" They will go to his gravesite to recall not only his onscreen exploits and off-screen kindness but also his decision to enter politics. "
As we indicated in a previous column, on Dec. 14, the family, friends and supporters of the late Fernando Poe, Jr, or FPJ, will troop to his grave at the Manila North Cemetery to commemorate his 15th death anniversary. Among those who will certainly be there are FPJ's wife Susan Roces and their daughter, Senator Grace Poe. They and many others will go to his gravesite to recall not only his onscreen exploits and off-screen kindness and generosity, but also his decision to enter politics by running for president in 2004.
Months before the 2004 presidential elections, the political opposition had seen it fit to prod FPJ, a close friend of former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, to run for the highest elective post. Poe was deemed very popular with the masses and the opposition believed that he would be a sure winner if he decided to run against the incumbent, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
On Dec. 30, 2002, Arroyo declared that she would not run for president in 2004. But on Oct. 4, 2003, she made a 180-degree turn and announced her intention to run for president.
On Nov. 26, 2003, FPJ acceded to the popular clamor for him to run for president. But no sooner had the ink dried on FPJ's certificate of candidacy when a lawyer filed a petition seeking his disqualification on the ground that he was not a natural-born citizen. The Comelec junked the petition, but the petitioner went up to the Supreme Court.
On March 3, 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the Comelec decision removed any legal obstacles to FPJ's candidacy.
In the May 10, 2004 presidential contest between Arroyo and Poe, the final tally of the Comelec showed that Arroyo obtained 12,905,808 votes or 39.9 percent of the total, while Poe got 11,782,232 or 36.51 percent. That's a difference of only 1,123,576 votes. The 3.48 percent margin of victory is said to be the closest margin in the history of Philippine presidential elections.
Interestingly, the partial and unofficial Namfrel Quick Count showed Poe obtained 11,272,388 votes or 39.4 percent of the total, while GMA got 10,456, 243 votes or 36.6 percent.
The close fight between Arroyo and FPJ opposition standard bearer led to allegations by the camp of the opposition standard bearer that he had been cheated of a well-deserved victory.
The uproar over the alleged rigging of the 2004 elections reached a crescendo when a year after the 2004 elections, an audio tape surfaced where Arroyo was heard asking a Comelec commissioner during the counting if she would still lead the count by more than one million.
That eventually was the margin that she enjoyed over her opponent.
After much denial, Malacañang arranged a televised speech by Arroyo where she said “I am sorry” for her "lapse in judgment" but not admitting to election fraud.
But what did FPJ offer the electorate as his campaign platform?
We can have a glimpse of what he wanted to do once elected from the acceptance speech prepared by his campaign team in late 2003.
Here, FPJ laid down his vision for the country. Some excerpts:
"I accept the nomination to run as the presidential candidate of the United Opposition in the May 2004 elections. In all humility, I seek the mandate of all Filipinos who truly care for the future of this nation. Together, let us put the country back on the road to peace and progress.
"Ours is a nation in crisis. Poverty is a fact of life for one-third of all Filipinos. The economy is in tatters, with few new investments coming in. Factories are shutting down because of the economic slump, forcing many of our people to go jobless and unable to support their families.
"As the economy takes a nosedive, crime runs rampant everywhere. Corruption in government continues unabated, with about a fourth of the annual national budget ending up in private pockets instead of going to vital social services and infrastructure.
"Amid all this, there is a palpable sense of despair and hopelessness among many Filipinos from all walks of life. From Luzon to Mindanao, the cry of our people is deliverance from consistent economic decline and unceasing political strife.
"We need a change in leadership. I believe this nation needs a leader who can unify all our people. If we want to achieve peace and prosperity, then we must unite as a people.
"We need food, peace and justice. And we need freedom, prosperity and jobs. We must stimulate economic growth, create new jobs for the jobless. We must heal our fractured society, put an end to destructive political bickering and widespread corruption.
"I intend to pursue this political campaign with the highest standards of decorum and ethical behavior. We cannot have mudslinging and black propaganda. Nor should we resort to cheap song-and-dance routines to attract crowds. Instead, let us discuss the issues in a sober and rational manner. We seek to enlighten our people so they can make an informed choice come election day.
"It is true that I have had no experience in public office. This is an asset, not a liability. I have no experience in corruption, no experience in wheeling and dealing, and no experience in horse-trading for the sake of political expediency.
"It is true that throughout my adult life, I have devoted myself to making movies. This is an asset, not a liability. While I come from the world of make-believe, I know what our people feel. And I do know that that our people are asking for is real change, and they cannot wait.
"I believe we must unite our people behind a doable program for peace and progress. Life in this country must go forward, not backward. This nation must heal itself. And I intend to make it whole again.
"But I also ask our citizens to serve their country. We must spark a rebirth of responsible citizenship and selfless service to others."