POSTSCRIPT / March 11, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Poe candidacy: Acid test of our maturity

ACID TEST: With the Supreme Court having cleared the way for Fernando Poe Jr. running for president, the sovereign power of passing upon his fitness for the top post has been moved from the court to the people, where it properly belongs.

Had Poe lost in that challenge before the high tribunal, we would have left unanswered forever the burning question of whether the electorate would have chosen Poe and no other.

Had he been disqualified, we would never know also if this nation was ever set to install another actor as president, one who had dropped out of high school, never held a public office and who is apparently unprepared for the presidency.

But with Poe still there, and with him and President Arroyo running neck and neck toward the homestretch, the May 10 race has become the acid test of this nation’s maturity and resolve.

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LIGHTNING BOLT: It was partly in this context that we said in Postscript upon the promulgation of the Supreme Court decision on Poe’s citizenship that we should all bow to the tribunal’s ruling.

We welcomed Poe’s running, because we felt he was needed to drive home an important lesson.

It is high time that this nation was jolted back to its senses. We felt the actor’s show of strength in the popularity surveys might just be the lightning bolt that would awaken the people to the need for them to mature as citizens.

We were hoping that the Poe phenomenon, coming close on the heels of the disaster that was Erap Estrada, would provide that jolt.

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AWAKENING: Our optimism may be taking the better of us, but we see encouraging signs as we go around in the capital and the provinces. We sense an awakening of a growing number of voters.

As we go and ask around, we see voters who only a month ago were cheering on the showbiz icon waving at them from a passing vehicle now asking if that was all there was to it.

We think the Achilles’ heel of Poe was exposed all the more with his repeated failure to articulate a sensible program of government.

That his team of advisers finally put together a platform of government for him merely magnified his incompetence, because while he could quote from it, he could neither explain nor defend it.

The growing skepticism toward Poe is not surprising, because people weaned from the false promises of politicians are not likely to gravitate either toward generic promises projected on a silver screen or one-liners mumbled in ambush interviews.

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IF PING WINS: We found interesting some moves that Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he would take within the first 100 days of his presidency, if he wins.

We have not talked to him or any of his propagandists or runners, but we read that in Cebu City, Lacson warned businessmen that the peso could drop to P120 to the US dollar in the next six years if the government fails to contain graft and corruption.

We remember taipan Lucio Tan saying substantially the same thing last year as he shared his thoughts with a group of journalists and businessmen gathered for a dinner forum in Manila. Lacson gave the gloomy scenario last Monday before the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“By 2010, the peso-dollar rate will hit P120 to $1 if the rate of devaluation continues,” he said. “If the situation does not improve or, worse, declines further, the Philippines shall be at the bottom of regional rankings by 2010, alongside or even worse than Bangladesh.”

He expressed alarm over the unemployment rate of 12.7 percent (or 435,000 Filipinos without jobs), the worst since 1984. This is alarming, especially when viewed against the population growing at 2.35 percent annually.

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WHAT TO DO?: What would Lacson do to address the grave problems facing the nation?

He said he was ready to use a “mailed fist” to strengthen the justice system in the fight against drug lords, kidnap-for-ransom gangs and other criminal syndicates. Note that his critics had linked the former national police chief to drugs and kidnap syndicates.

Lacson said he would give law enforcement agencies 90 days to “undertake significant and massive reforms to transform themselves into efficient, graft-free and professional organizations worthy of respect of the public.”

“I shall strictly enforce the death penalty law for those convicted of heinous crimes, particularly kidnapping and drug trafficking,” he said.

He expressed confidence that in 12 months, the investigative capabilities of all enforcement agencies would be upgraded.

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POPULATION WOES: In his first 100 days, he said he would form a joint executive-legislative tax commission to work out the gradual reduction of business and income taxes.

He lamented that tax collection for the past 20 years averaged only 15 to 17 percent of the gross domestic product. In 2002, collections hit an all-time low of 12.2 percent.

With the growing number of Filipinos, Lacson said the country’s debt by 2010 is expected to hit P5.2 trillion, mortgaging each Filipino at P63,000. The Arroyo administration contributed the most to bloating the national debt.

He said he would carry out a vigorous population management program. “We consider overpopulation not only a social problem but also a vital economic issue,” he said.

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NO-NONSENSE STYLE: Discussing his “rebuild-the-Philippines” program for infrastructure, he noted that the country needs some 300,000 kilometers of roads.

“We only have 190,000 kilometers,” he said. “Of this, only 34,000 kilometers or 18 percent are paved.”

He compared this with data on neighboring countries: Thailand has 82 percent of its roads paved, Malaysia 74 percent, Indonesia 47 percent, and Vietnam 35 percent.

Lacson usually scores high in polls among businessmen. Some of them say they like his firm no-nonsense style of management that they said the country needs to be able to move forward.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 11, 2004)

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