I will not speculate on how his supporters will react if the Supreme Court rules that Fernando Poe Jr. is disqualified from running for president. I don’t think anyone knows. But some people should stop pushing the Court to disqualify FPJ by suggesting this is the only way to prevent the looming disaster of an FPJ presidency. No one really knows how the country will fare under any president. If we care for the nation, we should admonish the SC to rule on the citizenship issue solely on the basis of the law and the facts, rather than in anticipation of what may follow from its judgment.
If we can no longer trust the Supreme Court to act with wisdom and objectivity, then that would be the end of Constitutional rule. That is why it behooves the justices of the Court to always act with impartiality and to ensure that their decisions are credible and explained clearly to the public.
I do not believe FPJ will prod his followers to go berserk and burn the country down if the SC decision does not go his way. Nothing in his record inclines him toward demagogic behavior. His rivals may ascribe to him all kinds of disabilities and vices, but exploiting the anger of followers to avenge a personal injury cannot be one of them. My personal knowledge of how he acted in the face of “Edsa Tres” leads to me believe that, as a matter of principle, he is against inciting people to violence in support of their leaders.
In the early morning of May 1, 2001, as the Edsa Tres demonstrators, all fired up by the incendiary speeches of the previous nights, began to march down Malacanang, I was awakened by a phone call. “Ronnie Poe would like to speak to you,” said his long-time secretary Susan Tagle. To say it was a totally unexpected phone call would be an understatement. Although I had met him a few times, we did not know one another all that well. From the tone of his voice, he seemed bothered. He asked if I had been monitoring the march to Mendiola. “Many innocent people are going to get killed,” he said. “Somebody has to persuade the marchers to disperse and turn back.” He said only Erap could speak to them. It was for him that they were out in the streets.
FPJ said he was calling to ask if I would put Erap on camera so he could speak to his followers. He told me that he had watched “Off the Record” the other night, and that he shared the alarm that my co-host Katrina Legarda and I had expressed over the turn of events at the Edsa Shrine. He said he would try to persuade Erap to stop the march to Malacanang. I asked for assurance that Erap would not instead use the TV interview to further inflame the passions of his supporters. You have my word, he said. “Get your crew ready, I will call him now at Veterans, and I will get back to you.” I told him I would have to clear the interview with my station.
The interview never materialized. An upset FPJ called back a few minutes later to say that Erap had been taken away from his room by government soldiers and that no one in his family knew where he was. I asked him if he was willing to go to Mendiola instead to speak to the crowd. He said that at that point the crowd would listen only to Erap. Perhaps he was right. I still wonder if FPJ would have been able to persuade his friend to stop the masa from going to Mendiola. In his public speeches just before his arrest, the former president had blamed the rich for plotting his ouster. In the May 2001 election, even his wealthy senatorial candidates played the class conflict card to endear themselves to the masa.
But it was good to know where FPJ stood on this question. I have shared this vignette with a few friends who have asked if I thought FPJ would not use the same rich vs. poor theme in his campaign for the presidency. I have confidently replied that he would not.
But what the hotheads in his camp might do in the face of an adverse decision is another matter. Where crowds are involved, no one can really foresee how events will unfold. In sociology, to get a sense of where things could go, we talk of conditions of possibility — certain realities that make events possible even if not inevitable. I will mention one example here that may give us a window to the masa mind.
More than poverty, it is perceived injustice that provokes the poor to rebel. What we call the underdog mentality is the general feeling that the rich, the powerful, and the educated in society conspire at every turn to block one’s quest for a better life by resort to duplicity and technicality. The masa feel they are routinely presumed guilty until they can prove their innocence. Yet, lack of documentation – land titles, ID cards, diplomas, birth and marriage certificates — is precisely the story of their life. They are speechless when challenged to prove their entitlements and very existence.
To these millions of undocumented natural-born Filipinos, the citizenship issue against FPJ is thus nothing new. It belongs to the armory of technicalities that the powerful regularly use against the powerless to deny them their basic rights as citizens. What is happening here is as clear as day to them — their hero is being eliminated by technicality. It won’t be easy to erase this suspicion.
If the Supreme Court decides to declare FPJ an alien, I only hope it does so with irrefutable proof, such as maybe a foreign passport or a voters list in California or Madrid – anything to show that this man, by an affirmative act rather than by someone else’s act of omission, chose to be other than Filipino. Only in this way can it prevent a massive storm of protest.
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