MANILA, December 31, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY by Max V. Soliven - Yesterday afternoon, I was told that Senator Loren Legarda (she’s dropped the Leviste, but perhaps only in press releases) may be announced today as the Vice Presidential runningmate of FPJ.

If this is true, we can only surmise that President Macapagal-Arroyo’s choice of Loren’s fellow ABS-CBN television star, Senator Noli de Castro, made it inevitable. To follow the GMA Formula, why not fight show biz with show biz?

Articulate, feisty Loren, of course, may not admit it publicly, but intimates allege she privately fumes at being lumped with Noli, although both (thanks to their being known nationwide for their TV roles) topped the Senatorial elections when they ran for the upper chamber.

"I achieved something as a Senator," Loren has said, "what has Noli done?" In sum, friends indicate, Legarda feels that she’s demonstrated by deed that she’s not just a pretty face, while De Castro has not gone beyond "Magandang Gabi, Bayan" and his rich baritone.

The usual wags are now quipping that if Panday wins (joke lang, GMA!) and Noli, from the opposite side gets elected Vice-President, the incoming Administration "will be called That’s Entertainment!"

And the theme song of the inauguration ceremonies won’t be, they mischievously add, "We say Mabuhay", but instead, "There’s no business like show business."

The Panday boosters roar back in rebuttal: "Show business? What’s wrong with that? What has the GMA Administration got to show except Monkey Business?"

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, though he’s contesting the polls with FPJ, surely joins in the condemnation chorus, vowing to overthrow "Mrs. Macapidal." Watch out, Ping. By dividing the vote, you’ll give Jose Pidal a chance to squelch you once and for all. But Ping believes he will win – egged on, of course, by the usual suspects, Congressman Butz Aquino, Congressman Ronnie Zamora (his brother Manny Karamazov wasn’t in evidence at the Comelec registration) and Erap-adviser Lito Banayo.

Incidentally, Lito has been broadly hinting that Ping might invite Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando to be his Vice Presidential team-mate. Fernando has declared he is resigning as MMDA chairman on January 5 and registering his candidacy on that deadline day with the Commission on Elections. The last we heard, Bayani will be filing for "Vice President," not Senator. Whose Vice President? Remains to be seen.

Former Education Secretary and ex-Senator Raul Roco, for his part, has unveiled The Almost-Forgotten Man, Hermie Aquino (no relation to Butz) as his Vice Presidential bet. Perhaps the electorate will remember Hermie by the time election day comes. He was a former Tarlac congressman who was defeated in his re-election bid by Jesli Lapus.

In the past week, winsome Loren Legarda – who has been shopping around for a Presidential team-mate (she even made a pilgrimage to Erap in Camp Capinpin) – had begun to look like "Little Orphan Annie", unwanted by any of the candidates, though she had a powerful backer in the persona of former Senate President Edong Angara.

Will she now make Mano Poe? If Panday picks her, then she’ll be off like a rocket – up and running. Lucky ABS-CBN: Namamangka sa dalawang ilog. (Private Tagalog joke, so I won’t translate it.)

We are truly living in confusing times. Interesting times, I must add. The Chinese, as oft-quoted, have an expression: "May you live in interesting times," This is not a blessing or a benediction of good will. It is a Cantonese curse.

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I had lunch with resigned Secretary of Trade and Industry, now Senatorial candidate, Manuel "Mar" Roxas, and incoming DTI Secretary-designate Cesar V. Purisima.

Mar confirmed that he will formally file his certificate of candidacy on January 5 (boy, there will be a traffic jam at the Comelec). He has, of course, been campaigning for months now – and I must say, although I guffawed over them at the beginning, Mar’s "Mr. Palengke" TV ads have gained him "face value" and upped his once miserable standing in the poll surveys. Food and food prices have always been one of the biggest issues of everyday life. This is why they are called "gut issues", since they affect the gut or the stomach.

Roxas sadly confessed he had been unable, in his closing months, to "solve" the problem of opening NAIA-3, or untangle the airport Terminal 3 conundrum, which continues to be ensnarled in the Piatco mess.

In effect, that knotty problem is being tossed into the lap of DTI Secretary-nominee Purisima who will take over the department in the New Year, after liquidating his assets in the private sector, which are considerable since Cesar is Chairman and Managing Partner of SGV & Co. (SyCip Gorres & Velayo), a member of the Global Executive Board of Ernst & Young (as well as the latter’s Global Practice Council), President and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the SGV Foundation, Inc., and Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Knowledge Institute, Inc.

Purisima received a Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois (1983), Bachelor of Science in Commerce, majors in Accounting and Financial Institutions from De La Salle University (1979) and was among the top placers in the October 1979 CPA Board. While his father hails from San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur next to my hometown, Cesar was born on April 3, 1960 in Davao City, and grew up in General Santos City. Alas, he doesn’t speak Ilocano. But if he resolutely tackles the NAIA-3 question and gets that embarrassing Terminal-3 finally "completed" and open for business, we’ll forgive him.

Incidentally, the giant German firm Fraport AG – which found itself mired in the Piatco Terminal-3 scandal, and found itself out of pocket as a result to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros – is being investigated by the German government. Fraport has been suing the GMA government in the court of international settlements, which gave the firm owned mainly by the Land of Hesse and Frankfurt itself "home court" advantage, but now the German Federal government is investigating Fraport in turn. Agents raided the company’s headquarters in Germany two weeks ago and carted more than a thousand documents away. There’s suspicion that Fraport officials had been involved in massive "bribery".

Whom did they bribe? Hmmmm. If and when the German Feds come up with the answer, the revelations could be very fascinating.

In the meantime, Roxas revealed at our lunch that a major reason NAIA-3 could not be "forced" open – a delay which has given us an international black-eye – is because to walk in the government has to surmount a thicket of legal challenges. It seems the President’s Chief Legal Counsel, Secretary Avelino "Nonong" Cruz, is reluctant to charge in. C’mon, Madam President, and c’mon, Nonong. People think you guys who came from "The Firm" are bold as brass. Kindly then, in the nation’s interest, show us some brass knuckles. Show us the political will and the courage to get that White Elephant finished and the terminal in operation. It’s deteriorating already – while our country’s name abroad is virtually going kaput. Hey! That’s a German word.

* * *

Last Tuesday could have been dubbed "A Day of Remembrance", but the President didn’t remember her pledge delivered on Rizal Day, December 30, exactly a year ago, that she would not run for re-election in order to be freed from politics. Now that she’s no longer free from politics, everybody I know is too weary or speechless to scold: "A promise is a promise".

Oh, well. There used to be a male chauvinist expression that "it’s the right of a woman to change her mind". What about a President? Does she have that right?

In a paragraph introducing the 1999 book, The American Leadership Tradition, written by Marvin Olasky of the University of Texas, Senator John Ashcroft – now US Attorney-General in the George W. Bush administration – asserted: "Public servants are teachers. This truth was impressed upon me by my service as Governor and Senator – that the teaching example of our leaders is profoundly important."

Teachers by example? What did the GMA flipflop – there’s no more subtle word for it – teach our people?

In the coming New Year, let’s see.

* * *

A safe and sane New Year’s celebration? Annually, our firecracker manufacturers earn P40 million in pre-New Year sales – that’s what a television newscast said the other day. When that P40 million goes up in smoke, in explosions actually, it’s inevitable that many will get hurt. The only way to stop "accidents" is to stop firecracker sales – or at least restrict firecrackers rigorously to tiny kwitis. The small ones which simply go pop-pop-pop. Some of our big ones explode like they were made by Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden, or by the departed and unmourned Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi.

But what’s this weird ploy of taping up the guns and machine-pistols of policemen to prevent them from firing into the air in New Year’s over-enthusiasm, and killing innocents by stray bullets? Sanamagan! This move doesn’t safeguard the public. It puts the safety of the people at risk. When criminals and killers strike, our cops must be ready to shoot back. Putting tape on their gun muzzles renders them helpless, instead of combat-ready. What is needed is to school our policemen in discipline and respect for their own badge of authority. It’s the tragedy of our country. We try to fix everything with tape.

Last night, our Philippine National Police Director-General, Hermogenes "Jun" Ebdane, Jr., celebrated his 55th birthday with a party, which his well-wishers programmed with a cheerful "Hawaiian motif". What we need is to get something like Hawaii Five-O. Although the dashing Jack Lord, who played that long-running TV series’ action hero (far antedating F-4 and Meteor Garden) died last year, everyone still remembers that tough, get-’em, and "book ’em, Danny" Team which made law enforcement both glamorous and effective. Sad to say, our policemen look less like Bay Watch than a bunch with bulging bay windows.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Chief! However, a reminder: Jueteng is still ongoing.

* * *

And a Happy, Hopeful New Year to everyone!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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