Malacañang to FPJ: Bare platform of government

- Mayen Jaymalin -
Fernando Poe Jr. should bare his platform of government and how he plans to solve the country’s problems — especially its struggling economy — the ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats said yesterday, following the action star’s reported bid for the presidency.

Poe told The STAR in an exclusive interview that he had decided to challenge President Arroyo in next year’s presidential race.

"I cannot turn my back on the people," he said. "I cannot be deaf to their clamor."

However, as he left his film studio yesterday, Poe remained coy about his plans for 2004, telling reporters he was still discussing his candidacy with political allies. But he did not deny the report.

"The final word is I am just meeting with some of my leaders to thank them for their support," said Poe, clad in blue jeans and a polo shirt. "Actually, I am still communicating with a lot of people."

Lakas spokesman Heherson Alvarez said Poe should make himself open for debate and prove himself worthy of running the country because he has no experience in holding public office.

"Those who are aspiring to become the leader of the country must have time to explain to the public his views and programs," he said in an interview.

"Open debate is very important because a matinee idol running in the elections could be worrisome since popularity can sometimes overshadow the problems affecting the country," Alvarez said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye declined to comment. "Let those who want to run for the presidency run. Beyond that, we have no other comment," he said.

Former President Fidel Ramos, who turned the economy around during his term from 1992 to 1998, questioned Poe’s qualifications.

"The country deserves someone better than FPJ, with all due respect to him," he said in an interview, adding the "electorate must choose carefully" when they go to the polls in May.

Asked by The STAR why he thought he would make a good president, Poe said: "Because I am not beholden to anybody. And because I am not corrupt."

Poe said he would run under the banner of the opposition.

Asked if there was any chance he would change his mind about standing for president, Poe said: "No more."

However, a spokeswoman for the actor said yesterday that Poe was only discussing possibilities and has made no announcement of his candidacy. But she did not say the comments were inaccurately reported.

"He was totally caught unawares (by the article)," Susan Tagle told Reuters by telephone.

"He had a very informal conversation with the reporter. They were just discussing possibilities. It is not an announcement and there is not going to be one in the next few days."

Asked if the article was inaccurate, Tagle said: "I can’t say it is inaccurate but he was only giving his personal position on the issue. He is still bound by the selection process of the opposition. It is not a final thing."

Poe is "open to the idea of running but whether he is officially declaring his candidacy, that was not his intention," Tagle said. "Nothing final at the moment. We are still going through consultations, weighing our options."

A political strategist close to Poe’s camp said the actor had agreed to join a selection process beginning this week to find a united opposition candidate.

"There is an emerging consensus among opposition parties to endorse FPJ," the strategist, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. "FPJ has agreed to join the selection process this week."

The candidacy of Poe, known affectionately as "Da King" or FPJ, could prove the greatest stumbling block for Mrs. Arroyo’s chances of winning a full six-year term in the May polls, surveys showed.

Some Lakas congressmen remained confident of an Arroyo victory.

"Government is not a struggle for ratings but a delivery of people’s needs," Assistant Majority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.

"Poe cannot play a role not fit for him," Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said.

Poe is consistently one of the top five preferred candidates cited in recent national surveys but, so far, has trailed the competition despite his iconic status.

Poe, however, commands the poorest classes of Philippine society, which account for four out of 10 Filipinos.

Considered the local version of Hollywood hero John Wayne, Poe is idolized by millions of poor Filipinos awed by his movie roles portraying him as a soft-spoken champion of the underdog who conquers all odds to triumph in the end.

Analysts have expressed concern that Poe’s popularity could make him president despite a lack of political expertise at a time when the Philippines is facing huge economic problems, including a faltering peso and a massive budget deficit.

Poe’s possible bid elicited strong reactions from some pro-administration and opposition congressmen — none of them flattering or encouraging.

"That’s his privilege no matter how incompetent he may be," said Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. "The qualification that comes to my mind is that he killed thousands of Japanese soldiers in war movies."

"We want to know who the real directors are behind FPJ," said Deputy Minority Leader Rolex Suplico of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the country’s biggest opposition party.

"We want to know his stand and plans on many hard and complicated issues of the country — not that of his handlers and scriptwriters," he said.

Markets have already been unsettled by Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho’s announcement on Friday that he would resign at the end of the month.

The peso quickly fell near a record low against the dollar on concern that Camacho’s departure could be a setback to recent progress on stemming the deficit and prompt more Cabinet desertions as political maneuvering intensifies ahead of the May polls.

Critics have also questioned Poe’s capability to govern a deeply divided country of 82 million people.

Poe does not belong to any party and would need the political machinery of one group to sustain a nationwide campaign, analysts say.

He is a staunch friend of former President Joseph Estrada, himself a former movie idol, who was ousted in a popular revolt in January 2001 and is now on trial for economic plunder, a capital offense which carries the maximum penalty of death. — With Nikko Dizon, Paolo Romero, Jose Aravilla, AFP, Reuters











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