be Raul Roco. By far and by large, if the voting would be limited to the upper layers of the citizenry – Classes A to C – Raul Roco would run a race so fast and so overwhelming he would have the others biting his dust. Except that the 2004 elections will be dominated by the masses, swept by the masses, defined by the masses. And against the masses, Raul Roco is just helpless, like a torn kite in a gale.

They’ll vote FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) and no power in the world can stop him from planting his populist flag in Malacañang.

Somehow you can’t help but pity Roco. He has been on the hustings since more than a year ago. He has delivered more commencement addresses than any other Filipino, shook more hands, waded into the youth and studentry, touched base with more sectors of society. At the time I sort of helped as an adviser, nothing could dislodge him from leading the pack in presidential surveys. He was already "President Roco" to a lot of people. And so he was, because there was nobody in sight who even came near.

The first sign of trouble came when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came close to reversing her stand she wouldn’t run for the presidency in 2004. Even then, GMA wasn’t much of a threat. She had threaded the law of diminishing returns and still looked like a pushover. Until US President George W. Bush gave her the big boost she needed by getting her into the American anti-terrorist loop. When Uncle Sam pats you on the back, you’re somewhat in business. When George W. Bush lavished GMA with superlatives at a glittering White House reception, that was the high sign.

And so, La Gloria changed her mind. And started looking like a sure winner. Still Raul Roco remained very much in contention.

La Gloria and Sir Roco figured 2004 was their exclusive duel. Both figured wrong. Somebody who wasn’t saying anything suddenly landed front and center on the stage. His backers and boosters did the talking for him and – lo and behold! – Fernando Poe Jr, without even reciting the Lord’s Prayer, soon rocketed to the top of the ratings. FPJ is still climbing and it seems his ticket to fame and fortune sets a world record. He has said much, much less than any presidential aspirant I know. However speechless, his image is everywhere. Wherever you turn, you see FPJ.

What can stop him?

Massive cheating maybe. A military coup d’etat can also stand in the way, as we have repeatedly said before, or a declaration of a state of national emergency. How the assembled forces of FPJ – and they’re formidable – will react to cheating, this possible seizure of state power, this golpe, remains in the realm of speculation.

So much so that another friend of mine, Brother Eddie Villanueva, Pontifex Maximus of that vast religious congregation Jesus Is Lord, now contemplates entering the presidential fray.

In a fax message to this writer, Brother Eddie emphasized that today, the imperative need is a "righteous call to national transformation." And so in tandem, the BANGON PILIPINAS NATIONAL RENEWAL MOVEMENT has been launched. The purpose: "Principles of truth, justice and righteousness must be instituted in Philippine society" so there can be a moral reformation that results in economic recovery and social order." Nobody can quarrel with that.

I reckon Brother Eddie will enter the presidential fray despite my personal efforts to make him desist. I can easily accept his sincerity and honesty, and the fact that his JIL congregation has a membership of about seven million impresses me. But like Raul Roco, Brother Eddie should know he is up against an invasion from the planet Mars in the candidacy of FPJ.

They will eat him up. As they will eat up Raul Roco. And if Noli de Castro should toss his hat into the presidential ring, they will eat him up too.

They already have FPJ. More than that, they have the money, oodles of money by the billions. They have the machine, more guns, more goons, more gold than mine eyes have ever seen. Raul Roco and Brother Eddie play clean. They go by the rules of cricket while the massed frontline supporters of FPJ play by the rules of Hitler’s Brownshirts and Mussolini’s Blackshirts.

What price democracy then? If the best cannot make it?

This columnist has been accosted by many people, the bulk complete strangers, who ask me, with desperation in their eyes, whether the Philippines can still pull through. My reply invariably has been yes. But only if we can muster the courage, the will, the resolution to fight the battles of the future. While the old order giveth, the new emergeth only with a lot of blood, tears and sweat.

Anyway, we watch. That’s all we can do right now.

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Readers seek webb freedom

I didn’t know my last column on the Supreme Court and Hubert Webb had touched a vibrant nerve, an unexpected reaction I would say. In the long ago past, whatever I wrote on the Vizconde massacre case had the effect of a brickwall falling on my head. Readers were irate. Many said I had sold out to the defense, the Webbs, to piles of money. Very few, if any, took my side. I wrote again and again that the young Webb was innocent, that her accuser Jessica Alfaro was an outright phoney, that judge Amelita Tolentino handled the case with glasses dipped in devil’s goo.

Now after the passage of 7-8 years, the outrage appears to have disappeared. The pendulum has swung to Hubert.

I have received a flock of letters since that last column where I besought the Supreme Court to reverse Judge Tolentino’s guilty verdict and order the release of Hubert Webb posthaste. Sires, isn’t justice delayed justice denied?. Surely by this time, the High Court has long concluded its review and found the youngster absolutely innocent. Why then the delay? Why prolong Hubert’s suffering, and that of his co-accused? If the Court was looking for "reasonable doubt" to justify reversal of Tolentino’s sentence, this doubt was all there, everywhere, strewn like the sands of the sea.

Two US secretaries of state, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, swore to the authenticity of government documents to the effect Hubert Webb was in America when the Vizcondes were killed the night of June 30, 1991. C’ mon, your lordships, you cannot be blind to this.

Here are just a few of the letters.

Vince de la Rosa of Chicago, IL, writes that Judge Tolentino "must have tons of bias against Hubert. She convicted a guy who was in the States on the day the crime was committed. Even a lowly traffic court judge in Chicago would have accepted that air-tight alibi. Maybe, it’s time to tinker with the country’s judicial system. Trial by jury may not be perfect, but it sure can offset a judge’s personal prejudice against a defendant. By the way, the only guy I know (my UST religion teachers told me so) who was capable of bilocation was St. Martin de Porres."

Art Alafriz of Vancouver, Canada, says my column "confirms the belief of many people that Hubert Webb was innocent of the crime for which he is now patheticdally serving sentence. Just the evidence of the US State Department should have created a reasonable doubt in his guilt. Hopefully like here in Canada and in the US, someone with character should reopen the case."

Kathee Sanchez of Cebu City writes:

"I am one of the few people who believed Hubert’s innocence. I feel the Supreme Court has failed to see the important details that would have freed the former senator’s son. I could feel his suffering. I nearly cried when I saw Hubert in one rare TV appearance a year ago. I just wish that Hubert will be freed soon. Thank you for being so brutally frank in your column. I have always admired you. I remember you were the only person who interviewed Hubert shortly before he surrendered to the authorities. Despite the majority’s clamor to jail him, you stood by your judgement. And I salute you for that. Merry Christmas and more power to you."

Adelia Rosales of Kamuning, Quezon City, writes:

"I join you wholeheartedly in asking the Supreme Court to give back to Hubert Webb his freedom. I salute the law, but when it infrequently commits mistakes as in this case of Hubert, it has already condemned him to eight terrible years in prison. How can the government make up for all these years of suffering, agony and deprivation? It is cruel. The least the Supreme Court can do is free Hubert as soon as possible so he can enjoy Christmas and the New Year with his family and loved ones."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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