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Again, the making of a myth: Erap’s last hurrah

Senator Grace P. Llamanzares’ speech the other day “offering” herself as our next President was unexpectedly quite impressive. Her oratory would be the final nail on Manuel Roxas II political coffin, and for Vice President Jejomar Binay a loud wake-up call.

As the myth of Benigno Aquino 3rd as the prince of the Yellow Righteous Path has unraveled, comes another myth-making episode in our county’s political history—although the more precise term would be hoaxes-for-some-purported-noble-purpose.

A myth is a myth because the false pillars making it up aren’t easy to spot. But we are fortunate that the gullible editors of an internet-only news outfit, rappler.com, wrote an introduction to the text of Llamanzares’ speech that conveniently allows us to uncover the elements of this new myth of the Avenging Daughter. The rappler.com introduction went as follows (emphasis mine):

“Senator Grace Poe declared on Wednesday night her presidential bid, promising to pursue the mission of her late father to help the poor.

“I wanted to continue what my father FPJ had started,” said Poe. Actor Fernando Poe J. ran for president in 2004, but he was widely believed to have been cheated by President Gloria Arroyo.

Political observers considered it proof of voters’ support for FPJ when Grace Poe topped the 2013 senatorial elections. After the public noticed her fearless probe into anomalies in the management of the Metro Rail Transit and the Philippine National Police, Poe started topping presidential preference surveys.”

The myth’s first false pillar: “She will pursue the mission of her late father to help the poor.”

Man behind the myth? Left, Mayor Estrada; right, Senator Llamanzares. Inset, “Best friends forever” young men Erap and FPJ.
Man behind the myth? Left, Mayor Estrada; right, Senator Llamanzares. Inset, “Best friends forever” young men Erap and FPJ.

Llamanzares’ adoptive father, Fernando Poe Jr. was by all accounts, even by my source who was very close to him, “a nice man”, a regular guy who was good to his friends.

But he just minded his own business, and his hobbies were to escape to his farm to work-out before movie shooting, and drinking cases of beer with friends in some Class B Chinese restaurant, as he loved Chinese food as his pulutan.

Like another celebrity Dolphy, he was never interested in politics, as his bosom friend Joseph Estrada was, and he never cared about social causes. To claim he had a “life’s mission” to help the poor is to claim that Derek Ramsey is a Marxist revolutionary.

What did FPJ start?
Second fallacy of the myth: “I wanted to continue what my father started, “ Llamanzares said, referring to FPJ’s bid for the presidency in the 2004 elections.

Did FPJ in one of his beer-guzzling sessions in 2004 suddenly have a St. Paul-like revelation from the God Almighty, to repent and help the poor? Did he suddenly see his riches and fame as empty vanities of this world, and decided to lead the Philippines to prosperity?

I don’t think even the rappler.com editors would even believe that.

By 2003, the trial for plunder of FPJ’s closest friend, Joseph Estrada, was unexpectedly proceeding fast, with witnesses standing by their ground, documents presented, and the prosecution – manned by the best private trial lawyers – was pinning Estrada down in every hearing. He would be the very first person to be tried and convicted for plunder, and nobody doubted he would be convicted the penalty for which is lifetime imprisonment.

Undaunted by the mass attack on Malacanang, the so-called EDSA Tres, the INC’s requests for Estrada to be freed, and the coup attempts by megalomaniacs like now-senator Antonio Trillanes IV, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stood her ground, and made clear she would not interfere with the trial, although she did give Estrada the proper courtesy he deserved as a former President of the Republic.

Estrada had become despondent and desperate. He was becoming almost psychotic after the several episodes of a noisy helicopter landing by his stockade in the middle of the night to whisk him off to some secure secret place. This was the SOP of the security forces whenever there was a coup attempt or even just rumors of a coup, according to them, to prevent Estrada from being some kind of rallying figure.

I was told at that time by several sources that Estrada begged FPJ: “Rani, kung manalo biling presidente si Gloria, mabubulok ako dito sa kulungan habang buhay. Kilala mo ako, mamamatay ako dito.” Estrada with misty eyes stared at FPJ and asked him, “Ikaw lang ang pwedeng tumalo kay Gloria. Wala kang gagastusin. Ako ang bahala. Tutal buhay ko ang nakasalalay dito.” (Rani, if Gloria [President Arroyo] wins [in the 2004 elections], I will rot in jail my whole life. You know me, I will die here. It is only you who can defeat Arroyo. You will not spend anything, I’ll take care of all the expenses. After all, my life is at stake here.”)

“With God’s grace?” Or Estrada’s?
“With God’s grace?” Or Estrada’s?

Despite his wife Susan’s and all of his friends’ objections (with some kind of prescience one of his friends even warned him he could die in the pressures of the campaign), FPJ gave in to Estrada’s pleadings. One source however said it wasn’t entirely out of friendship: FPJ had been telling friends that he was sad his box-office appeal seemed to be fading, as young Filipinos were tired of Filipino action movies and had come to prefer romance drama.

Mission: Free Estrada
FPJ’s mission was to free his bosom friend Estrada. That it was to help the poor is hogwash.

The Third fallacy in the myth: “FP was widely believed to have been cheated by President Gloria Arroyo.” This is a lie rappler.com has been repeating in every single news report on Llamanzares.

How could FPJ win when he refused to participate in the presidential debate everyone was calling for? How could he win when he didn’t want to be interviewed that editors and reporters started to hate him, and especially after he lost his temper when he scolded a TV broadcaster before a camera with him (FPJ) speaking as a background? How could FPJ win, when the entire EDSA II forces – that is, nearly all of the elite – threw their resources against FPJ’s elections, knowing that if he won, Estrada would be released, and come back to power with a vengeance?

Several businessmen and leaders of EDSA II, aware of the killing during Estrada’s regime of such personalities as publicist Bubby Dacer and the Pagcor employee Robert Bentain, who had leaked the CCTV tapes of Estrada playing poker in the casino and even told me they feared for their lives if he came back to power.

That “Hello, Garci” thing? If Garcellano did the 2004 cheating, wouldn’t that have been proven in the last five years by a president so obsessed in keeping Arroyo in jail and demonizing her. The truth is that Garcellano was already a has-been at that time and already had an infamous reputation that he had become a pariah in the Comelec and in Mindanao. To her regret though, Arroyo wanted to complain to Garcellano about reports that FPJ’s forces had managed to cheat in Maguindanao, the Comelec official’s bastion.

Arroyo’s running mate Noli de Castro had a mass following, even as FPJ’s popularity had actually been fading fast with the youth, most of whom had never seen his films. The INC threw their support behind Arroyo which meant – as exist pols would reveal – a solid 800,000 vote for her. Of course the El Shaddai and Catholic Church organizations supported Arroyo, knowing that FPJ was just a proxy of a womanizing, drunkard president who was being tried for plunder.

Three pre-election surveys by the Social Weather Station and PulseAsia showed Arroyo leading by 6-7 percentage points or 3 to 4 million votes. I would think it was Arroyo who was cheated.

And these rappler.com editors claim FPJ “was widely believed to have been cheated by Arroyo.” Where on earth were these people in those years?

The fourth fallacy in the myth-making exercise, which however unwittingly reveals Llamanzares’ political clout: “Political observers considered it proof of voters’ support for FPJ when Grace Poe topped the 2013 senatorial elections,” the rappler.com nonsense put it.

There here were indeed 11.8 million Filipinos who voted for FPJ, 1.1 million less than the 12.9 million who voted for Arroyo, according to the official Comelec results. While you may call it “voters’ support,” it only demonstrated celebrity power that subverts democracy. How could they vote for FPJ when he hardly said a word on what he would do as president?

Voting for Panday
They were voting for Panday, not FPJ, who after all they knew practically nothing about, other than his being wed to another celebrity star Susan Roces and was San Miguel beer’s most popular endorser. They were voting for that comic strip hero in Spandex pants and with a magical sword, or that jeepney driver who always had a cheap face-towel slung around his neck, not for the beer-guzzler who was fond of Boss and Prada jeans and lived in the posh Greenhills Village.

It is the same confusion over what’s real and what’s in the movies that got Llamanzares the most number of votes in the Senate race, not some intelligent choice on who should be the best president.

It is also involves that thing called “name-recall.” Even if voters tried to evaluate the qualification of each and every candidate for the Senate, almost always they would be left with three to four empty slots for senator in the ballot. But the household name “Poe” will pop up in their heads, and with the feeling that they don’t want to waste their vote, write Poe in one of the blank lines.

Llamanzares though is certainly a big improvement over her father, first in terms of her oratorical skills, which she learned in participating in debate clubs in college. The fact that her mother is an actress is also an asset, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she went through acting classes recently for her to emote so well as she did when she gave her speech.

Llamanzares would be able to do what FPJ couldn’t: She will eat both Roxas and Binay alive in a presidential debate.

Her second improvement: advised obviously by the wily Senator Francis Escudero, she has built her persona beyond the FPJ-daughter image. “The public noticed her fearless probe into anomalies in the management of the Metro Rail Transit and the Philippine National Police, Poe started topping presidential preference surveys,” the rappler.com gushed over her.

But did she do anything to expose the corruption in the MRT-3 that is the cause of its horrible condition and require it to undertake changes to improve its services? More intriguingly, why did she not report to the Senate itself the findings of her committee on the Mamasapano massacre, so it could be a Senate-adopted report?

In these two investigations, was she just at that time nudging Aquino to choose her as his candidate and junk Roxas?

Myths put our rational mind in check, and provoke even among the educated emotional responses. I’m sure Llamanzares the other day got many in audience to have misty eyes. Myths serve to make us believe the unlikely, that this lady who renounced her country of birth (and of adoption) has come from the other side of the world to be the president of that nation and save it.)

But we’ve been there before, have done that–or have we easily forgotten Aquino 3rd in 2010?

Aquino 3rd’s myth was that he was Cory’s revenge against Arroyo for not stepping down when she demanded so in 2005 with the voices of the Hyatt 10.

This time it is not really FPJ’s revenge, but Estrada’s. He has brought Llamanzares to the INC to convince it to support her. He introduced her in a party for FPJ’s birthday as the “next President.” He has reportedly asked his usual Chinese business supporters like William Gatchalian to build her campaign kitty.

A wily fox Estrada continues to be, he didn’t appear in Llamanzares’ coming-out party. But when Congressman Ronaldo Zamora, his biggest business supporter William Gatchalian (represented by his son), and the actors and actresses are there, it is Erap’s party.

I’d be very worried if I were Aquino. Did he think Erap would take likely his son’s jailing, and just be happy with being Manila mayor?

Llamanzares is Erap’s revenge and last hurrah.

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