MANILA, February 9, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - Election Day is still 90 days away. But this early more than half of those surveyed to be for Fernando Poe Jr. also said they won’t change their minds anymore. It was their voices that dominated radio listener reactions to news that Poe had confessed to siring a son out of wedlock. Honesty is the mark of a good leader, a male fan justified. Infidelity is normal among Filipino men, if not in movie circles, another explained. Having a son by a mistress is irrelevant, a housewife intoned. Asked by the show anchor if she would not mind her husband doing the same, she said she certainly will, but that "FPJ is different."

Such is Poe’s mystique. He can never do wrong. And that is why party mates predict he will take the election by storm.

In a land enamored with telenovelas and where people watch 26 movies a year on the average, that mystique is easy to understand. Two out of five Filipinos live in poverty. Public schooling is free, but one out of four pupils drops out of grade school, unable to cope for lack of iodine in their formative years or simply forced at a tender age to work the farm. Not blessed with a mechanical toy at childhood and never reaching grade levels for algebra and geometry, their analytical skills remain unhoned.

The result is not unlike inner America in 1936. That year the Gary Cooper Fan Club of San Antonio touted their man as president of the US. They claimed he had demonstrated great political ability in his movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Cooper must have chuckled at how a plain portrayal of a plain man giving plain answers to complex problems could so move his admirers. But he wasn’t one to let plain folks confuse reel life with real life. He had his publicists calmly explaining that Mr. Deeds was a fictional character. And that was that.

Today a handful of disgraced politicos are touting Poe as savior of a troubled Philippines. They proclaim without batting an eyelash, although probably with tongue in cheek, that Poe has proved his political ability in dozens of action flicks. And Poe is not one to dash their hopes. He obliges them by profferring his 40 years of acting as having prepared him indeed for the role of highest leader.

But will the Poe mystique stand the test of an intrusive campaign? Male and female politicians for or against Poe’s presidential bid, but all similarly gifted with his infidelity, welcomed his confession as a non-issue. Citing the candidness of his bosom pal Joseph Estrada before him, political analysts even said the admission could further boost his election chances. But slow and painful revelations of the truth that Poe is not a mystical hero after all could unmake his presidential dream. Days after he admitted to an illegitimate son, Poe’s spokesman had had to pre-emptively announce that he has two illegitimate daughters as well. The die-hard fans were not to be heard for radio reactions that day. They must have started to wonder what else would be unmasked about their screen idol.

The unmasking began weeks ago with the formation of his senatorial slate. Before that, he had always declared he was no stooge of his Pareng Erap. But when a couple of his candidates bolted camp, he readily gave in to Estrada’s request for the inclusion of son Jinggoy in the lineup. To this day Poe cannot explain why a man facing charges for the heinous crime of plunder, but is merely out on bail, is doing in his ticket.

Supporters must have been shocked when Poe shot his own foot in the case to disqualify him for not being a natural-born Filipino. A lawyer had charged that he was an illegitimate son of Allan Fernando Poe by an American woman and, following jurisprudence at the time, thus followed the citizenship of his mom. Poe, born in 1939, said the marriage contract of his parents would belie the imputation. But the contract he presented, dated 13 months after his birth, only bolstered the lawyer’s allegation. Fans must now be wondering if their idol realizes the implication of his act.

A report has leaked that when Poe met with two dozen Liberal Party members, he was asked what he thought were the solutions to the litany of economic woes that they recited. All he said was that he agreed with their observations. Businessmen have been pressing Poe to come up with a platform of government. He said that a group of university professors was still cobbling it up for him, but that he would unravel it in due time. Yet advance word about his kickoff rally tomorrow, the first formal day of the campaign, would be nothing more than a show biz extravaganza to be attended by more than a hundred movie-TV stars and produced by the same makers of the noontime variety show, Eat Bulaga.

To date Poe has consistently refused press interviews. The one time that reporters got close enough to him after breaking through his security cordon of stuntmen, he snarled at them for asking too many questions. They want to know more about him, ask him prying questions, like if it’s true that he has a drinking problem or that he’s controlled by the hated trapos (traditional politicos) around him. But he asks for understanding that he is inarticulate, that he is "lost for words."

In the meantime, it’s on with the show of stars that the fans scream to see. That’s what Poe’s supporters want, and that’s what they’ll get till Election Day. And it’s supposedly politically incorrect to ask why it should be so.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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