The Rise and Fall of Joseph
By Kristy Alfredson and Rufi Vigilar
It was the 1961 movie Asiong Salonga that shot the now
deposed Philippine leader Joseph Estrada to fame. It's also the code name he is said to
have used for alleged illegal gambling operations.
He is accused of having illegally acquired some four billion pesos ($80
million) during his 31 months in office, mostly from allegedly accepting bribes from
He's also said to have skimmed off tobacco excise taxes and benefiting
from government business deals.
In the movies, Joseph Estrada was the tough but kindhearted hero who
beat his adversaries in a rousing comeback at the end.
But it's hard to see how the Philippine actor can get out of his deepest
hole yet, facing criminal charges and the real threat of a long prison sentence. One of
the charges -- that of economic plunder -- carries the maximum penalty of death.
Like the action movies he starred in, Estrada's career is punctuated by
dramatic plot changes characterized by extreme lows and dizzying successes.
From engineering to acting
The man who was the 13th Philippine president started his professional
life as a civil engineering college dropout looking for a break in the movies. He began as
an extra in 1957, joining the industry against his family's wishes.
His father didn't think acting was a respectable job so Jose Ejercito
was forced to drop his family name and adopt the stage name of Joseph Estrada, taking
"Erap," or friend spelt backwards, as his nickname.
In the sixties Estrada headlined what are heralded as landmark
Philippine films, including "Asiong Salonga" and "Geron Busabos".
Over 32 years, he had leading roles in 107 movies. His action movies,
plus some comedies, molded his eventual political image as a man of the masses, who beat
his adversaries in the end.
Playing the typical Robin Hood roles, he became the country's most
acclaimed actor, winning five best actor awards, and was the first to be inducted into the
FAMAS Hall of Fame.
He portrayed as the epitome of Filipino machismo, complete with a
requisite weakness for women. It's said Estrada has fathered more than a dozen children
with different partners -- a claim he's not denied.
Estrada didn't just act. He ran two successful movie factories, JE
Productions and EMAR Pictures, and became one of the first of independent film
producers-actors to challenge the dominance the studio system over the industry.
Having conquered the movies, Estrada used his popularity and tough
reputation as a springboard into politics.
He became mayor of his hometown, San Juan in 1969 but it was 1972 that
he had a string of public successes. Estrada was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young
Men in Public Administration. He was also named Most Outstanding Mayor and Foremost
Nationalist and Most Outstanding Metro Manila Mayor.
His last movie in 1989, after an eight-year lull, was seen as part of a
campaign to stage a political comeback.
He'd been unseated in 1986 after serving 16 years as the municipal
mayor, when the late dictator and his political patron Ferdinand Marcos fled into exile
and Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency.
Estrada was elected to the Senate in 1987, then vice-president in May
1992 and finally in May 1998 was elected the 13th president of the Philippines.
His popularity as an actor is said to have contributed to him winning
the largest majority vote in election history.
Political pundits say Estrada still believes himself to be a hero in a
real-life movie that is reaching its dramatic crescendo with his stepping down as
president in January amid a wave of people power.
Citing his movies, Estrada has been quoted as saying he would win in the
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