It seemed like an eternity ago that Joseph “Erap” Estrada was a whipping boy of the Philippines’ chattering classses. The late Teddy Benigno summed up the pickle — what he called “Our Crisis” — Filipino voters had gotten themselves into when they voted Erap to the presidency in 1998…
As many of us in the intelligentsia had anticipated, the Estrada presidency was not only a disaster. The nation’s locomotive that was going forward went into reverse under an administration — the mounting evidence shows that now — that disgraced the seal of the Republic, wining, dining, gambling and womanizing, looting and again looting the public till until the economy faltered, staggered and began to fall, a besotted drunk with a bottle in each hand, about to crumple and vomit into the hay.
And in the aftermath of the 2001 “Edsa Dos” circus that resulted in the illegal ouster of Erap and the ascent to power of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I wrote…
…we should pause to think about what being ‘free’ means to us. If to us it means being able to turn our elections into beauty pageants and variety shows then the Filipino people’s concept of freedom is severely flawed. Erap had demonstrated the damage that could be wrought by completely unleashing the mandate of the Filipino masses in their present state of education and breeding. One only needs to count the number of showbiz personalities seeking public office in the next elections to ascertain if any lessons have indeed been learned from the Erap era.
We were willing to overlook the fact that Erap kept concubines, loved to drink and gamble, and, plain and simple, was intellectually-challenged, although he already exhibited the effects of these traits early in his presidency. Later into his administration, many Filipinos criticised Erap because his brand of corruption was ‘harapan’ — roughly translated, ‘in your face’. What exactly does this imply? That we are willing to tolerate criminality and incompetence as long as they are undertaken discretely (with ‘delicadeza’ or ‘hiya’)?
It is in fact, no coincidence that an ideology developed and successfully implemented in the West should require qualities of its practitioners that happen to be inherent to European cultures. We chose to put our faith in a system of governance that is inherently western and therefore should strive to adopt such western qualities that make a democracy work. There is, however, no need to abandon our Asian values and completely embrace Western values. All it takes is a mere appreciation of the qualities of Western culture that were key to their successes. We’d like to emphasise again that education is key. Access to education is not the issue (we still have one of the highest literacy rates in Asia). It is our approach to education that will be the critical success factor ‘ more emphasis on analysis and debate in contrast with our style of static instruction and rote memorisation.
Indeed, though it was the fashion statement of the day to pat one another’s backs for the seeing through the second incarnation of the then favourite Filipino political pastime of the 00’s, many in the international community weren’t really that amused about seeing another Edsa “revolution” in the Philippines. An article published in The New York Times back in 2001, encapsulated this outsiders’ perspective…
The man they overthrew, Joseph Estrada, was a democratically elected president half way through his six-year term. The popular uprising took place when it became clear that due process — his impeachment trial in the Senate — would not produce the result many people hoped for: his removal by constitutional means. The turning point came when the armed forces chief informed Mr. Estrada that the military was “withdrawing its support.”
The legal rationale for his removal was a last-minute Supreme Court ruling that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law,” in effect stripping Mr. Estrada of any legitimacy.
Filipinos were thrilled at the peaceful ouster of a president who had become an embarrassment — a lazy, hard-drinking womanizer who had allowed the economy to collapse and had, according to testimony in the Senate, engaged in systematic corruption.
But if they expected cheers once again from around the world, they were instead hurt and infuriated when People Power II was met with doubt and criticism, described by foreign commentators as “a defeat for due process,” as “mob rule,” as “a de facto coup.”
It was seen as an elitist backlash against a president who had overwhelmingly been elected by the poor. This time, it appears, “people power” was used not to restore democracy but, momentarily, to supplant it. Filipinos seemed to prefer democracy by fiesta, still shying from the hard work of building institutions and reforming their corrupt political system.
Lucky for us, the idiotic romanticism spun by the ABS-CBN media empire that addicted an entire generation of Filipinos to poetic street “revolution” rhetoric for more than two decades after the original 1986 “people power” “revolution” has since staled. Today, one would be hard-pressed to find any of the same sort of moronic inclination to “hit the streets” that pervaded much of the national “debate” in the 00s. But if there is a more important thing to be learned about Filipinos in the years since 2001 it is this: it is quite clear that their choice of Erap as their president back in 1998 was not accidental. Indeed, Erap came close to winning the presidency once again in 2010, coming in a close second to current President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III. Then he made a bid for the mayorship of the Philippine capital in 2013 and got it.
So now that Erap is back as Mayor of Manila, the question in everyone’s mind is this:
Has Erap changed for the better?
If the first of the things he’s done over the first few weeks of his term in office is to be used as a basis to make an assessment, things look promising. Erap’s recent and decisive order to ban provincial buses from Manila’s streets delivered results and was widely-lauded by the public even as the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) reportedly “encouraged bus owners to bring to court their protest” against the controversial ordinance. Indeed, many have speculated that part of the impact of the campaign versus provincial buses in the city could be on the pockets of LTFRB officials on the “payroll” of these bus operators, which could explain the source of the LTFRB’s chagrin.
Of course, it is obviously too early to tell how strong an indicator this recent exhibition of decisiveness is of Erap’s resolve to redeem himself now that he’s been given a renewed shot at political power.
Only time will tell. As always…
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.
[Photo courtesy Philippines Today.]
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