Estrada: Movie hero or villain?
by Nicholas Nugent

Estrada greets supporters

Before he became vice-president in 1992 and president six years later, Joseph Estrada - who likes to be called by his nickname "Erap" or "Buddy'" - was known to most Filipinos as a film star.

He is best remembered as the swashbuckling hero in Ito Ang Pilipino, which earned him a place in the Philippines' movie industry's Hall of Fame. Another early movie success was Blacksheep Gang.

As the former president's own website proclaims: "It was in the movie industry that Erap harnessed the characteristics that made him the man he is."

Success in films, and the popularity it earned him amongst ordinary Filipinos, encouraged him to enter politics.

He ran as mayor for his home town, the Manila suburb of San Juan, in 1969, winning by an exceptionally narrow margin after he appealed to the Supreme Court against the initial award of victory to another candidate. It was the start of a 16-year tenure as mayor, which was to catapult him into the nation's highest office.

On the way, he was elected to the Senate, the body which heard the case for his removal as president. Later, as vice president, Estrada headed the Philippines Anti-Crime Commission.

'Robin Hood'

Estrada's appeal as mayor was that he was not associated with traditional politics and was not from the wealthy elite that had previously dominated political life.

He cultivated an image as the friend of the poor, a "Robin Hood" figure committed to redistributing wealth and power from the rich to the poor. In national politics he espoused the cause of poor agricultural workers pledging to improve their lot. A campaign slogan in 1998 read: "Elect Erap as President of the Masses".

Politically Estrada is difficult to compartmentalise. A man of considerable personal wealth who makes no secret of his many business interests, he has also adopted populist and nationalist causes.

Notable was his support in the early 1990s for the removal of US bases from the Philippines. He has a number of left-wingers and even Communists amongst his close circle.

No intellectual

He is an ardent champion of the primacy of the national language, Filipino, over English, which is widely used in business and administration. He makes a virtue of the fact that he is not an intellectual, though opponents have used this to claim that he lacks the vision necessary to lead the nation.

Estrada's presidential campaign was rich with promises to root out corruption and to end the so-called "pork barrel" system under which congressmen are allocated funds to spend in their home regions.

His election programme included a commitment to arrest and prosecute criminals, drug pushers and tax evaders and to enforce the law "without fear or favour".

He vowed to select cabinet members for their competence and personal integrity, but has been accused of taking more notice of his business and drinking cronies, characterised as his "midnight cabinet" because of all-night whisky-drinking sessions, than of appointed office bearers.

Estrada's political opponents say that far from ending the "pork barrel" system he has used it to buy loyalty and support from the provinces and that corruption in public life has grown during his presidency.

Much of the resentment against Estrada relates to his personal life, his fondness for pretty women and the grand houses in which he accommodates them.

'Gangland boss'

Though married for 40 years to psychiatrist Luisa "Loi" Ejercito, by whom he has three children - their son Jinggoy is now the mayor of San Juan - Estrada admits to a number of mistresses and is reported to have as many as 11 children by six women.

At the opening of the impeachment trial against him the prosecution showed a picture of the master bedroom in one of his houses saying it was "large enough to house 10 or 20 families".

First Lady Luisa Ejercito
Former First Lady Luisa Ejercito: One of many of the president's women

At times Estrada seemed to be on trial for his personal lifestyle and his business associates rather than the specific charges of bribery and corruption as the prosecution attempted to peel away his carefully cultivated image as friend of the poor.

They accused him or running the Philippines "like a gangland boss". Estrada lawyers retorted that the charges are politically motivated and said he still had the support of ordinary Filipinos.

It was the presidential system and its power of patronage that was on trial as much as the 63-year-old ninth president.

Source: BBC News, 10 December 2000, 8:73 GMT  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1063976.stm

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The Rise and Fall of Joseph Estrada
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 gambling operators.

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.

Acting acclaim

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.

Comeback

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 end.

Source: CNN.com May 2, 2001 <http://asia.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/04/22/estrada.profile/>
Web posted at: 1:31 PM HKT (0531 GMT)

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