POSTSCRIPT / June 18, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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FPJ to run in 2004? Why not Erap na lang?

PANDAY vs PANDAK: The big tabloids must be running out of hot stuff to play up on a slow Sunday so that old joke about action star Fernando Poe Jr. running against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections saw banner treatment.

That “Panday vs Pandak” kicker is naughty, if not malicious, as it makes fun of President Arroyo’s being short. The catchy line must have been too tempting to let go so the hilarious tale about FPJ running had to be used.

But if height were to be the top criterion in the presidential tale of the tape, why not field diminutive Sen. Juan Flavier against GMA so this country thirsting for diversion can watch an exciting “Battle of the Giants”? If you can’t feed the people, at least entertain them.

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SHOWBIZ FARE: To look at it positively, however, that story was a timely reminder, with the political pot starting to simmer rather too early, of how vulnerable has been our immature electorate.

It has not sunk into our consciousness that elections are not popularity contests. If they were, we would just organize road shows and proclaim the winners on the basis of how big and how approving (applause) are the crowds they drew.

Then we would send not our political writers but our cast of movie/entertainment writers and chismis columnists to cover the candidates on the campaign trail. (When former President Erap Estrada moved to the Palace, for a while some editors considered sending their best movie scribes to cover the presidency.)

The last time we talked to Erap in his hospital suite, which was just recently, we asked him precisely about this talk that his kumpadre“ The King” (of the local movie world) would run in 2004. The amused smile of Erap told us he was not in the mood to take sick jokes.

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IF NOT FPJ, WHO?: But Erap vowed to support whoever will eventually run as the opposition standard bearer. The fans are hereby put on notice that Erap will be a key player in 2004, whether in jail or out on bail.

But if not FPJ, who then? Topping the list of presidentials is Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who has nurtured a no-nonsense image who might just be the answer to a widespread longing for somebody to finally whip the undisciplined Filipino into line.

But Ping is “dangerous”? Let the people decide that.

What about Sen. Edgardo Angara? Actually this topnotch lawyer who was also former president of the University of the Philippines and later the Senate, is eminently prepared for the presidency. But some people say he lacks color and that elusive element that makes people sit up and listen.

Don’t laugh, but newscaster-turned-senator Noli de Castro is another presidential material. However, he’s not ripe for it yet. If he has presidential ambition, and we presume he has, he will have to go back to school, or at least get some crash private tutoring.

Hey, why not Erap himself challenging Gloria in 2004? A grudge fight, or a return bout of sorts, would be exciting. We’ll talk about that later.

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MEANINGLESS PARTY TAGS: Meanwhile, note that we have not bothered to indicate the party of the politicians being mentioned. Reason: We don’t know their parties.

To us, party labels do not mean anything except as temporary tags. We have lost track of their latest party affiliations and find it annoying to have to find out where they now belong, if they do belong at all. Or if they are allegedly “independent,” independent of what/whom?

The Senate see-saw is a good illustration of what we mean about meaningless party affiliation. The supposedly adult senators flit around like butterflies gone mad with the intoxicating scent of political nectar in the air.

In the 2004 polls, GMA may just end up with a vice presidential partner who is not a partymate at present. The main consideration in high-stakes political combat is winning, and with whom is secondary.

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BONUS FOR GMA PARTNER: While conceding at least 30 percent of the votes going to whoever Erap fields or supports, we still presume that GMA being the incumbent and who is relentless campaigning among the grassroots, has the upper hand at this point.

If elections were held tomorrow, she would be a sure winner. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. It will yet be in 2004, and many things can happen between now and then.

She being more or less a sure winner, everything considered, whoever will be her running mate will be himself (it will surely be a male partner) on the high road to Malacanang.

When GMA is elected president — not reelected, mind you — in 2004, her running mate who wins with her as vice president becomes the heir apparent since the president will be serving her first and last full term.

This is one of the reasons, a presidential wannabe in the Senate once told us, why the pro-administration senators dance to the music of Malacanang. Any of these senators (Drilon, Villar, et al.) casting a moist eye on the presidency must be nice to GMA, at least while she is not yet dealing out the cards.

Once her choice of running mate is out of the bag, however, those who were left out would find it easier to cook up a deal with the opposition and jump over the fence. As usual.

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ERAP HIMSELF TO RUN?: Going back to Erap, why doesn’t the opposition field him again in 2004? Can he still run (we’re not talking of his bum knee but of possible legal impediments)?

We asked him across the table at lunch if he could still run in 2004.

His reflex reply was: “Why not?” The curt confident reply came with the trade mark Asiong Salonga sidelong glance followed by a knowing smile. Then he explained.

But we won’t tell you yet why he appeared to be confident that nobody could stop him from running again in 2004 — in case he decides to bounce back into the ring. Abangan na lang!

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CABINET PURGE DUE: It says here that president Arroyo is reviewing the performance of her Cabinet and may discard the NPAs (non-performing assets) before she makes her next State of the Nation Address before Congress in July.

Right move. Some members of her official family are getting bogged down in scandals while honest work is neglected. The air is rife with reports of officials signing crooked deals, splitting and padding vouchers, grabbing fat commissions, raising money allegedly for the 2004 campaign, et cetera.

It is significant that the focus of the scandals this time is money, money, money — not sex. Is it possible that some top officials, and some leeches hanging on below them, could feel the uncertainty of their tenure and are thus rushing to amass some fast millions while in power?

The 2004 campaign’s reportedly being used as an excuse for fund-raising is a serious matter for the President herself to address. People are liable to believe it, even if not true.

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WHY SONNY CLINGS ON: Why is badly battered Environment Secretary Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez clinging on to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources?

We think his amor propio and machismo have been challenged and he feels he should fight back. Besides, he obviously believes that the accusations against him are not only unfair, but also untrue.

Here’s another theory for Sonny’s “kapit-tuko” at the DENR: He has signed so many borderline deals and given juicy concessions to favored parties that are open to question. If he leaves and his replacement is not one disposed to covering his tracks, the hot documents could surface and explode.

So, the theory goes, he has to stay and clean up the mess before anybody gets hold of the incriminating papers. Remember, this is just a theory.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 18, 2002)

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