Estrada: Movie hero or villain?
by Nicholas Nugent
||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.
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.
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
|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".
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
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
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
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
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.
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