MANILA, December 30, 2003 (STAR) POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual, Jr. - ONE-ON-ONE DUEL: Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former Sen. Raul Roco are first in the water among the heavyweights seeking the presidency. But they have created only ripples, not a big splash as their drumbeaters had wanted.

If indicators hold until May 2004, the presidential bids of Lacson and Roco would taper off toward the homestretch – leaving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and major challenger Fernando Poe Jr. to dominate the field.

A one-on-one duel is welcomed since it improves the possibility of the winner’s garnering a majority, not a mere plurality, mandate. With a majority that always swells in the flush of triumph, the victor has better chances of uniting this fractious nation.

Also, a showdown between traditional politics as represented by President Arroyo and the politics of popularity as relied upon by actor Fernando Poe Jr. will be good for the country.

It is high time the people, particularly the masses, made a decision to wake up and stop casting votes based mainly on candidates’ popularity and not on their qualities and qualifications.

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FAMILY FEUD: The contest for the vice presidency appears headed for a blockbuster family feud of the giant ABS-CBN broadcast network, providing an interesting media side bar to the May 2004 presidential election.

If plans do not miscarry, ABS-CBN show host Sen. Loren Legarda will be the running mate of opposition presidential bet Fernando Poe Jr.

Not to be outdone in the celebrity game, President Arroyo has convinced the Lopez family to allow their top newsreader, Sen. Noli de Castro, to run with her as vice presidential candidate.

Barring any last-minute recasting, the decisions to field senators Legarda, 43, and De Castro, 54, will be formally announced before the Jan. 2 deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy and nominations for national and local positions.

Some followers of former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada are objecting to Legarda, citing her prosecutory role in his impeachment trial. But if Mr. Estrada himself has glossed over this detail, who are they to raise the issue?

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PREEMPTIVE VANTAGE: It is obvious that whichever way the election goes, ABS-CBN will capture the vice presidency in 2004. This will give the powerful Lopez family a preemptive advantage in the 2010 presidential polls.

Media peers who have worked with the two broadcasters are unanimous in saying that Legarda is much taller in terms of integrity and qualifications, "especially in the brains department." However, all popularity surveys have De Castro ahead.

And while Legarda is firm in her assertion that the Lopezes have nothing to do with her running with Poe, sources familiar with goings-on in the De Castro camp confirm that a deal has been sealed for him with the Lopezes.

A nine-digit peso figure is being mentioned in the De Castro transaction, which includes the Arroyo camp’s bankrolling his campaign. "Win or lose, Noli will be a run-away winner," a source said.

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DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT: The administration is being asked to issue a diplomatic passport to former President Estrada, who has been allowed by the graft court Sandiganbayan to go to the US for his knee operation.

As expected, there was objection from the usual quarters. Even government prosecutors are going through the motions of kunwari objecting.

Our own view is that with the face value of the Philippine passport having gone down in the world’s esteem, a diplomatic passport by itself does not make much difference in an American port of entry.

What can make a difference is the Philippine diplomatic service’s making early official arrangements for the courtesies of the port being accorded the former President and their meeting him at the airport.

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ALLOWED BY LAW: But if the administration decides to issue a new diplomatic passport to Mr. Estrada, that will be still within the law and the prerogative of the former president.

As pointed out by former Ambassador Rodolfo A. Arizala, emailing from Santiago, Chile, Rep. Act 8239 also known as the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 provides in Section 7, a) 1: "The Secretary or the authorized representative or consular officer may issue the following types of passport: Diplomatic passport for persons imbued with diplomatic status or are on diplomatic mission such as: The President and former Presidents of the Republic of the Philippines."

Note also that Section 8 provides in paragraph a) 1. "The application for passport may be denied, cancelled or restricted only on the following grounds: a) Denial of Passport – On orders of the court, after due notice and hearing, to hold the departure of an applicant because of a pending criminal case; xxx 3. When the applicant has been found to have violated any of the provisions of this Act; 4. Such other disqualification under existing laws. b) Cancellation 1. When the holder is a fugitive from justice; 2. When the holder has been convicted of a criminal offense;

Provided, That the passport may be restored after service of sentence; or

3. When a passport was acquired fraudulently or tampered with. xxx"

Arizala concluded: If former President Estrada does not fall under any of the grounds cited for non-issuance or cancellation of his diplomatic passport provided by law, then as former president, he may be issued a diplomatic passport.

"Getting medical treatment abroad is not being on a diplomatic mission," he added, "but as former president, he is still imbued with diplomatic status."

As the law uses the words "may issue" (a diplomatic passport), the issuance of such a passport to the former president – if he is not disqualified under the law – is at the discretion of the proper authority.

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FPJ TALE: A reader identifying himself as Elipin38 disputes a story mentioned in one paragraph in our Postscript (12/23/2003) that gun-toting Muslim moviegoers in the South shoot at the screen when they see their idol Fernando Poe Jr. in trouble with bad elements.

His email (slightly edited): "That story was created by a film distributor in Escolta in the early 1960’s. He got that idea from an old Hollywood magazine about an article on John Wayne, then the box office king in America.

"The article told of a hillbilly who shot the movie screen when Wayne was cornered by Indians about to kill him. It was an old tale often repeated in Hollywood.

"In the 1960’s, FPJ was emerging as one of the most bankable action stars and the film distributor was making a lot of money booking FPJ movies in the provinces. (But there were other bankable action stars in those days such as Zaldy Zshornack, Romeo Vasquez and Bernard Bonnin.)

"The distributor making money on FPJ films was bragging that FPJ was the real ‘action king,’ because his movies were making more money. Actually he was just bragging to get bigger deposits from theater owners in the provinces.

"It was a practice then for provincial theater owners to make deposits to be sure that the movie, especially black and white films that had only one copy, would be shown in their theaters.

"The deposits varied. If the movie was a hit in Manila, they gave large deposits. But even if the movie was not a hit in Manila, it could still be a blockbuster in the province.

"For this reason, the distributor of FPJ movies concocted the story that Muslims in Mindanao shot at the screen when FPJ was in danger."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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