THE Philippines

Estrada Wobbles

Philippine politics turned toward the farcical in April, as an aide to President Joseph “Erap” Estrada unleashed tales of drunken cabinet meetings, and the national and regional press all but declared Estrada’s administration a failure. The controversy did subside, but only after coup rumors, calls for Estrada’s resignation, and a middle-class groundswell against the former actor-turned-politician.

The regional press has long observed Estrada’s gaffes. Singapore’s Straits Times, known for backing its own nation’s government, was no exception. “While it cannot be said yet that his administration is teetering on the brink of collapse, a seemingly endless stream of controversies and scandals has destroyed its credibility” (March 30). It described presidential chief of staff Aprodicio Laquian’s firing as “a case of foot-in-mouth disease” on April 3; that his stating “his boss crafted government policy while stone drunk every night with friends” was his undoing.

“While Mr. Laquian did not say anything that the Filipino public did not already know, Mr. Estrada’s supporters believed he deserved to be sacked for his indiscretion.”

The independent Sun-Star of Cebu City said April 3 the government was “gravely weakened.” It also reported Estrada as saying “those who believe rumors of an impending coup need to be examined by psychiatrists.”

Estrada also stopped a speech to introduce a teenage daughter born to him out of wedlock. “The president, who is known to have at least 10 children by six women, told his audience to limit their children to one or two in order to provide for their needs,” the independent Philippine Daily Inquirer of Manila reported April 3.

The April 4 Inquirer described growing opposition. “There is a lot of outrage... over the ineptness and the moral bankruptcy of this regime,” wrote columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan.

The same day, Senate Minority Leader Teofisto Guingona told the Inquirer, “If the president cannot fulfill his mandate, then it is time for him to resign.”

Estrada spoke to Manila  radio station dzMM on April 12, vowing to fulfill his election promises. “Like I said, this is the last performance of my life,” he said in an Inquirer report the next day.

The Straits Times on April 12, cited a poll showing Estrada’s declining approval rating over the past 10 months, but noted April 13 that “a three-day noise barrage to dramatize protest against alleged corruption and rudderless leadership under Estrada fizzled out.”

In the conservative Manila Bulletin, columnist Hern Zenarosa blasted protesters. “If it is true that the movement is launching anew a second wave of protest, its leaders should better put some coherent noise in it.”

Ana Marie Pamintuan, in Manila’s independent Philippine Star, said April 14 that cosmetic change would not suffice. “Joseph Estrada is no longer a movie idol who can do no wrong. When a president errs or makes a fool of himself, it can affect millions of people.”