MANILA, February 20, 2004 (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan - He’s going to prove his detractors wrong, Fernando Poe Jr. vowed the other night. Vote for me, he said, and like all conflicts in a movie, all your problems will eventually be resolved. (Cue in canned music: Somewhere over the rainbow… ) A Ronnie Poe presidency, like all FPJ movies, will have a happy ending, the opposition candidate vowed.

Campaign spiels like that, from Da King of Philippine movies, should scare the hell out of his closest rival, candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The President may talk all she want about experience and her supporters may trumpet her accomplishments on every available space in this archipelago. But there’s only one candidate who can say with some accuracy that he has treated the people to not just one but many happy endings. And millions of voters will nod and cheer lustily in agreement. No, they haven’t felt the benefits of President Arroyo’s experience. But they sure have enjoyed all those happy endings from FPJ.

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Right now this movie that can be made only in the Philippines is playing badly for the nation. The way things are shaping up, whoever wins in May will have a terrible time trying to govern.

If you think Filipinos are ungovernable, see what happens when the final results of the elections are announced. By this time it has become clear that the presidential race is narrowing down to a two-cornered fight between the President and FPJ – candidates who represent the forces that clashed at EDSA Dos. If the Supreme Court disqualifies FPJ, his wife Susan Roces looks poised to be the substitute candidate. And even if that’s not possible, the remaining opposition candidate – Sen. Panfilo Lacson – is certainly no EDSA II hero.

Whether or not FPJ is disqualified, and no matter who wins in May, prospects for political stability are dim. So much bad blood has accumulated since the Estrada administration that the next six years are likely to be wasted in settling scores. We are bound to see crab mentality at its worst, and the parochial pettiness that has characterized Philippine politics for many years.

Old soldiers with too much time on their hands, soldiers who can never hope to win elections will keep jumping into the fray, trying to sell themselves as saviors of the Filipino people.

And in this melee there will be the usual bunch of thieves that inevitably form around any president, no matter how honest and hardworking. These thieves will receive fat commissions, set up monopolies, skim public funds, and corner smuggling and gambling activities.

Sure, there could be a happy ending for this country, but we’re not going to see it in the next six years. Things are going to get worse before they get better, and there’s no movie director who can shout, "Cut!"

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You feel sorry for people like the members of the women’s group Gabriela, who lamented yesterday that other pressing national problems were being overlooked in the preoccupation with the travails of candidate FPJ.

"What about us?" Gabriela asked plaintively. The group was calling attention to rising fuel prices. Do we even notice these days? We have even resigned ourselves to the continued weakening of the peso.

Militant workers are demanding a wage increase; jeepney drivers and operators want a fare hike within two weeks, or else. Teachers are warning that more than half of students in public high schools are bound to flunk this school year because the passing score has been raised. Households are running out of water.

Yet many Filipinos would rather focus their attention on politics, the nation’s favorite blood sport. I guess since many of us think little can be done about pressing national problems anyway, we’d rather be entertained by political drama.

Those other pressing problems will be on the plate of whoever is elected president in May. It’s not a pleasing prospect. No matter who wins, the nation loses.

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This week FPJ unveiled his team of economic and policy advisers – his way of reassuring the public that he’s serious about governance. The lineup is impressive. But didn’t we already have an administration run by advisers? Didn’t Erap have enough people with doctorates and master’s degrees in his stable? Look where it got us.

Advisers are fine – as long as they advise but do not make the decisions. Is Poe capable of making informed decisions?

In the Information Age, in a competitive global village, we more than ever need a leader who is well informed, who has a grand vision for the nation and a blueprint for realizing it. That hardly sounds like FPJ.

Unfortunately for us, there are Filipinos who have come to equate intelligence and capability with venality in public office. The perception is that the more intelligent the person ensconced at Malacańang, the greater the chance of the public being robbed and swindled. This perception developed during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, and has persisted through two people power revolts and several administrations.

Part of FPJ’s enormous appeal, in fact, is his lack of formal schooling and seeming lack of sophistication. His fans will vote for him to thumb their noses at those with doctorates whose handling of the nation has failed to lift the masses from poverty.

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If the elections in May do not lead to significant reforms, that should be good enough for us. But the way events are unfolding, we could end up in a worse situation in the coming years. Investors are fleeing to saner countries, bringing with them employment opportunities and much needed capital for development. The peso is on a free fall and the stock market has been on a prolonged plateau.

You almost wish you could escape into a land of make-believe, where conflicts must be resolved within two hours, with the hero bruised and bloodied but standing in triumph at the end.

Doesn’t that hero look like candidate Fernando Poe Jr.? That’s what he’s selling to the electorate, and they like that fairy-tale ending. It could be the nation’s undoing, but the movie in FPJ’s mind is the same one playing in the minds of millions of Filipinos. And who’s to tell the people to stop dreaming of a happy ending?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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