December 17, 2004


Do not go gentle into that good night Rage, rage against the dying of the light -- Dylan Thomas

Coming out of Sto. Domingo church last night and seeing the growing lines of people patiently queuing to get a glimpse of the remains of Fernando Poe Jr., popular movie actor known as "Da King" and reluctant politician, the man who would be President of the Republic, we could not help asking, "Why?"

Why the outpouring of grief, the exaggerated sense of loss, and, for not a few, the suppressed anger and seething indignation at the death of a man who, albeit with a surfeit of endearing qualities, actually had the good fortune to die quietly, slipping from a coma to his eternal rest while in the company of his loving family, friends and admirers.

A cursory and superficial analysis would come up with the more obvious reasons. FPJ was one of the most popular movie actors; his bida characters on the silver screen captured the imagination of legions of moviegoers who became loyal and enduring fans. His real life persona matched the tinsel-town enigma with tales of his generosity to his extended family, friends, employees and just about any needy person who had the luck to be within the ambit of FPJ's charitable inclinations.

But it was his unsuccessful foray into the rough-and-tumble world of Philippine politics that made FPJ loom larger than he would have had, had he stayed in the relative comfort and ease of the make-believe world he indisputably dominated.

FPJ's being a popular film action star/hero made him an attractive alternative for millions of our people who felt this country needed no less than a superhero of sorts to lift us out of the deep rut of backwardness, corruption, and other social ills we had been mired into for the last six decades since independence.

His being a winnable nontraditional politician (trapo) made him the better choice for millions who were sick and tired of trapos, but still looked to the elections as the democratic way of resolving the issue of national leadership.

But his strengths also brought out his limitations. That the electoral contest was close enough (i.e., no one had an insurmountable lead) for fraud to make a difference showed the people were aware of his limitations even as they were desirous of a change in leadership.

Nonetheless, the failure of his bid for the presidency was seen by his followers not merely as a lost golden opportunity. The massive and systematic plunder of the treasury, the vote buying and the electoral fraud, put the legitimacy and integrity of the current administration in serious doubt. The retention of the incumbent President meant the continuation, some say the aggravation, of the faults and ills the people had so desperately sought to remedy.

Thus, FPJ's demise by no means extinguishes the desire, much less the need, for an overhaul of the present dispensation. As the street parliamentarians and activists would pithily say, "Tuloy ang laban." The dream lives on.

Perhaps, the tragedy in FPJ's candidacy is that whatever sincerity, good intentions, and even legendary incorruptibility he possessed and could have brought into the presidency had he been declared the winner, would not have been enough to lift the nation and the tens of millions of the masses who adored and supported him, from the morass of corruption, chronic debt and crisis, widespread poverty and abject subservience to foreign dictates and vested interests.

FPJ failed to carry the "swing votes" not so much because he was a high school dropout or an inexperienced public leader. It was because he had not convincingly displayed the will and clearly shown the way to overhauling the rotten system and building a new social order.

But now in his death, what matters is that he tried. With all his limitations -- and they were not piddling -- he took the leap of faith. He staked his reputation, exposed his vulnerabilities, and risked even his own health and the well-being of his loved ones.

And for what? More riches and power? Unlikely. A stab at greatness in the real world? Perhaps. Or a sincere, if naive, response to the call of the times -- the desperate cry of a forlorn yet hopeful people for change? Believable.

If only for that, FPJ deserves our respect and our admiration. And because of that, his passing must be made to count for something more than the usual orgy of grieving over an idol who has passed on.

Let us not dignify the safe, sanitized image of a celluloid hero that the Arroyo administration and its mass media allies would want to reduce FPJ into. For that robs his choice, his sacrifices, of their meaning.

Let us not be content with the philanthropic, "big-hearted" image of a good and decent man that his political enemies seem to be so generous in according him. For while true, to do so would be to fall prey to the hidden agenda; that is, to demean the fact of his accepting the challenge to lead his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land, no matter how illusory.

Let us not be led either into the pitfall of raising him to the pantheon of dead heroes -- larger than life, noble but out of reach, an icon transfigured into myth -- his death to serve no more subversive a purpose in the schemes of the defenders of the unjust status quo than to provide the people with an empty symbol of their aspirations. That is what the offers of Malacañang to have FPJ buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani or be declared a "National Artist" is really all about.

As his gracious life partner, Susan Roces, astutely pointed out, Gloria Arroyo and her minions robbed the people who believed in FPJ and voted for him, not just of their choice but of their dreams.

That is stuff not just for the script of a tear-jerker movie nor for the blaring headline of a tabloid or a talk show's catchy sound bite.

That, essentially, is what GMA, in her worst nightmares, fears the masa will soon enough realize and act upon.

Dec. 17-18, 2004


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