COLUMN: DAMAGE CONTROL

MANILA, January 23, 2004 (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan - Letís see if the President formerly known as GMA (and Ate Glo) can survive this one.

Yesterday President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo relieved Ricardo Manapat as head of the National Archives, a day after he was accused of ordering the falsification of documents against presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

Since the National Archives is under the Office of the President, everyone smells something fishy, and the stink appears to be coming from the Palace by the Pasig. FPJ the superstar now has additional appeal Ė heís FPJ the persecuted martyr. For the Pinoy voter who loves watching movies with a lot of weeping, screaming and hair-pulling, a script canít get any better than this.

And it canít get any worse for the administration, whose candidate now has to live down not only a scandal over some creep named Jose Pidal, but also suspicions that it is behind a "hatchet job" (Joseph Estradaís words) on the Presidentís strongest rival.

The wrecking crew in this scandal deserves to be thrown into the Pasig and left there to rot with the floating bodies and discarded fetuses routinely fished out of the river.

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Manapat isnít going to be led into a dingy detention cell for forgery without a fight. Yesterday he filed a formal complaint against his accusers for perjury.

There is no question, however, that this effort to disqualify FPJ from running could have been handled with so much more finesse. After all, as Senate President Franklin Drilon pointed out yesterday, documents submitted by Poe himself to the Commission on Elections could provide enough grounds for the disqualification.

The documents clearly show that Poe was born out of wedlock, with his parents getting married only a year after his birth. So at the time of his birth Poe was an illegitimate child and he took the citizenship of his American mother.

Can "natural-born" status be retroactive? Drilon, a former secretary of justice and executive secretary, wouldnít touch this one; he said the case might have to be decided by the Supreme Court.

I bet even FPJ himself is confused.

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FPJ will have to emerge from his warm cocoon soon and allow the nation to get to know him better. We have to see FPJ field questions in an ambush interview, where supporters canít be planted to ask rehearsed questions. His refusal to talk about the controversies surrounding him is starting to look like the silence of the guilty. Does he know something we donít, and he will tell only if caught red-handed?

People who have known him for years swear that FPJ is a decent fellow, kind and helpful to anyone in need. He regularly gives to charity but wants anonymity, Iíve been told. When he says heís honest and owes no one any favors, you have to believe him.

But you donít sell honesty to the electorate by foisting a major deception upon the filing of your candidacy. And you donít sell honesty when you are surrounded by a bunch of recycled buccaneers, who are likely to have a major say in running the affairs of government in a Poe presidency.

Poeís citizenship isnít the only item being questioned. Now heís being asked to explain his income tax payments, which are supposed to be so small he must have the same accountant as Imelda Marcos.

Can a suspected tax evader become president? Sure, as long as you can come up with a good explanation of those assets and liabilities. Tax evaders are all over Congress; why not at MalacaŮang? But how can we get an explanation if the candidate isnít talking?

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Still, no matter what dirt anyone tries to throw at FPJ, it should not look like the handiwork of any campís dirty tricks department. And thatís what the Manapat case looks like at this point, unless he can prove soon that his three subordinates lied to the Senate.

I donít think the ordinary Pinoy voter is swayed by questions about citizenship, especially if the citizenship is American. Given the opportunity, there are Filipinos who would probably even vote for a natural-born American, with no pretense at being Filipino, for president of the Philippines. Ask perennial presidential candidate Ely Pamatong, whose platform is US statehood for the Philippines. (Why did he handcuff himself to the Comelec gate the other day? The heat probably got to him.)

Remember that survey on trust, where Filipinos picked US President George W. Bush as the most trustworthy person, ahead of Philippine officials? Thatís colonial mentality for you. So why would Filipinos mind if FPJ, superstar and frontrunner in the presidential race, is an American citizen?

And if weíre nitpicking about constitutional provisions, how come no one has disqualified Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord movement? Whereís the separation of church and state here? Imagine what will happen if EraŮo Manalo of the Iglesia ni Cristo or Mike Velarde of El Shaddai ran for president.

This is the problem in a weak republic where the rule of law is a joke. When you finally try to implement the law, as in the case of Fernando Poe Jr., and you slip up big time, you will inevitably be accused of political harassment.

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Which is why President Arroyo should come down hard on anyone found to have been involved in forging documents to disqualify her main rival for the presidency.

If that perception of political harassment of FPJ persists until May, it will be candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who will bear the brunt of votersí wrath.

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NEW YEAR VISITORS: You know itís election season when presidential candidates celebrate the Lunar New Year with the Chinese-Filipino community. Tsinoy leaders were good at traffic management; they made sure the candidates would not bump into each other. So Sen. Panfilo Lacson visited Chinatown on the eve of the New Year while President Arroyo lit incense sticks hours later. Raul Roco went to a Chinese temple in Malate. Where was FPJ? Sorry, he still has to get used to the idea of having people see him without paying at the box office.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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