Tag Archives: Joseph Estrada

Column: The irresponsible populism of the Binay camp

Published on March 17, 2015.

The papal visit last January was a forceful reminder that populism is not necessarily a bad thing. Too often identified with the masa politics of Joseph Estrada and other celebrities-turned-politicians, populism in the Philippines was usually understood and practiced as nothing more than an appeal to the basest motive, the lowest common denominator. (Mea culpa.)

In Pope Francis’ embrace of popular piety, animated by his practice of the so-called theology of the people, we find the positive meaning of populism. In “Evangelii Gaudium,” referencing the pope of his formative years in the priesthood, Francis wrote: “Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the ‘Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi,’ Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’ and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’”

Popular piety, then, is founded on a culture of respect for the common life (what a British critic, in an entirely different context, referred to as the ordinary universe). Populism at its heart is not the angry mob or the paid crowd, but the community of the poor and the simple. The emotion that pumps through that heart is not vengeance or self-interest, but “generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism.”

With Mayor Junjun Binay’s blatant appeal to his constituents to protect him from the agents of the government he himself serves, we find the complete opposite. I do not discount the possibility that many of those who ran to City Hall to put up a human barricade against Department of Interior and Local Government officials seeking to serve the suspension order of the Ombudsman did so out of genuine conviction; they were perfectly within their rights. But the statements emanating from Binay and his top allies are another thing altogether. In them we find the irresponsibility of reckless leaders who do not have their supporters’ own wellbeing at heart. Continue reading


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Column: Cardinal Sin’s biggest mistake?

Published on February 25, 2014.

The idea that most Filipinos are deeply disillusioned with the People Power revolution is merely conventional, and needs to be empirically tested; I think the reality is somewhere between benign ignorance (many see Edsa 1986 only as an event in history, the occasion for a school holiday) and active acceptance (some continue to see it as a source of genuine change). At least that is how I interpret the 2011 Social Weather Stations finding that 20 percent of voting-age Filipinos embraced Ninoy Aquino as a genuine hero, next only to Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio. Aquino’s martyrdom makes full sense only in relation to what happened a thousand days after his assassination, on Edsa.

My view, it almost goes without saying, should be subject to validation, too. Continue reading

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Column: ‘What kind of man are you?’

Published on January 21, 2014.

Actor and occasional politician Phillip Salvador was among the first friends who showed up at the Senate yesterday to show their support for Sen. Bong Revilla. I caught reporter Christina Mendez’s tweet soon after he arrived, which quoted him as saying in Filipino: “In a situation like this, your friend needs to see you, [to know] that your support is there and will never change.”

Revilla stands accused of channeling the most amount of pork barrel money through bogus organizations or bogus projects into his pocket, and needs all the friends he can get. Salvador’s very public declaration of support must have gone down well, not only with Revilla, but with many Filipinos following the news. Loyalty translates well, especially on television. Continue reading

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Column: Marcos was the worst

The closest a column of mine has come to going viral (over 5,500 shares, some 3,000 Facebook recommends on Inquirer.net). This was published on September 10, 2013 — a day before the late, still-unburied dictator’s birthday.

GLORIA ARROYO practiced what the Freedom from Debt Coalition called “fiscal dictatorship”—impounding allocations at will and realigning items in reenacted budgets without congressional authorization. (Those who visit her at the hospital where she is detained may continue to deny reality, but it was this control of the budget that allowed the pork barrel scam to flourish.) Joseph Estrada centralized jueteng operations right in Malacañang. (He also forced the Social Security System to buy stocks for which he received a P180-million commission.) Compared to Ferdinand Marcos, however, Arroyo and Estrada were rank amateurs.

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Column: Looking for church at the #MillionPeopleMarch

Column catch-up, all over again. This piece was written after the so-called Million People March, and was published on August 27, 2013.

In August 1999, or just over a year after the popular Joseph Estrada took office as the country’s 13th president, a major protest rally brought the Makati central business district to a standstill. A hundred thousand people, perhaps 120,000 at the most, occupied the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas; they were there, mainly, for three reasons: They went to signal their disapproval of the Estrada administration’s Charter change campaign; they went to sympathize with the plight of the Manila Times, then recently shuttered, and the Inquirer, then undergoing the second month of an unprecedented advertising boycott, both in circumstances many believed to have been orchestrated by Malacañang; not least, they went because Jaime Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino asked them to.
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Column: The last Arroyo, the only Abad

Published on July 27, 2010.

By the last of the Arroyos, I do not mean Mikey Arroyo, who returned to Congress Monday as the “prince of security guards”; or his brother Dato, for whom a gerrymandered duchy was carved out of Camarines Sur; or indeed for their mother, the queen herself, the new representative of the second district of Pampanga. The last Arroyo in national office is the dauphin Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Do I protest too much? Zubiri is not even related to the Arroyos (at least as far as I know). And I am certainly biased in favor of the senatorial candidate he cheated, who is a friend from childhood. But if there is a national politician who follows the Arroyo political template, who can be considered Arroyo’s true political heir, then it is Zubiri. (I am happy to say that I am not alone in thinking of Zubiri as Arroyo redux. Manuel Buencamino, to cite just one example, has written a strongly argued case for it.) Continue reading

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Column: “Bangkarote”

Published on April 20, 2010. The first paragraph, written at about the time the “Noy-Bi” campaign took off, now reads like it was composed in another country, or another time.

I THOUGHT Christian Monsod’s heavily nuanced presentation at last week’s Inquirer Briefing was tonic for the battered Filipino spirit. Essentially, he located several sources of hope for the generally successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide computerized vote on May 10, including the improbability of a multi-party conspiracy to engineer a general failure of elections. One aside of his got my particular attention: He raised the possibility that the vice president-elect could be proclaimed first, ahead of the next president, and in a matter of days. This would stop the succession problem in its tracks. Continue reading

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Column: Adulterer, yes; plunderer, no

The moral hazard that is Estrada’s return to politics. Published on January 26, 2010.

The decision of the Comelec’s second division to qualify Joseph Estrada for the presidential election in May, reached on the ninth anniversary of his people-powered ouster from Malacañang, invites the Filipino citizen to consider, yet again, the ex-president’s sins against the nation.

In two recent editorials, the Inquirer observed the distinction between the legal impediments Estrada faces (which the second division blithely set aside, in favor of a sweeping populism) and the moral hazard that Estrada’s return represents.

This distinction, I think, is crucial to our evolving understanding of the democratic project.

Many Filipinos object to the very idea that a failed president can serve in the presidency again. But as the first editorial pointed out, the issue before the Comelec was whether the Constitution—not past performance, not much-publicized adventures in morality—bars Estrada from running for reelection. In other words, the notion of “failure,” of whether Estrada was a “good” or “bad” president, ought not to figure in the legal debate.
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Column: A history lesson for Chiz

Published on November 3, 2009.

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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A wedding

Rooting through a clutch of dusty 3.5-inch diskettes (remember those?), I chanced upon this sidebar story I wrote 10 years ago (in May 1999) for The Manila Times, about a Gokongwei wedding in Hong Kong with a President in the entourage.

HONG KONG – St. Anne’s Catholic Church on Tung Tao Wan Road in Stanley, on the southeastern side of Hong Kong island, is a chapel in the act of becoming a church. Major renovations were completed a year ago, but improvements in the 50-pew hall are continuing. The clear, new window behind the altar, for example, is stained-glass-in-the-making.

In the meantime, there are masses and baptisms and weddings to attend to. The church’s weekly newsletter is, as it says itself, full of “coming events — some old, some new.” Today’s wedding at 10 in the morning adds “something borrowed, something blue.”

Like the church itself, the wedding of Jimmy Tang and Hope Gokongwei is essentially a simple affair: boy meets girl; boy meets girl again, and again, and again; boy and girl finally fall in love.

But because Hope’s father owns The Manila Times (among many other things), and because Jimmy’s father invited the President of the Philippines, an old high school classmate, to stand as principal sponsor, their wedding has become a gatecrasher’s dream: an important event in a public place, with plenty of seats for the willing, and no gate to speak of. It is also only a 20-minute bus ride from Central, for the knowing.

The outside of the church doesn’t look like much. It looks like a school, actually, painted Rosary blue and plain white. On the main pillars of the façade, the church’s name has even been painted on, in sinful red.

Inside, the church opens out into a spacious and airy hall, made twice bigger by the absence of wall fans and loudspeakers and other essentials of communal space. (The secret, Father Elmer Wurth says, lies in the “magic boxes,” seven rectangles on each side of the church that hide the airconditioners, the fans, and the extremities of a decent public-address system.) The lines are clean and straight, the ceiling high, the walls solid. It is a good place to get married in.

In fact, it will remind the Metro Manila visitor of Mary the Queen parish church in San Juan, only smaller. It even resounds with noise that only students can make; St. Teresa’s, a Chinese elementary school, is right beside it.

Mary the Queen church was the sacred space, the no-man’s land, that divided Xavier School, where Jimmy went to school, from the Immaculate Conception Academy, where Hope studied. The two have  known each other since high school – although it may be more precise to say Jimmy did most of the knowing. Hope declined to become more than friends; my father is too strict, she said once.

They met again in college, in La Salle, which rewards the persistent with many opportunities.

Like many couples with long histories, Jimmy and Hope have had their share of trials, their portion of tribulation. Their own wedding, for instance, may turn out to be a circus, instead of a literal walk in the park.

They will do well to note the stations of the cross in St. Anne’s. Made by a banker appropriately named Fred Sturm, the stations are amazing foot-high bronze sculptures, that are at once minimalist and fully dimensional. (They also cost a pretty Peter’s pence: US$1,500 a station. Were they donated? Father Wurth makes a wry smile. “Oh, no,” he says.)

Out of adversity, art.

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Column: Ronnie Puno and the endgame

Published October 30, 2007

In reporting on the circumstances or consequences of Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio’s disclosure about cash gifts in paper bags, some colleagues in the trade found themselves describing his election victory last May as overwhelming. In fact, it was a squeaker. Father Ed’s 219,706 votes edged “queenpin” Lilia Pineda’s tally by a mere 1,147-vote margin — less than one-tenth of one percent of the number of voters eligible to vote for governor of Pampanga province.

The mistake, the myth-in-the-making, is understandable: It is the afterglow effect at work. I remember that, a hundred days into Fidel V. Ramos’ presidency, which he won with the smallest plurality (24 percent) in Philippine history, a survey jointly conducted by Social Weather Stations and Ateneo de Manila found that fully half of all voters remembered having voted for Ramos.

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