MANILA, February 15, 2004
 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - Those ugly rumors that the Supreme Court is poised to "disqualify" the President’s major challenger, Fernando Poe Jr. (alias Ronald Allan), are being spread by lawyers and their propaganda machine very close to you-already-know-whom. The intent of the psy-war blitz? To discourage businessmen, financiers and would-be supporters from "giving" to FPJ.

This seems to already have had their malevolently-desired effect. Some biggies in the financial world suddenly became "scarce" when contribution time fell due. The message the "dirty tactics" wizards wished to convey has struck home: Why waste your money on a candidate who’ll be knocked out of the running?

It’s not a war for hearts and minds the big boys are waging. It’s one for hearts and pocketbooks. Remember, Germany’s greatest military blitzkrieg genius in World War II, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, lost the North African campaign when the formidable tanks of his Afrika Korps ran out of gas and supplies.

Just as "Da Emperor" of movies, the dashing, extremely popular Rogelio "Roger" de la Rosa, ran out of gas when he was on the verge of pummeling both the incumbent President Carlos P. Garcia and his own brother-in-law, Diosdado Macapagal, in 1960, the tacticians of the Administration appear determined to derail "Da King" of movies, FPJ, by denying him both gas and funding.

Panday’s own legion of fans, increasingly angry and alarmed, are in turn growing very combative.

FPJ himself has been baited into emotionally telling a mammoth crowd in Mariveles, Bataan, indignantly referring to those striving to knock him out of the race by "false charges" he wasn’t a "natural-born" Filipino: "Baka sila ang hindi na sisikatan ng araw!" (They might not be able to see the next light of day!). The crowd roared, recognizing that line from one of Poe’s most popular movies. He may sound like he uttered that threat with tongue-in-check but the situation could still turn deadly serious.

Many of us remember that movie. I checked with my friends, but for the life of me, we couldn’t remember its name. However, this was one of the action flickers in which Eddie Garcia (who often played the "heavy" or kontrabida kicking the "hero" FPJ around – before he got his comeuppance) does his villainous thing: you know, he and his evil gang kicking Poe around and tormenting his friends and loved ones. Finally erupting in fury against this injustice, Poe beats Eddie G. to a pulp, then – in a cemetery – walls him up in a concrete "tomb", burying him literally alive, vowing the villain won’t ever see the light of another day. Corny and even cruel, but the movie audience convulsed into cheers, deeming this poetic justice. The Good conquering the Bad.

Who does FPJ intend to "wall up" this time? Imaginations will run riot on this score.

The Administration propagandists will make much of this bellicose "threat", it’s certain, in the days to come.

In any event, a veteran foreign correspondent (from Europe) says he was amazed at the size of the Mariveles crowd which turned out to hail Lawin alias Poe. The journalist, who had covered the visit of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to Manila in January 1995, observed that it seemed as many fans turned out to welcome FPJ as the faithful who rallied to hail the Holy Father in Manila. No comparison intended, of course, between the sainted John Paul, alias Papa Karol Wojtyla, and Ronnie Poe, our fellow pilgrim in this vale of tears, who’s already confessed his . . . er, sin.

* * *

Although the hearing before the High Court of the disqualification case against FPJ is still five days away, next Thursday, February 19th, and Poe himself hasn’t as yet submitted his answer to the petitions filed against him by the Forniers and others, rumor has run rife that the Supreme Court is poised to knock him out of the Presidential race. One morning daily literally announced last Friday that FPJ’s ouster from the contest is already a "done deal" – citing alleged Supreme Court "sources".

My own sources tell me, in contrast, that there’s absolutely no basis for this tale being assiduously spread and gaining widespread acceptance in the business sector – aside from the accusation that Poe is a "space cadet" or ignoramus when it comes to economics, business and finance. The conjecture the SC will disqualify Poe is largely based on the arithmetic of suspicion. Seven Justices of the Supreme Court have been directly appointed by President Macapagal-Arroyo and the easy presumption is that, in "gratitude" or servitude, they will do her bidding.

Well, while the members of the Court have indubitably started to read the petitions and begun their own individual research on the issues raised, they have not conferred with each other, much less "colluded". A member of the Court confided to me that "we have not talked to each other about the issues raised in the petitions".

Would the Justices of the Court slavishly do the bidding of, say, Malacańang or the "friends" of the Palace? Would Justices, who’ll have to live with their "decision" for the rest of their lives, risk their honor and reputation by making a cock-eyed vote here? The case, I feel, will – and must be – decided on whether FPJ is a natural-born Filipino, pursuant to Section 2 of Article VII of the Constitution, which declares, "no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines."

Let’s review how the Supreme Court voted in the past. The decision upholding the de jure character of GMA’s assumption of the Presidency was a unanimous 13-0, with Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Justice Artemio Panganiban abstaining. In the 13-0 unanimous ruling against President Joseph Estrada, even Erap’s own appointees voted to uphold GMA’s de jure Presidency. In the case involving the constitutionality of the Plunder Law, which President Estrada and his lawyers assailed, two of his appointees – namely, Justice Arturo Buena and the late Justice Sabino de Leon – voted against the former President.

We shall have to trust that the High Tribunal will continue to vote in a just manner. It’s not a "numbers game". Indeed, it’s not a game. It’s a question of justice.

In the meantime, FPJ and his campaign managers (some of the latter have really gone overboard) should curb their tongues, and stop hurling threatening statements. Such incendiary remarks – pananakot in effect – might be taken by the Supreme Court as threats against the Tribunal intended to intimidate its members to rule in favor of FPJ.

Of course, there’s always the possibility, perhaps even the probability of violence and anarchy – but FPJ and his well-known pangkat should never be the ones to mention it.

* * *

Last Friday, The Financial Times of London took a dig at FPJ, while, in the concluding paragraphs of the article, made the almost fearful observation that he might win.

The prestigious FT, which is published simultaneously worldwide, ran a six-column story, illustrated by graphs indicating our country’s rising external debt, the plummeting peso exchange rate, with a dour-faced photo of "Fernando Poe Junior" with a worried frown on his brow, and eyes peering anxiously out of his semi-dark glasses. Gee, if you talk about sour hints, that photo montage spoke volumes about the FT’s editors lack of confidence in Panday’s economic abilities.

The piece, written by Victor Mallet and Roel Landigan, was headlined: "Public Sector Debt Weights Heavily on Manila," and the subtitle, even more dolorous, went: "Some economists say the Philippines could be heading towards an Argentina-style crisis."

Susmariosep, papano Poe? In any event, the analysis went thus: "When Fernando Poe, Jr., the Filipino film actor, launched his bid for the country’s presidency on Tuesday with a musical extravaganza starring the Sex Bomb Dancers, it did not just signal the start of a lively election campaign.

"Mr. Poe’s popularity with voters, combined with his ignorance of economic policy and the murky reputations of some of his political backers, has deepened fears among investors that the Philippines is headed towards a debt crisis.

"Economists are comparing the Philippines with another former Spanish colony half a world away across the Pacific: Argentina, notorious among bond investors for having defaulted on $100 billion in debt."

The international daily cited a Standard Chartered Bank report comparing the Philippines and Argentina, which said "an uncontrollable debt spiral in the Philippines is unlikely but not impossible in the next five years, given the already high level of public debt," which further said, that "there is evidence of a vicious cycle emerging, with almost half of government revenues being used to service the debt".

My comment is: Why blame FPJ then? All the above has been the doing of the GMA government, and that of her predecessors. But, particularly, I must point out, the non-stop foreign borrowing of GMA’s finance and economic geniuses aggravated the situation. FPJ’s problem, of course, is that business and foreign circles don’t seem to believe he’s got what it takes to tackle, or solve this crisis. He has to disprove this notion – which is why the coming weeks are crucial to his image-building.

The FT article concludes: "In this first week campaigning for the May election, Mr. Poe, the actor, is clear favorite to become the country’s next president. If he does win, he will have much to prove.

"He will need more than the bare midriffs of the Sex Bomb Dancers to stop the Philippines becoming the next Argentina."

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . The GRP (Philippine) delegation to the Oslo Peace Talks with Joma Sison and ex-Padre Luis Jalandoni must have given unwritten assurances to Joma and his pal that the GMA Government will strive to erase the "terrorist" label from them. This is why, all of a sudden, there’s an ambiguously-worded "OSLO JOINT STATEMENT" from the two warring sides, which Jalandoni now describes as "an important step forward". For whom? Not us, quite obviously. But how will that strong label be erased, or rubbed off? The United States and the European Union, who slapped the "terrorist" tag on Sison and his Red Gang, aren’t going to budge on President GMA’s mere say-so or all the tears of our government. I’m disgusted and disappointed, I don’t hesitate to say, at our government’s mealy-mouthed "surrender" approach, just so some cheap "advance" can be brandished as an "achievement" for the coming elections. How can surrender be an achievement? And why release those 24 leftist prisoners before any real negotiations have begun and a real agreement reached? Jalandoni is mentioning a nine-year old boy, held in military custody. Release the boy, then – gee, nine years old, if true, makes him a minor. But as for the rest, let’s deal first release later. GRP delegation leader, Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the joint statement contained "language mutually agreeable to both sides", but, a tear in her voice (our correspondent Vi Massart said), noted, "We couldn’t have done it without prayers". One wonders whether our panel was on its knees to God, or to Joma and Louie.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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