The story appeared in the entertainment pages where it belonged, but was far from entertaining.

Interviewed by an Inquirer entertainment reporter, film director Carlos “Carlitos” Siguion-Reyna and actor Richard Gomez had almost the same message. A Supreme Court decision on the Fernando Poe Jr. citizenship case adverse to the actor could have dire consequences.

The Commission on Elections threw out the Fornier petition for reconsideration of the Comelec’s earlier decision that Poe can run this May. Lawyer Andresito Fornier, however, is taking his case to the Supreme Court—the decision of which could be one of the most critical events of this political season.

Siguion-Reyna—a nephew of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile who’s running for senator in Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP)—warned “people now in power” to be “careful before they start manipulating and fooling the people again.”

Gomez was even more forthright. A Supreme Court decision disqualifying Fernando Poe Jr. from running for president could cause people to riot.

“It is possible,” Gomez intoned, “that FPJ supporters would go out to the streets again.”

Both personalities ended those statements with the word “again,” which in Siguion-Reyna’s case meant that the current administration had at least once before “manipulat[ed] and fool[ed] the people.”

Which could very well be true, but which in the context of his statement referred to the Supreme Court, since, Siguion Reyna said earlier, Malacanang would be behind any adverse Court decision on Poe’s case.

Said Siguion-Reyna: “Developments in the last few months prove that the walls separating the branches of government are starting to disappear. Garapalan na kasi and ginagawa ng Malacanang to discredit FPJ (Malacanang’s efforts to discredit FPJ have become brazen).”

On the other hand, Gomez’ “again” apparently referred to the May1, 2001 riots, which occurred on behalf of Joseph Estrada, not Poe, for whom no riot has so far broken out.

But the confusion is understandable. It’s because Fernando Poe Jr.’s partisans in the film industry today are also Joseph Estrada’s, and what’s more, probably don’t see much difference between them, assuming they see any difference at all.

Consider how they regard Poe’s grudging, one word admission that he indeed has a son out of wedlock. Almost uniformly have his partisans described it as courageous, forthright and honest and as the mark of the true leader, much like the way they described Joseph Estrada’s admitting—in fact boasting—of his numerous mistresses and children by them in 1998.

But Gomez’ and Siguion-Reyna’s statements are also distressing. It’s not because people who would dabble in politics should at least get their facts straight, but because of the assumption that a Court decision disqualifying Poe would by definition be the result of collusion between Malacanang and the Court.

One can only surmise that a decision declaring Poe qualified would on the other hand be accepted by the Poe crowd (which includes not only his show business supporters but also Estrada’s base among the urban and rural poor)—and probably hailed as a triumph of judicial independence, wisdom and insight.

It could very well be a triumph of the mob, however, considering the threat of disorder to which Gomez and Siguion-Reyna have given voice to, and to the fear of which the Court could succumb.

The pity is that, in giving voice to the possibility of riots and other dire consequences, Gomez and Siguion-Reyna were merely saying something that could very well happen. Whether in the streets of Manila or elsewhere, rioting in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision adverse to Poe would be the logical consequence of the decay of Philippine politics to its present point, where popularity no matter how and where gained has become the deciding factor in elections.

But it would also be due to the poverty that afflicts some 40 percent of the population, and even more crucially, the inequality, injustice, misery and alienation rampant in Philippine society.

The May 1, 2001 riot was triggered by the arrest of Joseph Estrada in the last week of April, and was egged on by the most reckless of his political allies. But it was also a powerful testimony to the fury of the poor and the powerless against an order of things their labors sustained, but which denied them their rightful share in the wealth they themselves produced, and the power that on paper they supposedly enjoyed.

Two years later the same fury still seethes beneath the seemingly placid surface of a society whose rulers and their allies have resisted change for over a hundred years. More numerous than ever, and even more desperate, the Filipino poor are indifferent to the elections this May only to the extent that they’re seen as fair. Any sign that they’re not can again awaken the same deep-seated resentments the country witnessed in 2001.

A similar—and perhaps worse—eruption can occur should it seem to the Filipino poor that a conspiracy to keep Poe off the list of candidates for president is afoot. Such an outbreak would need only a little help from the organized Estrada forces among the urban poor and the horde of unrepentant trapos in the KNP. Mass perception that there is such a conspiracy, as manifest in a Supreme Court decision to disqualify Poe, would also widen and consolidate his support, and make it impossible to put anyone else in power.

Poe’s disqualification would endow him that most crucial key to his total capture of the popular imagination: the perception that one is an underdog battling the wealthy and powerful oppressors of the vast armies of the poor.

Although the theme of the underdog, so dear to the hearts of Filipinos with their long history of oppression and exclusion, is a constant in Poe’s movies as in Estrada’s—and helps explain their popularity—Poe’s being so perceived in the real world of Philippine politics has so far eluded him, given his resources, his friends, and his status as a star, which in this country has put Poe in the company of the Angaras, the Enriles and the Macedas.

Poe’s disqualification could be the one factor that could change that perception—and convince the legions of the poor the capital saw at work attacking Malacanang, destroying traffic lights and torching media vehicles in May, 2001 to once more emerge from the hideous slums to which an unjust order has condemned them.

From there the consequences could include destabilization grave enough for the Arroyo administration to declare another state of rebellion—incidentally recently declared legal by the Supreme Court—thus making the holding of the May elections problematic and
even impossible.

All of which could play into the hands of the Arroyo government, to whose interest, one can presume, a no-elections scenario would be the preferred alternative to being kicked out of Malacanang and Congress in the aftermath of May 10. Though newcomers to politics, Gomez and Siguion-Reyna knew whereof they spoke—and to an extent they may not have been aware of.

(Today/, February 10, 2004)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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