“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.”
– From Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard
Fernando Poe, Jr., popularly known as FPJ, is probably the most popular movie star in the Philippines during his time. And his movie career spanned several decades. In Mindanao he was not only an idol of millions, he was seen as a real hero because of his machismo well dramatized in his movie roles as crusader against criminals and as an avenger for justice.
Not being interested in Filipino movies unless movie critics praise them in media, I do not show any interest in Filipino movie stars. They are too pedestrian for my taste. But I am enthused by movies directed by Lamberto Avellana, Ishmael Bernal, and Lino Broca. But they belong to ages ago, probably even during the time of Methuselah. Of course, that is a hyperbole, but just to prove a point.
It took a cabal of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo forces to rig the 2004 presidential elections for me to know FPJ. When I was approached to be lead counsel for FPJ in the presidential national canvassing in Congress, I did not give an immediate reply. Frankly, I had reservations as I thought FPJ would just be as bad a choice as President Joseph “Erap” Estrada – fractured English, no college education, no vision of the country, and no strength of character. So I told the friend who asked me to be lawyer of FPJ to wait for two days, anyhow the national canvassing in Congress was yet to begin.
I started inquiring about FPJ. There were two incidents related to me about the character of the man. They both defined his character in very clear terms, as the stories go.
The character of the man
When President Erap just got elected president, the latter sent to FPJ a brand new Mercedes Benz as a gesture of gratitude for helping him win the election. When the messenger reached the FPJ residence informing him that a Mercedes Benz was sent to him by President Erap, FPJ immediately called the President by phone in Tagalog but which is translated here in English.
“Pare, what is this Mercedes Benz?” FPJ asked President Erap.
“Pare, that is my gift to you for helping me win the election,” President Erap replied.
“Pare, I thought you are my friend! You don’t give a friend a gift for doing you a favor. That is what friendship is all about – doing things for him as a friend. I am returning the Benz to you. I don’t need it,” FPJ curtly told President Erap.
When the story was related to me, I said to myself, this is not only a man of character he is a person with the right values and knows well the meaning of friendship.
The other story also involves President Erap. After winning the election, in a party thrown by friends in President Erap’s honor, FPJ, as a known buddy of the President, was seated beside him. After a while, Atong Ang arrived and when FPJ saw him, he whispered to President Erap, “Pare, as President you don’t need people like him. He will likely spoil, if not tarnish, your presidency. You should keep him at a distance!”
“But Pare, he is our friend,” Erap answered, hoping to placate FPJ After five minutes, FPJ left the party obviously disappointed by President Erap’s reply.
These incidents proved to me that FPJ is a man of character, with admirable values on friendship and public governance. I started to change my initial views about the man. So two days later when I learned about these stories and confirmed their truth from less biased sources, I accepted the legal engagement.
In my conversations with him, I deepened my respect for FPJ. He spoke pretty good English and he presented his views without hesitation, descriptive of a man with principles and strong opinions.
More revelations on his character
One time when he was at his hideaway in his Antipolo City resthouse, FPJ invited me and lawyer Vicente “Vic” Millora – one time President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Member of Parliament and former governor of Pangasinan – who was scheduled to be one of my co-counsels, FPJ told me, in casual conversation and without pretense, “You know, Attorney, these senators think and behave as though they could manipulate me.
Well, they are entirely wrong. They cannot hold me by the nose. You see I have my own mind and I know what to do as President. They are entirely wrong about me.” His face was serious and I knew from the stories I heard about him he exactly meant what he said.
While I had these moments with him, I thought to myself this is the man who should be President of the Philippines as he knows what he would be doing, He could ably propel the ship of state to the port of destination, without fun fare and without nonsense. It was at this point that I decided to accept the case and to know him better, lawyer Vic Millora and Edmer Lim, man Friday of FPJ who negotiated my legal engagement, went to the residence of FPJ at Greenhills for breakfast.
Before going to the breakfast table, he brought me to a corner and told me, “You know, Attorney, you are the only lawyer helping me in my case who is being paid. The rest are volunteer lawyers. Please don’t tell Susan (FPJ’S wife) that I paid you.”
“Of course, I’ll keep it a secret,” I replied. I kept my word up to this day, without telling Susan. But if she reads this, then she will know.
One fine morning, Edmer Lim brought my acceptance fee to my residence, in cash. The amount he brought to my residence was only half of the amount of my billing because Edmer told me that in order to make FPJ trust him some more, he would tell FPJ that the other half of the amount would be paid by him. Of course that was all make-believe because Edmer Lim did not give me one centavo from the other half.
On the day I was paid my acceptance fee, I was scheduled to enter my written entry of appearance in Congress at the Batasan Hills, Quezon City where the national canvassing was scheduled to be held. I could not do so because I had a conference with a foreign client late that afternoon.
A turning point
That evening, I had the shock of my life when Edmer Lim called me that I would no longer be lead counsel with lawyer Harriet Demetriou, former Chairperson of the Comelec, because there were senators and other high profile personalities in the camp of FPJ who objected to my appearance as counsel in his case. When I pressed Edmer to give me the names of the objectors, he refused to identify them, saying that it would be FPJ who would tell me when we see him for breakfast at his residence the following morning.
The following morning when I, lawyer Vic Millora and Edmer Lim arrived at the residence of FPJ, he greeted me and said, “Attorney, you have many enemies in the Senate and because of their demand, you have to excuse me if you can no longer lawyer for me in the national canvassing.”
“I really don’t mind, but please tell me, who are these senators because I never imagined having enemies in the Senate?” I asked FPJ.
The gentleman that he was, FPJ replied, ”Edmer will tell you who they are, and by the way, do you mind if you’ll just be one of my consultants?” He said.
“No, I don’t. But please understand that I can no longer return to you my acceptance fee,” I told him since under the rules of our profession, an acceptance fee cannot be returned if it is the client who changes his mind about the legal engagement since acceptance fee prevents the lawyer from accepting the case of the opposing party in the case.
“Of course, I understand that,” FPJ replied.
When we left the residence of FPJ, I asked Edmer Lim who were the objectors to my appearance as lead counsel of FPJ in the national canvassing. Teary-eyed, Edmer identified the high profile personalities as Senators Edgardo Angara, Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., Teresita “Dancing Queen” Aquino-Oreta, Tito Sotto and Mayor Jojo Binay of Makati City, now Vice-President of the Philippines. Wonder of wonders, some of these politicians later joined Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the opponent of FPJ in the 1998 presidential election. Whoever were the advisers of FPJ, they misled him into taking the advice of these personalities who in that instance were obviously thinking of their own political interests than the welfare of FPJ and the whole country.
The “noted” rulings Of Gonzales and Pangilinan
The national canvassing showed that if FPJ were represented by lawyers who could not be intimidated by then Representative Raul Gonzales of Iloilo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan of Pampanga, the story of the 2004 presidential election would have been different.
It amazed me how lawyers of FPJ meekly accepted the rulings of Gonzales and Pangilinan on the issues involving the genuineness or validity of the certificates of canvass from the provinces and cities. It was a matter of common knowledge that the troops of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) cheated massively in the elections which resulted in the illegal proclamation of GMA. The Garci tapes and the later apology of GMA told the whole story.
The rulings spelling “Noted” are no rulings. The FPJ lawyers should have asked the two men to rule on the objections so they could be appealed to the plenary session of the national canvassing board, and thereafter to the people. The goose of Gloria, Gonzales and Pangilinan would have been cooked. And the country could have been saved from the catastrophe of another six years of the GMA administration
But you cannot undo history. This one single error of the FPJ advisers to listen to the five traditional politicians mainly contributed to disaster that was the GMA administration.
End of a wonderful beginning
Like a thunderbolt, mainstream media announced that FPJ suffered a heart or cerebral attack and was confined at the St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City. Indicative that he really got elected President of the Philippines were the throngs from all walks of life who stormed the hospital just so they could have a last glimpse of FPJ and prayed that he survive the heart or cerebral attack. But prayers were not enough, FPJ died in the embrace of the Lord.
My last moment in FPJ’s life was his funeral at the Manila North Cemetery. The plan, I was informed, was for the crowds to march to Malacañang, and take it from there. But the march did not materialize. The information from the grapevine was that Jojo Binay was the one who barked the orders not to go through with the march. Whether this is true, I really do not know. Considering Binay’s intervention in the choice of FPJ’s lawyers in the national board of canvassers in the 2004 presidential election, it is possible that Binay did bark the controversial order.
In the history of countries, it is unfortunate that sometimes small and selfish minds have opportunities to manipulate events to the detriment of the countries where they come from. The case of FPJ as a victim is one of them. If FPJ sat as President of the Philippines since he was duly elected, though not proclaimed, the country would have greatly changed for the better and would have been saved from the pretentious, incompetent and catastrophic PNoy Aquino administration.