MANILA, April 12, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano (People Asia Magazine) - In his more than 40 years in the movies, Fernando Poe Jr., standard bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), has won the loyalty of the movie-going public because of his being a defender of the "weak and oppressed" in his blockbusters.

His movies have portrayed Poe, known by his initials "FPJ" and "Da King," as an underdog who only fights back once pushed against the wall.

In Mindanao, folks tell stories about Muslim moviegoers who would shoot the telon (wide screen) in theaters every time they see their idol being gunned down or ganged up on in the movies.

"They would shoot the wide screen in their bid to get even with the character actors playing the roles of Poe's enemies," I remember an old neighbor telling me during the early '80s, while I was going to high school in Surigao del Sur in Mindanao.

Now making a bid for the highest post in the land, Poe promises that if elected, his first order of business would be "to restore the trust and confidence of the people in the government."

Poe said that being a non-politician is his advantage over his opponents, because he has no "political debts" that would block him from realizing his vision and goals for the country.

"Trust and confidence should be at the core of our campaign. We should regain the trust and confidence of the people and that is our target. If these key elements are absent, then nothing will happen to us Filipinos. I'm not a politician, but that is what I believe in," Poe said.

Poe said his administration would be fully transparent, adding that this is one way of restoring public trust and confidence in government. He said that his government would be transparent, not only in words but also in deeds.

The country, according to Poe, needs a leader who will apply the rule of law. "We need a leadership that will apply the rule of law. We need a leadership that has political will, a leadership that will inspire confidence, not fear; a leadership that will practice transparency and a leadership that is answerable to the people," Poe said.

Poe asked his supporters to work with him in shaping a "new dawn" for the nation under a new leadership that would finally attack "generational poverty, uphold the rule of law, stamp out official corruption and restore the public trust, faith and confidence of the people to the government."

He said that his 40 years in film making, which required him to travel and live in the country's most depressed communities, made him see how "generational poverty has wasted human labor and talent and become the greatest scandal in our country."

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

But who is Poe in real life? Is he soft-spoken, a true gentleman who could not even break a glass or a plate?

In the late 1980s, I had a close encounter with Mr. Poe at Cafe Ysabel, which was then located along Wilson St. in Greenhills, San Juan. I was then working nights in the restaurant as a waiter, while pursuing my studies in the daytime.

The two-storey building then occupied by Cafe Ysabel on Wilson St. was once the house of the family of Poe's wife, Susan Roces.

Poe, along with his alalay then, Amay Bisaya, and movie actress Elizabeth Oropesa, visited Cafe Ysabel's Cheek-to-Cheek section located at the second floor where I was assigned. Poe, according to Amay, was giving a treat to Oropesa who had just gotten married to Chinese movie star Meng Fei.

Amay, in his effort to satisfy his "King," immediately ordered eight bottles of San Miguel Beer.

Poe, holding a cigarette, asked me to give him an ashtray. My co-waiter Carly, in his effort to further please Poe, immediately brought a lighted candle lamp to his table, which was part of the management's effort to create a cozy ambience in the restaurant.

"Ashtray ang hinihingi ko, ilaw ang ibinigay (I was asking for an ashtray, what they gave me was a candle)," was Poe's reaction.

I heard him utter it because the table where he sat was only several feet away from the bar. When it was my turn to put the ashtray on Poe's table, he told me, "Ano ba yang kasama mo, bingi (Is your companion deaf)?"

I also observed that Poe could finish a bottle of beer in just three gulps. But before he left Cheek-to-Cheek, he signed his bill, counted the waiters and left P500 (P100 each) as tip, a very generous amount in those days.

Reporters now covering his campaign also complain of the roughness being exerted by Poe's so-called "hawi boys." Reporters have to jockey for positions just to be able to hear what Poe is saying. Added to the miseries of reporters covering Poe is his natural aloofness with the media.

"He (Poe) is like Palos (eel), a popular movie which featured a Robin Hood-like thief in the '70s played by movie actor Bernard Bonnin who could not be arrested by the police because of his being slippery," one reporter commented.

The media just content themselves guessing whether Poe's evasiveness is the consequence of his lack of knowledge on current events or his being a naturally private person.

In an interview, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who heads the group providing security for Poe, said that on a scale of one to 10 in terms of "confidence in security," he would rate Poe's safety a nine "during his public appearances."

He added that the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the Guardians, which he both founded, and his friends inside the military and in the Philippine National Police (PNP) will help secure the votes in the May elections.

"Our friends in the military and the police, especially those in active duty, have assured us that they will stay neutral. RAM and the Guardians and other neutral groups will back up the teachers and volunteer watchers. They agreed to coordinate with us," Honasan said.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Poe's spokesman, said that contrary to how his detractors describe him, Poe is "kind, considerate, caring and a sincere person.

"It's not accurate to say that FPJ is a drunkard. He is not a drunkard. He wants to bring back the trust and confidence of the people to the government by providing leadership that is transparent, a government with no patronage politics and no graft and corruption," Sotto said.

In a telephone interview, Poe's friend, movie director Pocholo "Poch" Bautista, described Poe as a "silent Good Samaritan." Bautista, younger brother of another movie director, Herminio "Butch" Bautista (father of Quezon City Vice Mayor Herbert "Bistek" Bautista), said that he was a former errand boy of Poe and the members of the "Lo' Waist Gang" in the '60s. "My Kuya Butch was also a member of the Lo' Waist Gang. I became their errand boy because of my strong inclination to become a movie director. FPJ would ask me to buy cigarettes. Once you air a grievance or a personal problem, you will be interviewed by his alalay. Without your knowledge, FPJ would order his alalay to get into the details of your problem and before you know it, the things that you need say you or a member of your family is in the hospital would be already taken care of by FPJ." Bautista admitted that Poe came to his assistance several times.

"Sometimes you don't even have to say anything. FPJ initiates help when it is really needed by his friends." Bautista also brushed aside claims that Poe is a "drunkard" who loses control of his temper whenever he gets drunk. "Of course, he drinks, he is also a man," Bautista admits.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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