TEODORO BENIGNO: TIME BOMB TICKING / A CLOSER LOOK AT FPJ

MANILA, February 16, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - We are told by the leaders of the massed forces of FPJ, and FPJ himself the nation will or may explode if the Supreme Court should disqualify him from aspiring for the presidency. These are not empty words. FPJ himself is not known for bluff or bluster. He is normally quiet, his movie face a mountain slope of stoic strength. He roars into screen action only when sufficiently provoked. But what happened? What he said last Friday in Mariveles eloquently indicates he has lost his mind and is now ready to fight with all fists and all weapons blazing.

Here’s what Da King said.

"I will never back out no matter what they do to me. Baka sila ang hindi sikatan ng araw...Ang lawin na ito ay lilipad mula Mariveles hanggang Malacañang. Hindi na shooting ito. Totoo na ito." Rough translation: "If the Supreme court should disqualify me, I will not accept the verdict. I will fight with all my might, with all my forces. Like the hawk, nothing can stop my flight to Malacañang. It is they (obviously government forces including the High Court), not me, who will not see the light of day."

Man, oh, man.

The King is really fighting mad. As he says, this is no longer a movie script but stark reality. Nothing can stop him now, not man, not beast, not any force including the Supreme Court, not any law of the Republic. What do I say to this? I say, Fernando Poe Jr. may have flipped and is now mad. He has absolutely no call to talking like this. Contrary to what we earlier thought of him – decent, honest, sincere, humble, with a vision so noble he has the masses bearing him in their arms – FPJ now threatens to flout the law, any law that stops his presidential bid. This is madness.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Lord Acton said.

FPJ is a long way still from becoming president. He is just beginning his campaign. He has yet to prove so many things. He has yet to convince all of us he has the armor, the steel, the molten, volcanic stuff that radiates from leaders who climb the steepest cliffs. As of now, he is untested, completely inexperienced, a tabula rasa (a blank board). His only known gifts and talents come from the movie screen. There everything is make-believe. There the bullets are blank. There feats of courage and heroism occur before cameras, the director, the producer, the staff, and not in the world of reality. The rage is faked, the battles, the rataplan of fists, the smolder of gunfire, the blood oozing from enemy wounds. The litter of enemy dead.

My advice to FPJ and his so-called betters, like his chief legal counsel Estelito Mendoza, is to shut up.

By their threats, they are only proving what many have suspected all along – that they are unworthy of entry into Malacañang. Right now, they would take the law into their hands, so they threaten to do, and lay siege on the strongholds of power. It doesn’t really matter to them if the evidence should prove strong and compelling that FPJ is not a natural-born Filipino. If FPJ flunks the natural-born test, then he and his Council of Advisers should and must swallow and swallow hard and not threaten to blow the country to kingdom come.

May I remind them about what that great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said many centuries ago: "The side that knows when to fight and when not will take the victory. There are roadways not to be traveled, armies not to be attacked, walled cities not to be assaulted."

This is not to absolve the GMA regime of any blame.

It has in its own time, until this very day, a span of three years, proved to be an abject failure. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had all the opportunity to start reversing the course of the Republic. She had the name. She had the upbringing. She could have severed some tentacles of corruption, kicked some of the biggest crooks and criminals into jail, waded into the pits to cut off some monster heads, imprisoned some of the biggest tax-evaders, put to the rack some of her corrupt generals. Oh yes, she did wage "total war" on them in her SONAs. But the SONAs were largely overblown rhetoric, all sound and fury signifying nothing.

GMA’s greatest gift to presidential behavior is the photo-op. Here her only possible rival is Imelda Marcos. But not even Imelda wore black (that Tatler magazine cover photo) or squeezed into a deep-sea diver’s outfit to monitor the ocean depths, or posed with a continuing covey of arrested criminals inside the Palace no less, or danced any kind of tribal dance, or donned all sorts of monickers like Ate Gloria, Iron Lady, Gloria Labandera, Ina ng Bayan in an endless flicker of poses for so-called posterity.

Hers was a government of photo-op and it bombed.

* * *

Now we must take a closer look at this man they call FPJ. When Salvador (Doy) Laurel was still alive about a year and a half ago, we talked about him. Doy had asked me if I was willing to interview FPJ (he said he had the contacts) and I said: Yes, why not? The interview never materialized for one reason or another. Doy went further afield. He asked if I, rather our group (the then still loose and tentative Freedom Force group of which Doy was a pillar), would be willing to advise FPJ. Not just advise, but get into Malacañang with him if he should win and tutor him as Voltaire did the Empress Catherine.

I said I didn’t think that was possible. In the first place, at that time I had already thrown my support to Raul Roco. Doy said FPJ was only too willing to learn from his betters, and maybe Freedom Force could see its way to helping out. It seemed evident, even at that time, that FPJ had decided to throw his fedora into the presidential ring, but was groping for the right circle of advisers, the consiglieri. Somehow any meeting between us and FPJ never came to pass. Inevitably, Erap Estrada drew in his net.

Inevitably, Tito Sotto, Ed Angara, Juan Ponce Enrile, Ernie Maceda, Estelito Mendoza, et al. dug their heels in. And now, this is FPJ’s cordon sanitaire, as powerful as any ever conceived. To understand, to fathom the FPJ of today, you have to have an intimate knowledge of this cordon. You don’t mess with any of them. They are tough, ruthless, with hardly any scruples, veterans of countless political battles, almost all trained by Ferdinand Marcos, the ultimate master, the ultimate Merlin.

In no time at all, FPJ is talking their language.

On the road to Malacañang, take no prisoners, they counsel FPJ. It is almost frightening that in so short a time, FPJ talks the language of Asiong Salonga, more refined of course, more polished. What a pity! Because this is a language of the past when what we are all looking for is the language of the future.

These characters around him are famous sand infamous, who can teach him nothing about good manners and right conduct, who come from the deep recesses of midnight when witches stir the brew that poisons politics, that turns money into the currency of the devil. They have one singular about them. They are mostly the rejects of EDSA. And now they would ride FPJ as they would a stalking horse to reclaim Malacañang and from there spread their black spider web once again.

Is that what FPJ has come to?

No wonder he immerses himself into silence most of the time. In his rare public appearances, when he has to deliver a message, or explain why he wants to be president, or formulate a thought, explain an issue, or seek to touch a star, FPJ coagulates into fetid murmurs, into the evasive grammar of those who feel trapped. Or helpless. When the media swarm around him, he is in agony, unable to pluck rational thoughts from his mind, unable even to say three short sentences in a row.

This is the movie actor who would be president? Maybe he didn’t want to be. Maybe he strove at all coasts to remain where he was, happy with what he had, Susan Roces above all, reclusive. He was rich beyond measure because he made a fabulous fortune in the movies. He was now a movie producer in a profession where he could move and decide with effortless ease. He grew up in the industry, knew the industry. He was happy with his beer or was it his wine, happy with his barkada. He went into a drinking binge, once in a while. So what?

But they wouldn’t leave him alone.

They sought to introxicate FPJ and they succeeded. They told him the nation needed him, the masses, posterity no less, that he was the only man who could save the country. He resisted and resisted and resisted. He smelled bullshit in the beginning, and was wary of all the flattery. He somehow suspected politics was not just a drag but a foul and sordid trap. Along the way, he faltered, a reverse Caesar tipsy will fulsome praise. He caved in.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich was right when he said: "The possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man. There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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