This 3,000-word feature, part of the Inquirer’s Charm Offensive Revisited series, ran on the front page of the May 5, 2004 issue—a week before the presidential elections. (This version differs slightly from the piece as published; I edited three or four infelicitous passages, made a couple of corrections, changed one translation.)
Air of unreality
Fernando Poe Jr. is a king running for president. This explains his candidacy’s mass appeal; it also explains his campaign’s increasingly unappealing prospects of victory. An air of unreality marks his bid for the presidency.
Flashback to two Tuesdays ago. At the back of the makeshift stage constructed in the middle of Librada Avelino Street in Pandacan, Manila, campaign organizers call for more security about 10 minutes before Poe arrives. Local campaign supporters wearing blue vests are marshaled into the area, and they join the others already linking arms. With their bodies, they mark off a path for Poe. But the moment Poe exits his vehicle (a new Toyota Land Cruiser without license plates; he is, as is his wont, riding in the front seat), a frenzy difficult to capture on television spreads through the crowd. The pushing and shoving is claustrophobic. Even the supporters doubling as security shout and scream his name. “FPJ! FPJ! FPJ!” In their fervor, some forget to link arms.
Is this a political campaign? More like fans’ day for the popular movie actor known as “Da King.”
But the same unreality marks the rest of his campaign. His leaders belittle the surveys which Poe once ruled. These are being manipulated, says Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Poe’s personal campaign manager. They are the work of “analysts in air-conditioned offices,” Poe’s running mate Senator Loren Legarda says over a midnight meal. How do you measure your progress in the campaign, if you don’t believe in the integrity of these surveys? “We conduct our own,” says ex-Senator Ernesto Herrera, one of Poe’s candidates for the Senate. Continue reading