MANILA, March 25, 2004
By Babe Romualdez - Rumors about former press secretary Rodolfo Reyesí resignation as chief of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP)ís media bureau were flying thick and fast yesterday.

This was denied by Reyes in an official statement. But when I called him on the phone yesterday afternoon, he would neither confirm nor deny it.

In fairness to movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., Reyes said, he had not yet talked to FPJ directly about it. Reyes admitted, however, that he had personal differences with people in the FPJ camp and that he was having problems with how the KNP was handling media operations.

There have been rumors floating around that Reyes was about to quit or that Reyes was about to be fired for allegedly mishandling the media. There were reports that Reyes had been sidelined by the cordon sanitaire around FPJ. But most of all, his press releases would be denied by KNP spokesman Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero on many occasions.

People were talking that Reyes owed his position to his brother-in-law, Melo Santiago. KNP insiders clarified that it was Reyesí professionalism and track record that made FPJ choose him.

Reyes served as President Joseph Estradaís press secretary from 1998 to 2000. He served President Fidel Ramos in the same capacity from 1992 to 1993. Previous to his government stint, he was GMA-7ís general manager and executive vice president and ABS-CBNís senior vice president.

Reyes first caught the public eye in 1961 when he went undercover as a drug addict to expose a Malabon opium den. As a result, the den was raided and two movies were made. In the same year, Sampaguita Pictures produced "Drug Addict" starring Susan Roces and Juancho Gutierrez. This success was followed by death threats as well as fame and awards.

Having grown up in Tondo, Reyes had the street smarts to pursue investigative stories. He won the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 1965 for enterprising investigative journalism. He went on to publishing, serving in the National Media Production Center (NMPC) and the Maharlika Broadcasting System during the Marcos years, and to diplomatic service as head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan during the Estrada years.

In my analysis, rumors of the resignation is evidence of the lack of organization within the KNP. In short, FPJís campaign machinery is wracked by factional in-fighting. Thus, nobody knows who is really calling the shots. I was informed by some people from the media that they canít even get to FPJ during campaign sorties. The media are only allowed to interview him every other day and, most of the time, he asks that the discussion be off-the-record. Even Ed Angara and other political handlers canít get to talk to him unless it is cleared first. The same goes for KNPís senatorial candidates. In contrast, GMA is very accessible. There is no doubt that FPJ really draws crowds, but the way things are going, it doesnít look good for the FPJ camp. If this persists until the homestretch, it looks like it is going to a looming GMA presidency for the next six years.

Media, schedules, campaign stops, fundraising, negotiations, message development, and platform building are ineptly executed by the KNP and the various parallel groups. He has to get a professional political manager to put things in order. Popularity alone will not carry him to the Palace. He needs an efficient machinery to achieve that. Moreover, the cordon sanitaire is, this early, already shielding the man from reality. This could spell defeat. Accurate planning and information are absent in organizing the grassroots. There are too many parallel groups, headed by political novices, that are not coordinating. No one knows for sure how many votes can be mustered on the ground come Election Day.

On one hand, GMA has money, machinery, and the media to harness. On the other hand, the cracks in the FPJ machinery are beginning to show. People are talking about the "star complex" of FPJ. In his mind, he is The King. But unfortunately, this is not the movies. This is political reality, where the rules are simple: Add so much as you can to support you. FPJ has to talk to as many as people as possible. He has to be accessible to the media. Itís not like in the movies where even if you stay detached and aloof, everything will fall into place.

It is a tall order to run against an incumbent president. The opposition chose him as standard-bearer because he is the only candidate who can beat GMA. That is why organization and accessibility are the keys to his victory. He may be extremely popular with the masses, but if doesnít get his act together, he will definitely lose. GMA is like no other candidate. She is a president, who is determined to win. She is not taking any chances. She is meeting everyone down to the barangay level and mobilizing their support. I am told that she has three phone lines. The first gives Cabinet members and family access to her. The second is for her campaign leaders. The third is for her grassroots leaders like barangay captains. This is the kind of opponent that FPJ is up against. If Rod Reyes leaves the KNP, FPJ will have a problem. Half-way down the stretch, people will perceive that FPJ doesnít have the organization that is needed to win. It is similar to when sharks sense blood. Blood will continue to flow.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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