REACTIONS to presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr’s appearance on Max Soliven’s show have focused more on what the candidate didn’t say, than on what he did. This is the easy way of looking at things. After all, Poe did not say much, and the little that was said was repeated over and over again. But to focus on the sterile silences (the candidate was too laconic to be accused of having many pregnant silences) is to focus on the obvious. What seems less obvious, based on commentaries that have appeared thus far, is that Poe managed to present a picture of what he would be like as president. From what we have seen, based on his one on one with Soliven, is a possible Philippine president who will cling to sound bites out of weakness and pride.
His weakness was demonstrated by one answer in particular. At one point in the interview, Poe was asked his position on the death penalty. He said, forthrightly to begin with, that he is against capital punishment. Had he left it at that, he would probably have surprised quite a few skeptics and shown the signs of a moral vision he is willing to uphold. But then, reacting to his position, the interviewer zeroed in on his reply, and Poe promptly began to waffle, and then beat a retreat. He found refuge in repeating that capital punishment was “the call of the times,” finally sounding a full retreat in admitting that as long as capital punishment was allowed by law, he would permit it.
On a crucial moral and political question then, Poe managed to sound tough and then beat a retreat in a few minutes: far less time than it took his leading opponent, President Macapagal-Arroyo, to beat an equally hasty retreat from her personal position on the issue. What is significant about this is less the pliable position of the two candidates on an issue that calls for clarity and conviction, and more the manner in which Poe failed to stick to his guns.
In the months leading up to the campaign, and the months since the campaign has been started, Poe has had ample time to take a crash course in various issues, and absorb some tutoring considering how he has been tagged a “fast learner” by those close to him. Poe has not said enough for the public to be able to judge either Poe’s ability to learn or the quality of his tutoring. But a man being touted as possessing Poe’s advantages –paramount of which is strength of character and purpose- must surely be capable of having at least a few clearly-defined, and strongly held, views.
It is obvious that Poe has views, but it is far from clear to what extent he would stick his neck out to defend them. It is obvious Poe believes he will act, but it is far from clear what his actions will be. And Poe cannot, and should not, simply reply, que sera sera: whatever will be, will be. The first to be disappointed by a Patty Page, instead of Action Star, government, will be those who elected Poe in the first place.
There are those who claim to know Poe, who say that he is, in fact, a very proud man. The whole problem is that the public doesn’t know Poe well enough, and hasn’t been given enough chances to get to know him, to validate the claims of those who do claim to know him. Obviously any person who considers running for president must have a tremendous ego; and with a more than healthy ego comes pride. If we consider that as a self made man, Poe might be humanly susceptible to the particular pride that self made men are susceptible to, then the view of his peers that he is a proud man has a basis in fact. This is not what is significant about Poe being a proud man, however. There are different kinds of pride, and what we fear is that Poe might have the kind of pride that fears being shown up to be inferior to anyone, and which therefore finds refuge in hiding and being remote.
If Poe doesn’t like crowds, and if he prefers small, intimate discussions held in favorable conditions, if, in other words, he is only secured in a controlled environment, what does that say about his capacity to lead? Would he be a man who would find safety in seclusion in times of crisis, when his country needs him to be front and center? Would he be so fearful of making mistakes, and thus looking a fool, that he would do nothing while in office, along the lines of less talk, less mistakes, less action, less mistakes? But this is not what his fans expect of him; it is not what a country looking for unity would want of him. Until he appears more before the public and answers more questions, we fear it is all we can expect of him.