The Philippines

Bad Reviews

Joseph Estrada, the movie-actor-turned-president of the Philippines, is one step closer to leaving the stage.

On Nov. 13, he became the first leader of the republic to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Anti-Estrada members of the House reacted with enthusiasm. In addition, the economy, which had been suffering during weeks of increasing political turmoil over corruption charges against Estrada, showed encouraging signs of strengthening.

Estrada’s own attempts at bolstering the weak peso could only have been so lucky. After he offered Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the helm of the Economic Coordination Council (a key economic body), Estrada received an icy rejection from Arroyo, who resigned from the cabinet in mid-October to head the opposition Lakas Party.

But Estrada still plans on fighting it out in the Senate. His and his allies’ main defense is that, while the business community panics over the weak Philippine peso and demands his resignation, the poor still support him. The conservative Manila Bulletin (Oct. 29) reported that “the poor, who comprise the greater part of the country, have told [National Anti-Poverty Commission Vice Chairman Donna Gasgonia] to relay to the president their message: Don’t resign.”

Indeed, you won’t find many poor in the recent anti-Estrada street protests—although the rumor is that their fierce loyalty stems from Estrada’s many land title handouts, which are largely given to squatters.

The conservative The Hindu in Madras, India,  commented (Nov. 1) on the support base that is still bolstering Estrada: “The president can still cling to power on the strength of numbers, and he has been organizing shows of support from time to time in Manila....Such a development...[would] spell disaster for a country like the Philippines.”

Those who do urge Estrada to step down are disgusted by charges that their president accepted more than US $8 million in proceeds from illegal gambling operations, known as jueteng.

On Oct. 30, Estrada appeared on national television to unveil a package of sweeping reforms. But former President Corazon Aquino called the gesture “too little, too late,” as quoted in Manila’s  independent Philippine Star (Nov. 1). Her spokeswoman Deedee Siytangco elaborated, saying that “Mr. Estrada’s reforms are just a knee-jerk reaction to the prevailing crisis. Reforms are not the issue now; the issue is the culpability of the president.”

Also criticizing Estrada’s nationally televised address,  Noel Reyes wrote in Manila’s independent Business World (Nov. 1) that Estrada failed to offer any concrete solutions. “His proposals...are mere cosmetic applications to cover up the deep flaws of his administration: lack of leadership, widespread corruption, cronyism, and immorality.”

Quoted in the Philippine Star of Nov. 14, Speaker of the House Manuel Villar, Jr. reiterated the serious problems of Estrada’s presidency in a collective prayer after the impeachment proceedings.  The leadership crisis, said Villar, is “a crisis of political confidence that is rending brother Filipinos against brother Filipinos; a crisis of economic confidence that is threatening to make the poor even poorer; a crisis of social confidence that is testing the strength of our democratic institutions” in the Philippines.