Column: Erap, abandoned

Published on October 27, 2009.

When “Joseph ‘Erap’ Ejercito Estrada” (in the ex-president’s own formulation) declared his intention to run for the presidency yet again, he basked in the genuine adulation of supporters gathered at Plaza Amado Hernandez in Tondo, Manila. Part of his appeal is his sincere and overriding belief that, as he expressed it most recently: “During the lowest point in my life, the poor did not abandon me.”

Without a doubt, many from the constituency he calls his own stuck it out with him during the years he was detained while undergoing a plunder trial. But like many statements Estrada issues or that are issued in his name, this assertion, that he was not abandoned by the poor—his natural constituency, so to speak—needs to be examined. “Walang iwanan” (instead of the Disneyesque “Nobody gets left behind,” perhaps we should translate this into the more assertive “Nobody leaves anyone behind”) is a potent slogan.

To measure the claim of non-abandonment, let’s track popular opinion “during the lowest point” in Estrada’s checkered life: his ouster and its immediate aftermath.

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted from Jan. 6 to 9, 2001, in the middle of the televised impeachment trial, found that only 36 percent of voting-age Filipinos in Metro Manila belonging to the demographic class E—which we can equate with Erap’s “natural” constituency—believed the charge that he had pocketed jueteng money. In contrast, 80 percent of class AB—part of the “elite” Estrada blames for his ouster—believed the accusation.

However, in the Jan. 27 survey (again conducted only in Metro Manila, but a week after Estrada left Malacañang), 55 percent of class E said they now believed that particular charge (for which, incidentally, Estrada was eventually convicted).

On the direct question of his ouster, only 16 percent of the class E respondents sampled in the Jan. 27 poll said his replacement by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was completely unacceptable. A sizable chunk of class E, some 32 percent, said they were not sure.

And on the fundamental issue of the meaning of the second People Power uprising, class E was more emphatic: fully 77 percent said they thought Edsa II faithfully reflected the sentiment of the majority. (In contrast, only 70 percent of class AB respondents polled in the Jan. 27 survey said it did.)

Even more crucial to any theory of abandonment, the late January findings were confirmed by the nationwide SWS survey of Feb. 2 to 7, 2001.

Perhaps Erap should take a look at the numbers again.

* * *

FURTHER to the previous columns on the challenge of reconstruction: Former Speaker Jose de Venecia has kindly provided me a copy of a letter he sent to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, seeking the support of a champion of debt relief for an enlarged “debt-for-environment” scheme.

The letter’s key paragraph (without the italics JDV used) reads as follows: “Our proposal is simple. It offers creditor states and lending institutions the option of converting as much as 50 percent of the yearly debt-service payments they receive into investor equity in anti-climate change programs in their debtor countries. These projects would include massive reforestation, water conservation, alternative energy, mass housing, education, health and social infrastructure. I am sure financial engineers can refine this basic formula and think up variations.”

They can, indeed. Perhaps the financial advisers behind the leading presidential candidates can begin to devise ways to unlock the reconstruction potential of over P250 billion in annual debt-service payments.

Of the many opportunities presented to President Cory Aquino when she assumed power in 1986, the possibility of using her moral stature to ask the country’s creditors for some form of debt relief from the billion-dollar loans incurred by the Marcos regime had, in the view of quite a number of Filipinos, the most potential for lifting the country, decisively, out of poverty. That she refused to do so, out of both a sense of honor and great trust in her central bankers, gives Sen. Noynoy Aquino an unusual advantage, if he wins in the country’s first post-“Ondoy” elections: he has the chance to re-do history.

* * *

THANK you notes. In the last several weeks I took part in a few memorable forums. I would like to mention three in particular, as a way to give thanks to their intrepid hosts.

Last month, the Philippine-British Society invited me to speak at its monthly meeting. The previous month’s speaker was the inimitable, immensely talented comedienne Tessie Tomas; it was, as one can imagine, a very difficult act to follow. Good thing I had the use of material that is inherently, insanely comedic: Philippine politics.

Last week, the Varsitarian of the University of Sto. Tomas hosted the 11th edition of its highly successful Inkblots journalism training program. (The vast majority of participants were from outside UST, from as far south as Gen. Santos City.) The topic, “Catholic journalism,” was over-broad, decidedly catholic; I tried to make distinctions. The forum’s last question, however, was both pointed and plaintive: Is “Catholic journalism,” however we define it, “relevant” to today’s youth?

And last weekend, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process conducted the second UNDP-funded Communications for Peace-Building workshop for working journalists, this time in Bacolod City. My role was simply to discuss the bias for conflict and violence inherent in both our news language and our argument culture. I found the questions from the participants of a markedly high order; definitely no argument there.

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