POSTSCRIPT / December 23, 2003 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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FPJ rides on protest votes, not fan support

CELLULOID HERO: It is difficult to swallow the claim that the box office popularity of actor Fernando Poe Jr. is enough to swamp President Arroyo and other rivals in the presidential election in May 2004.

Sure, Poe is popular — for why would he be granted the title Da King of Philippine movies if he were not? — but can his fans equal or surpass the 10 million or so voters who gave the presidency in 1998 to his bosom friend Erap Estrada?

Of the more or less 35 million voters today, how many have seen a Poe movie? And of those who saw one of his films, how many would vote for him on the basis of his cinematic charms?

Consider that Poe is just one of the many celluloid heroes to march across the silver screen, and he is not necessarily the best of them in all his outings.

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STATISTICAL BLANK: Poe has played a blacksmith, priest, guerrilla, policeman, bodyguard and a boxer. His usual role is the stereotype peace-loving hero who, pushed to the wall by vicious villains, rises in defense of the poor and the oppressed.

But is the 64-year-old actor the type who would capture the hearts of the younger moviegoers — we mean those below 35 years old who dominate the voters’ list — and convert that infatuation to a vote in the May 2004 elections?

It is said that in Muslim Mindanao, Moros who tote their guns even inside movie houses whip out their weapons when Poe is being mauled or pursued by the villains and shoot at his tormentors on the screen.

Still, the performance of Poe at the voting precincts remains a big statistical question, because he has never run for public office. He has no track record similar to, say, that of Erap Estrada who was mayor, senator and vice president before he swept the presidency.

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PROTEST VOTE: We concede that Poe is very popular. There is no doubt about that.

He poses a real threat to President Arroyo and the rest of the field, because the exercise in May will be more of a popularity contest than a popular election (we hear somebody from Flickerville asking “What’s the difference?”).

As we see it, Poe’s apparent strength does not spring from his film exploits, but from the weaknesses of the political system and the politicos inhabiting it.

He is more of a Negative Alternative — you like him because you do not like the others. In a selection-type questionnaire, he is the NOTA, None of the Above.

We have no figures to validate an event that still has to occur five months into the future, but our gut feel at the moment is that most of the votes that will be heaped on this action star vying for the presidency are actually Protest Votes.

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MARKETABILITY: In a burst of exasperation, most people reeling from the bad times are likely to say that all the high-profile presidential aspirants are “pare-pareho lang sila”  (they are all the same) — except possibly for Poe.

Top aspirants President Arroyo, former Sen. Raul Roco and Sen. Panfilo Lacson are all dyed-in-the-wool politicians cut from the same dirty cloth. Being trapo — traditional politicians — they look and smell like dirty rag to the disillusioned voter.

In the market of candidates for public office, especially for the highest post in the land, Product Differentiation is crucial from this point on to the casting of the last vote on May 10, 2004.

Against this dark backdrop of disillusion with traditional politicians, a supposedly reformist non-politico comes riding onto the stage on a white steed. Therein, we think, lies Poe’s strength. That is the secret of his marketability.

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SADDAM TRIAL: After choice statements are extracted from detained Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he would be made to face public trial for crimes against his people and against humanity.

With the relentless propaganda against him, much of it with the aid of the Western press, Saddam is in what looks like a no-win situation. Unless, from his solitary confinement, he is able to turn around public opinion and exploit his own public trial.

Pertinent to his case, we share interesting excerpts from ”Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth,” a piece of Joe Canson in the New York Observer:

“Apart from blaming his underlings for the genocidal crimes on his indictment, what defense can he (or his lawyers) offer?

“Following in the style of Slobodan Milosevic, he may well wish to spend his final days on the public stage bringing shame to those who brought him down. Unfortunately, it isn’t hard to imagine how he might accomplish that if he can call witnesses and subpoena documents.

“Charged with the use of poison gas against Kurds and Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam could summon a long list of Reagan and Bush administration officials who ignored or excused those atrocities when they were occurring.

“An obvious prospective witness is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who acted as a special envoy to Baghdad during the early 1980’s. On a courtroom easel, Saddam might display the famous December 1983 photograph of him shaking hands with Mr. Rumsfeld, who acknowledges that the United States knew Iraq was using chemical weapons. If his forces were using Tabun, mustard gas and other forbidden poisons, he might ask, why did Washington restore diplomatic relations with Baghdad in November 1984?

“As for his horrendous persecution of the Kurds in 1988, Saddam could call executives from the banks and defense and pharmaceutical companies from various countries that sold him the equipment and materials he is alleged to have used. He might put former President George Herbert Walker Bush on the witness stand and ask, ‘Why did your administration and Ronald Reagan’s sell my government biological toxins such as anthrax and botulism, as well as poisonous chemicals and helicopters?’

“Indeed, Saddam could conceivably seek the testimony of dozens of men and women who once served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, starting with former Secretary of State George Shultz, and ask them to explain why they opposed every Congressional effort to place sanctions on his government, up until the moment his army invaded Kuwait during the summer of 1990. Pursuing the same general theme, he might call Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought to remove sanctions against Iraq when he served as the chief executive of Halliburton Corp.

“The long, shadowy history of American relations with Saddam would be illuminated not only through witness testimony but literally thousands of documents in U.S. government files. Memos uncovered by the National Security Archive show that Reagan and Bush administration officials knew exactly how the Iraqi government was procuring what it needed to build weapons of mass destruction, including equipment intended for construction of a nuclear arsenal.

“From time to time, during those crucial years when Saddam consolidated his power and prepared for war, U.S. diplomats issued rote condemnations of his worst actions. Then, as the record shows, they would privately reassure Saddam that the United States still desired close and productive relations

“Pertinent as these issues are to Saddam’s case, they do not mitigate his record of murder and corruption. And the man dragged from his pathetic hideout near Tikrit hardly seems to possess the will or the capability to raise them. Either way, he will get what he deserves. Yet it will be hard to boast that justice and history have been fully served if his foreign accomplices escape their share of opprobrium.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 23, 2003)

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