MANILA, January 22, 2004 (STAR) Now that the manure has hit the fan, Malacañang has found itself on the receiving end of a stinking mess. How high up the damage will reach, we may know only on May 10.

National Archives chief Ricardo Manapat may deny all he want, but already he has lost much credibility in the eyes of the public. When not just one but three of your employees accuse you of falsifying public documents, you’re a candidate for the national penitentiary.

Neutral experts may still have to be called in to determine the authenticity of documents submitted by lawyer Victorino Fornier, accusing movie star Fernando Poe Jr. of lacking the citizenship requirement for the presidency. Manapat attested that the documents were authentic, and he may yet bring in his own witnesses to bolster his case. There is a legitimate constitutional question here that must be settled before a proper forum. As of yesterday, however, Fornier’s case was in tatters, and there were many who agreed with Poe’s friend, deposed President Joseph Estrada, who des-cribed the case as a hatchet job.

And what a sloppy job. If those three employees of the National Archives were telling the truth at the Senate, Malacañang will have to gua-rantee the prosecution of Manapat not only for deceiving the public but also for putting on the line the presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Even before this scandal, Poe was already seen as the frontrunner in the May presidential race. Now he is taking on the added cachet of being the underdog, a victim of official harassment, if not directly by Malacañang, then by the head of an agency that is under the Office of the President. The star-struck Philippine voter can ask for nothing more.

The only way for Malacañang to extricate itself from this one is by making sure the full force of the law is applied on anyone found to have engaged in the falsification of public documents. Even then, however, the damage to the administration will be incalculable. Someone is bound to reap the whirlwind come May, and it won’t be Fernando Poe Jr.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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