Why fear FPJ?

The author is coordinator and member of the Management Collective of Action for Economic Reforms.

FPJ stands for Food, Peace, and Justice. This, according to some
quarters, is going to be the campaign slogan of Fernando Poe, Jr., once
he throws his hat into the political ring. This FPJ slogan has punch:
an already magnetic actor further captivating the poor by talking about
food, peace and justice.

The slogan of food, peace, and justice sounds uncannily Bolshevik. It
is the kind of slogan that swept Lenin into power. Although far from
being a Bolshevik, FPJ as a politician conjures up the picture of a
charismatic leader being catapulted into power by the agitated masses.
Just replace the image of Lenin waving to the workers from a train
platform on the way to the Winter Palace with an FPJ on horseback,
followed by the teeming masses, negotiating the road to Malacanang.

For the upper classes and the intelligentsia, this is a dreadful and
shocking scenario. The more condescending among the intellectual elite
look at FPJ as being as dull as ex-President Joseph Estrada (or perhaps
a little less dull than his kumpadre). The rich would simply demean
FPJ, for he does not belong to their discriminating and refined class.

Winnie Monsod’s reaction to an FPJ presidency represents the sentiments
of her friends in the upper crust of society and her colleagues in the
academe. In a seminar for student leaders a few months ago, she was
asked what simple but essential tasks the youth could do for the
country. As the first task, Ms. Monsod strongly urged the student
leaders to convince their parents and other people not to vote for FPJ.

Lately, columns and letters to newspaper editors lambasting FPJ have
become more frequent. The typical comments say that FPJ is
inexperienced and incompetent to become a president, that an actor
presiding over the country is farcical, that an FPJ presidency is going
to be a repeat of Estrada’s term, etc.

Even among the circle of activists, the fear of an FPJ presidency is
apparent. Some friends who are involved in progressive activism have
told me that they would rather vote with their feet (i.e., leave the
country) than accept a popular vote for FPJ.

In short, for those opposed to FPJ for president, he cannot be the
embodiment of the FPJ slogan: food, peace, and justice. Rather his
initials stand for fraud, pork, and junk.

Surely, there is some basis to fear FPJ becoming the next Philippine
president. My fear, for one, stems from FPJ’s long-standing friendship
with Estrada. It is quite possible that an Estrada-supported FPJ
presidency would lead to Estrada’s exoneration. (This practice is not
uncommon though. Previous administrations have in significant degrees
compromised with the rapacious Marcos clique, including cronies. And
that is why the masses have become inured to compromise).

That said, some of the criticisms against FPJ as a presidential
candidate are unfair. The most preposterous of the criticisms is that
an actor like FPJ does not deserve to be elected. The Estrada debacle
serves to reinforce this argument.

But a person’s qualifications or competence in politics should not be
reduced to the question of one’s profession. Milwida Guevara, the
highly regarded former Finance undersecretary and now a program officer
of Ford Foundation, recently wrote an enthusiastic piece about the
virtues of Vilma Santos not as an actress but as the mayor of Lipa
City. No mistake about it, Ate Vi could one day become presidential
timber.

Further, other “most important professions” (Adam Smith’s term) such as
lawyers could be worse than actors in managing the nation’s affairs:
The Philippines suffers from what Raul V. Fabella calls “many narrowly
beneficial laws” crafted by a legislature dominated by lawyers.
Lawyers, too, are the political instruments of businessmen out to
capture rent. It has become standard practice of businessmen to engage
the services of lawyers who have access to the corridors of power in
order to gain advantage over competitors. The petrochemical lobby, for
instance, was served by the powerful Villaraza and Angangco law firm in
its successful bid to obtain tariff protection.

The interpretation that lawyers can be harmful to the nation’s growth
is also derived from a famous study done by the economists Andrei
Shleifer and Kevin Murphy. Their study covering a cross-section of
countries showed that a higher share of lawyers to the total graduates
had a significantly negative effect on economic growth.

In a different historical-economic context, Adam Smith lumped together
the “gravest and most important, and some of the most frivolous
professions: churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all
kinds; players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers,
etc.” In Smith’s time and from Smith’s point of view, the activities of
the professions enumerated above were unproductive in the sense that
they did not participate in the production of the material output
necessary for society’s progress. By now, we know that Smith’s notion
of being productive is narrow and literal. But the point remains that
no wide gulf separates “the most important” professions and “the most
frivolous” professions with respect to their contribution to economic
growth or to their efforts to make society more prosperous.

The argument that FPJ is inexperienced is a less preposterous yet
shallow argument. Recall the political life of Corazon Aquino, whom the
dictator Marcos ridiculed as just an ordinary housewife. She was a
political novice when she challenged Marcos in the 1986 snap elections.
And it was a historical accident that made her the leader of the
democratic opposition. Despite her inexperience and other weaknesses,
history will regard her as a heroic and decisive Philippine president.

FPJ, of course, cannot be compared with Aquino. Our point is that political inexperience need not be a bar to the presidency.

At this time, though, being engrossed with how to derail FPJ’s
candidacy distracts us from answering a more fundamental question: Why,
indeed, has someone who is part of a “most frivolous profession” become
the strongest presidential contender?

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