Rise and Fall of Joseph Estrada

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February 2001. President Joseph Estrada assumed the presidency on July 1, 1998 with a promise to improve the lives of the poor Filipinos. Two and a half years later, he left Malacanang and the people who elected him a lot poorer than before.

Enjoying an entertainment-based popularity and a chauvinistic charisma, Estrada easily won the 1998 presidential elections over traditional politicians and became the 13th president. While his English did not come in handy, the former movie actor always had candid Filipino rebuttals to every criticism by his political rivals.

"Huwag ninyo akong subukan!" and "Walang kai-kaibigan!" were just among his quotable phrases, which received the cheers of the Filipino masses. When he organized his government and began business with the old Marcos cronies, it became apparent that he meant the opposite.

The brief Estrada administration saw the meteoric rise to power of Lucio Tan and Danding Cojuangco, arguably the richest men in the country today. Tan won his P25-billion tax evasion case against the government, wrested control of the Philippine Airlines, and acquired the Philippine National Bank (PNB). Cojuangco, on the other hand, obtained the majority share in San Miguel Corporation, the country's richest company.

Estrada was born Joseph Ejercito in San Juan on April 19, 1937. Contrary to the popular notion that he tasted poverty, Estrada, a son of a government contractor, lived relatively well-off. After being expelled from the Ateneo de Manila in his younger years, he enrolled in an Engineering course at the Mapua Institute of Technology, eventually dropping out to pursue an acting carreer.

He starred in about 100 films, the most popular of which was "Asiong Salonga", a movie about a modern day Robin Hood born in Tondo. From then, Estrada embraced the image of a tough hero who was ready to fight the rich and powerful for the sake of the poor. But he had a contender in this role, Fernando Poe Jr. who became his friend and gave him the nickname "Erap", the inverted pronunciation of the word "Pare" (loosely: "Friend").

As a movie celebrity, Estrada had himself surrounded by many beautiful women, aside from her wife Loi Ejercito. Among these women were Nora Aunor, Guia Gomez, Joy Melendrez and Laarni Enriquez. There were more who claimed they had a relationship with him.

In 1968, Estrada entered politics as mayor of San Juan, a position he held until 1986. In 1987, he became a senator and, five years later, vice-president. In 1998, he was mainly responsible for carrying a unified opposition party (LAMP) to victory with the support of movie celebrities like Fernando Poe Jr. and Nora Aunor and the trust and loyalty of then Supt. Panfilo Lacson, whom he later appointed as the police chief.

As president, Estrada blamed the Ramos administration for the weak economy he inherited. So, he tapped the expertise and managerial skills of experienced economists to pump up the economy, but to no avail. Businessmen and foreign investors began to lose their trust in the new administration, with the entry of the president's friends, mostly big Chinese tycoons.

The problems of the Estrada administration reached a crescendo in 2000. Bugged by the intensifying insurgency in Mindanao and a series of natural and man-made calamities nationwide, the new administration poorly restored hope of a bright future. Then came the BW Resources anomaly, which Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Perfecto Yasay blamed on the president.

In October, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" Singson, a former friend and close ally of the president, exposed that the president received about P500 million from jueteng kickbacks and excise tax from the Ilocos region. Corruption charges against the president ensued which spawned the dramatic passage of the Articles of Impeachment by the House of Representatives led by Speaker Manuel Villar on November 13.

The Senate then convened itself as an Impeachment tribunal and began the process on December 7. The House prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses, mostly women, who testified that the president was involved in several irregular transactions. One witness, Clarissa Ocampo, a senior vice-president of Equitable-PCI Bank, claimed he saw the president affix a different signature, Jose Velarde, on a multi-million Peso bank transaction.

The defense panel, composed of the brightest lawyers in the country, and the majority party senator-judges, questioned the materiality and relevance of Ocampo's testimony. Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide ruled that Ocampo's testimony would only be considered if the prosecution panel could prove that the multi-million bank account came from irregular transactions.

On January 16, the House prosecutors were about to establish the missing link by opening an envelope, which they claimed would prove that the president had amassed P3.3 billion in ill-gotten wealth, when 11 senator-judges voted not to open the envelope. This prodded Senate President Aquilino Pimentel to resign, the House prosecutors and complainants to walk out, and the viewing public to storm to the historic intersection of EDSA and Ortigas in Mandaluyong City – the start of the 5-day People Power 2 at EDSA, that would force President Joseph Estrada to leave office.

Former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, students, office workers, activists, lay people, laborers, politicians and celebrities joined the furious crowd in asking for the resignation of the president. On January 18, Nora Aunor stunned everyone when she joined the rally, publicly admitting her previous relationship with the president, and called him a woman-beater. The following day, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado, Interior and Local Government Secretary Alfredo Lim, the military generals, and the police officers withdrew their support from the president, as foretold by former President Ramos.

In the morning of January 19, the president was guided out of Malacanang by Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes to give way to a new president, a woman. Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took his oath as the 14th president before Chief Justice Davide at noontime. She formally began her term in office on January 22, the same day the new US President George Bush was inaugurated at the White House.

At present, Estrada is back to the arms of his legitimate wife. One of his mistresses, Laarni Enriquez, flew to Hong Kong during the heat of the Impeachment trial. His friends like Lacson, Charlie Ang, Jaime Dichaves, and Nora Aunor also abandoned him. Much worse, one of his alleged illegitimate daughters, Josephine Rose Ejercito, said his father deserved what he got.

The Arroyo administration is preparing criminal charges against Estrada. The president said he was ready to face the music and prove his innocence. Ironically, he claimed that the controversial second envelope, which triggered the People Power 2, should have been opened in the first place.

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