JOSEPH "ERAP" ESTRADA: PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES (1998-2001)

JOSEPH "ERAP" ESTRADA

Joseph "Erap" Estrada was elected president of the Philippines in 1998 and served for 31 months until he was ousted after the People Power II protests in January 2001. A former college dropout, movie actor and vice president, he was known for his short and stocky physique, greasy Elvis Presley pompadour and thin mustache. He was notorious for his womanizing, hard drinking, gambling and less than perfect English. His nickname “Era” is a Tagalog word for “buddy: spelled backwards.

Estrada was well known as an actor in the Philippines before he entered politics. He called the presidency “the greatest role of my life.” Even so he sometimes acted if politics was all a big joke. Once he said, "Why do we pass all these laws when nobody seems to follow them." His trademark was a white wristband.

Why was Estrada so popular when he seemed like such a buffoon. Many said it was because his supporters believed his on screen personality was for real. Others disagreed and argued that his popularity was based more on using symbols and gestures that appealed to the poor and disenfranchised that supported him. The fact that the upper classes made fun of him only solidified his standing in the eyes of his base supporters.

Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post: “He hobnobbed with President Bill Clinton at the White House. He shook Nelson Mandela's hand when Mandela became South Africa's president. Vilified by his opponents mainly among the Philippines political and business elite he is a near deity to his supporters among the millions of poor Filipinos. Estrada has built his career on appealing to the underclass, playing squatters and farmers and rebels in the movies, then capitalizing on that film persona in politics.” [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, June 14, 2005]

According to The Guardian “Estrada, attained superhero status by playing swashbuckling characters in more than 100 films. Estrada rose to stardom in his early 20s, playing tough guys with a soft spot for the needy and weak, roles that endeared him to the many poor people in the Philippines. He parlayed this and his "outsider" status into political success, first as a mayor then a senator and in May 1998 as president. Within months allegations emerged that he had embezzled millions of dollars from gambling syndicates and tobacco taxes. In January 2001, after prosecutors were barred from presenting "crucial" evidence, huge street protests broke out as the influential Catholic bishops allied with the political elite and army top brass to demand his resignation. He quit four days later, was arrested and put on trial in October 2001. In his 1998 inaugural address he vowed that his family would not benefit by one cent from his post. He even set up the Sandiganbayan, the anti-corruption court that convicted him of corruption in 2007 and have him a life sentence (to which he was a pardoned a month later).

Estrada's Early Life

Although characterized himself as a man of humble origins and a friend of the poor, Estrada was born into an upper middle class family in 1937 in Tondo, a district of Manila. His parents were from the families of prosperous landowners.

Estrada attended the prestigious Jesuit school the Ateneo, where he was once expelled after getting into a fight with an American boy in school's restroom. One of his classmates later told Time, "He is bright enough, but he does not study. He can absorb sound bites, but sit him down in a discussion that is longer than 20 minutes and he turns off."

Estrada graduated from high school but he dropped out of college. He briefly attended MIT (the local Mapping Institute of Technology) but dropped out, much to his parents dismay to pursue a career in acting. In the 1990s, Estrada’s passion was the NBA and the Chicago Bulls. He walked easily between the worlds of the poor and the rich and said he was just as comfortable eating with his hands as dining on filet mignon at a VIP banquet.

Estrada's Film Career

As a young man, Estrada became a popular action movie actor, playing uneducated but strong- willed underdogs—roles that common people could identify with—who prevailed over much stronger and more powerful bad guys. When he was running for president in 1998, Estrada said, "I've played fishermen, farmers and jeepney drivers. I've studied these people. I understand their problems."

Estrada appeared in 80 films in the 1950s and 60s, some which are regarded as classics in the Philippines. In his first film, Estrada appeared as a gangster who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. he also appeared in romantic comedies and action films like You’re Only Worth One Bullet. His most popular movie was film about a bunch of overweight gangsters called "The Low-Waist Gang."

Estrada won the Filipino-equivalent for an Oscar for best actor five times and won five more such awards as producer of the best film. He is credited with changing the image of leading men in the Philippines from handsome light-skinned aristocratic types to darker skinned, working-class mestizos. His enemies were often landlords, the educated classes and corrupt politician supported by the rich.

In 1998 Estrada told Time, "My idol is Ronald Reagan. He was really underestimated when he ran for President because he was a mere actor. But he proved all those intellectual snobs wrong." He also once said, "actors make the best managers" because "make things happen." Gloria Diaz, the 1969 Miss Universe and one of co star said of Estrada, “He was a gentleman on and off the set, making sure that his leading ladies were taken care of. He wouldn’t eat until he was sure that everybody had food. During the kissing scenes, he wasn’t satisfied with just brushing his teeth; he’d rinse with mouthwash, undiluted with water. He respected his leading ladies.”

Estrada's Political Career

Estrada has spent more than 40 year in politics as a mayor, senator, vice president and president. He continued to act in movies even after he was elected mayor in 1967 of the municipality of San Juan within metropolitan Manila, where he was known for disciplining corrupt policemen by punching them. His biggest accomplishment as senator was passing a bill to protect water buffalos.

Estrada won a seat in the Senate in 1987 and became the vice president under Ramos in 1992. Popular among common people, he was initially a presidential candidate in the presidential election but opted for the vice president race when he realized he didn't have much of chance against the likes of Ramos. The Philippines has separate ballots for the president and Vice President. Estrada won easily in a seven-way race.

Once called Manila's Dan Quail, Estrada was not a strong ally of Ramos. As vice president he was put in charge of a Presidential Anti-Crime Commission. The agents under his command, however, were criticized for their gun-happy ways. In their first year they shot down 48 suspects, including two policemen in a shootout with drug dealers during rush hour traffic (one policeman was shot point blank in the head by another policeman).

Jokes About Estrada

One of the best selling books in the Philippines in 1994, was collection of Erap jokes called ERAPtion: How to Speak English Without Really Trial written by a news paper columnist who has yet to live down the fact that he was Estrada's English teacher. [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, November 12, 1994]

Among the jokes in the book are: 1) Once Corazon Aquino turned Estrada and said, "Erap, rice please." He promptly stood up. 2) When asked why he liked a certain restaurant, he said, "I like the ambulance." 3) When asked what impressed him the most after a visit to Sea World, he said, "It's the first time I've seen an octopus up close. I never realized it had so many testicles." And that, as Erap would say, is only the tip of the ice cream. He prefers to speak in Tagalog. Once he said “I will stop speaking in English. From now on I will just speak in the binocular." [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, November 12, 1994. I took some of Branigin's jokes]

Estrada in reality speaks English just fine, although he prefers Tagalog. Recounting a meeting with Hillary Clinton and Vice President Gore at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, he said, "We talked for more than five minutes and we understood each other."

Estrada's Shortcomings and Appetites

Estrada seemed proud of his lack of education, poor English and loose management style. He was known for dozing through meetings, showing up in his office in the afternoon, nursing a hangover, and showing up two hours late for campaign rallies.

His attention span was so short that he had trouble sitting through cabinet meetings. He ordered that none of his briefings or documents be more than two or three pages, and insisted that his speeches he printed in extra-large print he didn't have to wear glasses when he was speaking. While serving as president he occasionally personally called into radio talk shows to defend himself against accusations of corruption. One critic called him a bull that charges at any red flag.

Estrada was a man of enormous appetites. He reportedly ate five meals a day and smoked three packs of filterless Lucky Strikes for years. Before he became president Estrada claimed he had given up cigarettes and alcohol. He said he quit smoking cold turkey. In 1999, Estrada denied that he resumed his heavy drinking. "I have not tasted a drop of Scotch since I assumed office...I drink only red wine."

Estrada is said to have played million dollar mahjong games and was linked with gangster and drug traffickers. A 1996 security video tape from a casino showed Estrada gambling and serving coffee to a well known gangster. According to one of Estrada's friend, Estrada plotted to assassinate Ramos in 1992 so he could become president.

Estrada and Women

A notorious womanizer, Estrada has had numerous affairs and is said to have fathered at least 10 children with five women other than his wife, including three with te former actress Laarni Enriquez.. When Estrada's love life was compared with that of Clinton's during the Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s, Estrada remarked. "Both President Clinton and I have sex scandals. But Clinton has the scandals and I have the sex." Asked about his opinion of Viagra, he waved off his hand and “I don’t need it.”

Describing the appearance of Vice President Estrada before a group of women journalists, one columnist said, "Much of what we remember at the lunch was him smiling and making goo-goo eyes."

During a confession before Cardinal Sin, Estrada reportedly said, “Forgive me, Sin, I have fathered.” When asked if he was the father of a child given birth by a teen beauty queen, Estrada said in February 1999, "Many women want to bear my children. It's O.K. They all are welcome."

Estrada's wife is a doctor and psychiatrist who seems to accept his philandering. She even defended him when he confessed an infatuation with Miss Columbia at the Miss World contest and joked he was thinking about having his wife assassinated. They had three children together.

Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post in 2005: Estrada “has no regrets about his former libertine lifestyle. "I'd do it over again," he said. "Except maybe . . . have children outside my marriage." As he spoke, a 9-year-old son, one of eight children he says he has had by former mistresses, romped happily about the saloon. He said he accepts his responsibility and is ensuring the children are provided for. [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, June 14, 2005]

Estrada as President

Estrada was elected president in May, 1998 campaigning as a friend of the poor and often singing live songs during his rallies. He won by the largest margin in Philippine election history. He took 40 percent of the vote on a ballot with 11 other candidates. His nearest rival was U.S.-educated Senator Raul Roco with 14 percent of the vote. His populist touches appealed to the poor and disenfranchised. The other candidates were mostly members of the powerful, moneyed elite.

Estrada was the first president to deliver his inaugural address in Tagalog rather than English and the first to dispense with the traditional inaugural ball to cut costs. Estrada’s cabinet appointees included respected businessmen and scholars as well as a former Miss International beauty queen as the top tourism official and a former leftist guerilla as the head of agriculture department.

Estrada accomplished very little and what he did accomplish was overshadowed by his corruption scandals and impeachment proceedings. When he took office, Estrada’s ruling coalition controlled 80 percent of the Lower House and held a majority in the Senate. During rallies he sometimes sang with a 72-piece orchestra. A short ballad that he composed and sang was featured on a CD by the popular Philippine artist Erani Cuenco. In May 1999, Estrada failed to stop an execution of a man who raped his own daughter.

Estrada had many enemies in the ruling elite. One of Estrada's harshest critics was Cardinal Sin who believed Estrada’s loose morals set a bad example. Fights between Estrada and Robert Gordon, a developer at Subic Bay, made headlines. Filipino police stormed Gordon's office and smashed window to try and oust him.

Estrada was a big supporter of jailed Malaysian former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. He also condemned the Dutch government for harboring Philippines Communist leaders. On terrorism Estrada took a tough guy approach—like some of the characters in his films—towards Muslim insurgents. Before a major offensive in September 2000, he said, “Enough is enough...We will not allow kidnappers and lawless elements to mock our laws and control our lives.” Critics claimed his hard line exacerbated rather than helped the problem and poisoned progress that had been made through negotiations.

Economy Under Estrada

There was a sense of optimism when Joseph Estrada was elected. Investors shared this sense of hope and initially poured money into the Philippines but it didn’t take long for this optimism to evaporate. Foreign investors were turned off by cronyism, scandals and favoritism towards Philippines companies.

Estrada moved to tighten securities regulations, liberalize the trade of grains and privatize the electricity industry. His effort to change laws limiting foreign ownership of businesses to 40 percent was halted by his impeachment trial.

In the end Estrada proved to be a friend of big business. He revived the culture of corruption and was plagued by charges of cronyism. This was on top of inconsistent monetary policy, slow economic growth, and uncertainty brought about by terrorists and insurgencies. He said he was a friend of the poor yet he failed to launch one meaningful anti-poverty program. Most of his efforts consisted of parading around with movie stars that were reminiscent of what Imelda Marcos did. There also wasn’t much of an effort to pave roads, set up irrigations projects or build school or collect taxes to pay for them.

As Estrada became embroiled in scandal, the peso, the stock markets and confidence in the Philippines as a place to invest dropped as did his approval ratings dropped. Foreign companies like Philips Electronics and Johnson & Johnson pulled out of the Philippines. After his ouster in 2001 he left behind a huge budget deficit and debt payments that were double what the country sent on health, education and agriculture combined. The sick man of Asia was sicker than ever.

Estrada and Corruption

Estrada gave luxury cars to favorite senior bureaucrats and cut deals during all night majong games with his “midnight cabinet” cronies, which included some of Marcos’s cronies, gangsters and people involved in gambling and smuggling and other illicit trades. He kept four houses and helped friends who were notorious tax dodgers.

Estrada was accused of profiting from trading stock for BW Resources, operator of an online bingo game, which shot up 5,000 percent and dropped just a quickly and triggered the Philippines’ largest stock scandal ever and almost caused the closure or the Philippines stock market.

Estrada was also accused of: 1) failing to pursue a $1 billion tax evasion case against tycoon Lucio Tan, a major campaign supporter; 2) taking a cut of ransom money paid to release Abu Sayyaf hostages; 3) laundering drug money through U.S., Canadian and Hong Kong banks with a former national police chief; and 4) taking a $20 million kickback form sale of a telephone company. He had many supporters in key places. The movie industry withdrew advertising from a newspaper that was critical of Estrada. But even so as the charges against him mounted his approval rating dropped from 65 percent in June 1999 to 21 percent in May 2000.

Estrada wanted to replace a popular illegal numbers game with a new legal game called two ball bingo. He gave the contract to a gambling crony, Charlie Ang, a move that would later force Estrada from office. One of Ang’s rival Gov. Luis Singsong, who ran an illegal numbers game threatened by two ball bingo, got his revenge by offering details of how Estrada received payoffs from gambling bosses.

Estrada’s Downfall

Estrada served as Ramos’s vice president and enjoyed widespread popularity. Within a year after being elected Estrada’s popularity declined sharply amid allegations of cronyism and corruption and failure to remedy the problems of poverty and live up to promises of riches for all. On top of this, the economy tanked and war broke out with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in central Mindanao.

Once again, street rallies supported by Cardinal Sin and Corazon Aquino took place. Then, in 2000 Senate investigators accused Estrada of having accepted bribes from illegal gambling businesses. The House of Representatives impeached him but allies in the Senate managed to prevent his removal from office. In 2001, millions of Filipinos took to the streets and said 'enough'. Following the withdrawal of support by the armed forces, Estrada was forced out of office on January 20, 2001 and Vice-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (popularly called 'GMA') was sworn in as president.

Estrada Trial for Impeachment

In December 2000, Estrada was put on trial for impeachment for embezzling state funds and taking kickbacks form illegal gambling bosses. The trial was launched after 70 members of Congress signed an impeachment complaint (no formal vote necessary) and began with prosecutors accusing Estrada of running “a criminal syndicate from the highest office in the land.” The trial was televised was conducted in the Senate building, which was ringed by more than 1,000 police officers and marines in riot gear. The judges for the trial received death threats. Three witnesses who testified against Estrada fled abroad after they received death threats. All of the Philippines was thrown into turmoil. Battles broke out between supporters and opponents of Estrada. The stock market and the peso dropped to record lows.

The impeachment trial was triggered by allegations made in October 2000 by one of Estrada’s former drinking buddies, Provincial Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, that he pocketed $12 million in kickbacks and embezzled government funds ($9 million in illegal gambling profits and $3 million skimmed from cigarette-tax revenues intended to help farmers).

Singson said he made the revelation because Estrada was cutting him out of the gambling business. He testified at the trial, “I was the one who actually handed the money to President Estrada....This is the protection money.” he said he made the payments for more than two years, beginning almost immediately after Estrada became President. “I have known him for long time. He is greedy when it comes to money.” Estrada confirmed that he was offered a $4 million bribe from the man who accused him of accepting illegal gambling payoffs but said the money was “intact.”

Emma Lin, Singson’s private secretary, testified that she carried a back bag filled with 5 million pesos (about $100,000) to Malacanag Palace and handed it over to Estrada’s secretary. The prosecution displayed a check that they say Estrada signed as “Jose Velarde” to buy a $1.7 mansion for one of his mistresses. The mansion had a beauty parlor, a massage room and a white sand beach around a swimming pool with a wave-making machine.

As the trial progressed prosecutors focused on the huge amounts of money he amassed while in office. They claimed that Estrada kept at least $63.5 million in seven different bank accounts. Witnesses testified that he kept bank accounts under false names and profited from insider trading. He was also accusing of intervening in a murder case on behalf of a friend.

People Power II

In mid January 2001, senators acting as judges at the trial for impeachment decided by a vote of 11-10 not to open key bank documents that prosecutors said would prove Estrada’s corruption. This moved seemed to ensure that Estrada would ultimately be let off the hook. Ordinary Filipinos were outraged. They thought they trial was fixed and the Senators made their decision based on politics and favoritism to Estrada not on the merits of the case. People took the streets in protests that lasted for three days and was organized in part through text messaging led by the traditionally Manila moneyed elite.

More than 200,000 attended a rally at the historic Edsa Shrine in suburban Mandaluyong and more than a million people took to the streets across Manila. It was a festive affair with rock bands, speeches by Roman Catholic leaders, confetti, a mass rendition of the Impossible Dream and dancing through the night. The series of events that led to Estrada’s ouster was referred to as Edsa II, or People Power II, a nod to the first People Power Revolutions that ousted Marcos in 1986. EDSA is the Philippines’s main thoroughfare.

During the protests Estrada remained holed up in the presidential palace, with a few armed guard protecting him. His demands for a pardon, permission to remove large amounts of cash from the palace and five days to leave were all denied. The most serious violence during the protest occurred when Estrada’s supporters attacked the protesters with rocks and bottles.

Estrada Ousted as President and Imprisoned

On January 20, most of Estrada’s Cabinet, the entire armed forces leadership and the whole national police withdrew their support of Estrada The pivotal moment came when Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado and the military chief Gen. Angelo Reyes told Estrada and that military and police were withdrawing their support. The Supreme Court issued an order stripping Estrada of his power. It reasoned that Estrada had lost his ability to govern after most of his Cabinet and senior military and police commanders withdrew their support.

After a last ditch attempt to call snap presidential elections, in which he said he would not participate, Estrada left the presidential palace but did not formally resign. Flanked by his wife and children, he boarded a barge and returned to his private mansion in suburban San Juan. Before he left Estrada said, “I have strong and serious doubts about the legality and constitutionality of [Arroyo] becoming president” but “I don not wish to prevent the restoration of unity and order in our civil society...I now leave for the sake of peace.”

After Estrada was ousted the government began an investigation of Estrada’s alleged economic plunder, a crime that carries the death penalty. He was barred from leaving the country and his bank accounts were frozen. In February 2001, the sealed records of the of the bank accounts at issue during the impeachment trial were opened. They included records of a number of multimillion dollar transactions, including four $9.6 million withdrawals under the name of Jose Velarde. In March, the Supreme Court rejected Estrada’s claim that he never resigned and was immune to criminal prosecution. A few weeks later his appeal was rejected.

In April 2001, Estrada became the first Philippine leader to be indicted. He was taken by helicopter to a special detention center and was jailed for without bail with his son, Jinggoy, who was the mayor of San Juan. Estrada was charged with accepting $82 million in payoffs and plundering the government. Many think the money he took was more likely between $300 million and $800 million. Estrada’s wife Luisa Ejercito ran for the Senate in May 2001 and won.

Protests Over Estrada’s Imprisonment

In April and May 2001, Estrada supporters, many of them poor people from Manila’s slums, then took to the streets for three days to show their disgust over Estrada’s imprisonment. By some estimates the crowds were as large as 70,000. Again Edsa was the rallying place. Some called the rally Edsa III.

Estrada’s supporters were outraged by his mug shots being printed in newspapers and photographs of him being taken from his house and fingerprinted and reports that he was arrested with hundreds of armed police surrounding his house.

Estrada supporters marched to Malacanang Palace and battled police. They advanced as far as Gate 7 of the palace, forcing Arroyo to call in the army. Four people, including two policemen, were killed, dozens were injured and more than 100 were arrested.

Some members of the elite made fun of the protesters. One cell phone text message read: “Do you have a low I.Q.? Are you jobless? Foul-smelling? If you are, then go to Edsa. You have a rally there.”

Estrada Life in Prison

Estrada spent his first night in jail at the national police headquarters in Manila. The cell was 20 square meters in size and had a cot, a toilet, a corner desk but no television or telephone. He complained about the food. Later he was moved to a jail 60 kilometers south of Manila because of potential security risks cause by pro-Estrada supporters.

Estrada and his son Jinggoy shared the same cell. Soon after they were imprisoned both men complained of minor health problems. Estrada said that his detention aggravated his bronchitis, arthritis and emphysema. He was moved to a military hospital in metropolitan Manila.

While in the hospital Estrada smoked Lucky Strikes and spent much of his time playing video games. When asked what his detention in the hospital was like Estrada said, “Very depressing. I watch TV, pray a lot, I never miss hearing mass, twice a week. My consolation is I know that many people pray with me.” Several guards that watched over at the hospital were fired after allowing him to hold a lavish Christmas party. In October 2003, Estrada was transferred to an army camp, with authorities citing an anti-government plot to help him escape.

Estrada Under House Arrest

In 2005, after spending four years in detention, including two years in a veterans hospital, Estrada was moved from the army camp and placed under house arrest at secluded vacation home in Tanay about 90 minutes north of Manila while a special corruption court gathered evidence and conducted his trial. Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post: “ These days, Joseph Estrada, ousted president of the Philippines, talks to his ducks. "I tell them to have more babies," deadpans the man who led his country from 1998 to 2001. Confined to a secluded vacation, the former freewheeling, highflying president is living in a rustic Filipino Neverland. His companions are a cell phone, a 30-inch plasma TV, the occasional political visitor, and a life-size statue of himself. "From president to prisoner," he said. "Can you imagine that?" [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, June 14, 2005]

“His 45-acre estate is far beyond the average Filipino's means, with a mahogany-floored, Spanish-tiled house, a lagoon stocked with black-necked swans and ducks from Beijing, a saloon, an aviary, a chapel and a corral. Now he is raising pigs and planning a Joseph Estrada museum, modeled after Ronald Reagan's ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. "My idol," he said, "is President Reagan." Like the late president, Estrada was an actor who became a politician. His life is a whisper of his old lavish lifestyle, which abounded with Bordeaux, beautiful women and influential buddies. Gone are the all-night gatherings, the games of mah-jongg with stakes as high as $500,000, the buffets of roasted pig, lobster and giant prawns. On a recent Saturday afternoon he dined on hot dogs and pasta with soft drinks. Detention has aged the former movie star, whose eyes are slightly clouded, though his hair is still thick and black. Replacement surgery in December left him with two titanium knees and a slight limp.

."I'm doing nothing here, just feeding my ducks," he says, "And my rating goes up. That's my consolation." By contrast, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's ratings have plunged to the lowest of any president since longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986. She is fending off allegations that she cheated in last year's election, which she denies, and that her husband, son and brother-in-law took gambling kickbacks. And Estrada is relishing her distress.

He pulled up at his saloon, with its billiard room and elk heads from Arizona. Inside, the walls were covered with photos and portraits from his movie days, one depicting Estrada with a bandana around his head, beside a horse. Another showed him with his friend and fellow actor, Fernando Poe Jr., who ran for president last year and narrowly lost to Arroyo. Poe died in December, 2004.

"Hey, you can talk to this guy!" he said suddenly, looking at a mock deer trophy above the bar. "Hey, come on, Buck, hey!" The deer began to sing, sounding much like Willie Nelson. "Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . I can't wait to get on the road again." Estrada, sitting in a chair with a remote control in his hand, guffawed. These days, he finds himself doing something he had never done seriously: praying. He said prayer had broadened his thinking and made him more forgiving toward his enemies. But he could not hide his bitterness about those he sees as responsible for his downfall -- the news media, rich businessmen, Arroyo, the Supreme Court and the former leader of the country's Catholic Church, Cardinal Jaime Sin, whom he calls "the cardinal of the rich." "They not only threw the kitchen sink on my face," he said, "they threw the toilet bowl."

Luxury Hong Kong Hospital Visit for Estrada While Under House Arrest

In January 2005, Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “When Joseph Estrada went to Hong Kong recently for knee surgery, he brought along with him his barber, stayed in an upscale apartment, and, for 19 days, enjoyed the luxury of which a disgraced president who is supposed to be in jail ordinarily would be deprived. But Filipinos hardly showed any outrage over Estrada's trip (Filipino doctors had said the surgery could have been done here) or to the lenient treatment he has been getting from the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She had earlier agreed to Estrada's request to be transferred from a police compound to his villa, where he remains under house arrest. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, January 20, 2005]

“On the day he flew back from Hong Kong, Estrada declared that he would lead the country into a "new dawn." He promised to unite the political opposition against Arroyo, sounding every bit like the action hero he once played in the movies - and hardly the toppled president who is facing charges of massive corruption. To some Filipinos, Estrada's display of political bravado underscores not only the failure of the so-called People Power II, the uprising that swept Estrada out of power four years ago Wednesday, but also the failure by Arroyo, who succeeded him, to meet the Filipino people's expectations. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, January 20, 2005]

Estrada’s Corruption Trial After Leaving Office

The corruption trial of Estrada lasted six years from 2001-2007 before he was convicted of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007, only to be pardoned him two weeks by then President Arroyo. Estrada was initially indicted on eight charges but later prosecutors dropped five of the charges—including 1) taking of bribes for illegal gambling syndicates, 2) pocketing million in excise taxes and 3) receiving large commissions from the purchase of two state pensions funds of shares in a property and gaming firm) so they could narrow their case against him, concentrating on three charges: 1) economic plunder, 2) perjury and 3) using on false names on bank accounts. The perjury charges were based in his claiming his net worth was around $700,000 when it was actually in the millions.

Estrada accused Arroyo, the Catholic Church and the business elite of conspiring t topple him. Among those who supported him were Imelda Marcos. Among those that criticized him were former presidents Aquino and Ramos and Cardinal Sin. In April 2002, Estrada refused to enter a plea. “As I said earlier,” he said. “I refuse to participate in these court proceedings, so I refuse to enter a plea.” He also predicted that his execution was “inevitable. “They have taken away my office. They have taken away my dignity. And they will take away my life,” he said.

The crux of the case against Estrada focused on charges that he amassed a fortune of nearly $75 million from gambling kickbacks and skimmed tobacco taxes. "Those are all trumped-up charges," he told the Washington Post. "I haven't taken a single cent from government coffers." The prosecution presented 76 witnesses and more than 1,500 documents as evidence. Estrada himself was the defence's 79th and final witness.

Estrada Takes Stand Denying He Embezzling

$45 million

In March 2006, Estrada took the stand in his trial for embezzling state funds insisting he had been framed and had not taken kickbacks while in office. "These are trumped-up charges, a frame-up," Mr Estrada he said of the charges against him of siphoning off $45 million from illegal gambling rackets during his 31 months in power. He also denied he had solicited payments from tobacco taxes in one province. "That's a pack of lies," he said. "I don't have the conscience to steal money intended for farmers." Estrada also denies separate charges that he under-reported his assets in 1999. [Source: John Aglionby, The Guardian, March 23, 2006 <>]

John Aglionby wrote in The Guardian, Estrada “made a point of showing his patriotism yesterday by wearing a national dress barong shirt, a Philippine flag pin and his trademark white wristband with the presidential seal on it. His wife, two sons, one of whom is a co-defendant in the trial, and daughter accompanied him to the court in Quezon City. "I have mixed feelings. I welcome this opportunity to present my side because I was denied that right in the impeachment trial when the prosecutors walked out," Mr Estrada told the anti-corruption court. "I was not able to defend myself. I was convicted in the streets." <>

“He was upbeat at the end of the hearing. "I just answered with the truth so it was easy," he said as he left the court away. "I'm eager to finish this case so the people will know the truth."One of the defence lawyers, Rene Saguisag, said there was no concrete evidence against his client. "His only crime is philandering, not plundering," he said, referring to Mr Estrada's children by several different women. Luis Chavit Singson, a former provincial governor who blew the whistle on Mr Estrada's alleged embezzlement, attended court and said he expected his former drinking and gambling buddy to put on a performance to rival his most epic Robin Hood-style screen roles. "I am 100 percent sure he will lie," he said. "But he is an actor. He can very well fake it." <>

“Several hundred of Mr Estrada's supporters from poor communities had staged an overnight vigil near the court, but more than 1,000 riot police kept them 500 metres from the building to prevent violence. Some supporters were allowed into the court. Mr Estrada testified that the charges were politically motivated but after the hearing a spokesman for his successor, Gloria Arroyo, said the proceedings had been fair. "The fact that former president Joseph Estrada was taking the witness stand is a clear proof that due process has been strictly observed in his case," the statement read. The court, which only meets once a week, was adjourned for seven days.Mr Estrada is expected to take six weeks to present his evidence and the case is unlikely to conclude until several months after that. <>

Estrada Denies Receiving Bags of Cash as Kickbacks

The Philippines Center of Investigative Journalism reported: “Before the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court), former President Joseph Estrada denied accusations by Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson in 2000 that he received kickbacks of up to P130 million from tobacco excise tax while in office. During the impeachment trial, Singson said P130 million went straight to Estrada and his family. Singson presented certificates from the Landbank as proof that money went to three persons: Alma Alfaro, Delia Rajas, and Eleuterio Tan. Singson said it was around the end of August 1998 when the money was withdrawn from the bank by the three persons, as instructed by Charlie “Atong” Ang, a business associate and close friend of Estrada. He said he was at the house of Ang’s mother when he saw bags of money being delivered. He and Singson then proceeded to the house of Estrada in Polk St., Greenhills, Singson recounted, where Ang delivered the money in a “plastic bayong.” [Source: PCIJ Blog, March 22, 2006]

“Estrada denied this before the Sandiganbayan this morning, saying there was no way Ang could have entered the premises of his residence since the Presidential Security Group was at that time tightly guarding his home. Estrada said he never received kickbacks from government deals even when he was still the mayor of San Juan.

Singson, who was instrumental in exposing Estrada’s alleged links to illegal gambling, was at the Sandiganbayan today at the start of Estrada’s testimony. When asked about his relationship with Singson, Estrada denied the governor’s claim that they have known each other for more than 30 years. In his testimony on July 17, 2000, Singson said he knew Estrada even before he became mayor since his mother, Mary Marcelo Ejercito, was once producer of one of Singson’s films. Estrada said this was “a lie” because his mother has never been a film producer and that she was, in fact, against Estrada’s decision to enter showbiz. Estrada also said he has never invited Singson to any of his birthday parties. Estrada said he and Singson were never close friends, adding that Singson was an “ordinary friend and a political ally.” A close friend, Estrada said, is someone who could be trusted and loyal. Singson, he said, could not definitely be considered as one.

Estrada Given Life Sentence but Then Pardoned One Month Later

In September 2007, Estrada was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of corruption. The Guardian reported: “The former action film star was charged with four counts of corruption, involving diversion of funds amounting to about 4 billion pesos ($75 million), Reuters reported. Lawyers said he was found guilty on two counts of receiving payoffs from illegal gambling and taking commissions in the sale of shares to government pension funds. He was cleared of the other two charges of maintaining a bank account in a false name and of diverting tobacco taxes to his own use. [Source: James Sturcke and agencies. The Guardian, September 12, 2007]

The verdict - which followed a six-year trial - was televised live. Government fears that a conviction would spark violent protests by Estrada's poor supporters were unfounded. Estrada was not jailed immediately but ordered to continue living under house arrest in his own villa. He is expected to appeal the conviction. "I thought the rule of law will prevail over here," he said. "This is really a kangaroo court. This is a political decision." Among other things prosecutors claimed he hid assets and bought mansions and holiday homes for his mistresses.

Estrada had denied the charges and accused the current president, Gloria Arroyo, of masterminding his removal in a conspiracy with leaders of the Roman Catholic church and senior military officers. He gained credit for time served in detention and it was unclear when he might be eligible for parole, or whether he would spend time in prison, be allowed to continue living under house arrest or even be granted a pardon. Estrada was also ordered to forfeit a mansion and more than 731 million pesos, plus interest, that were deposited into two bank accounts. Two co-defendants - Estrada's son Jinggoy Estrada and the lawyer Eduardo Serapio - were acquitted of all charges during the 10-minute court hearing. Estrada's friends and family issued a statement calling the case a political vendetta by Ms Arroyo.

A month and a half later, Associated Press reported: “Estrada was a free man yesterday for the first time in six-and-a-half years after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardoned him from a life sentence for graft, a move touted as an effort to heal the nation's deep political rifts. "There is no substitute for freedom," the 70-year-old former action film star told reporters before leaving his villa east of Manila, where he has spent most of his time in detention since his arrest in January 2001. [Source: Associated Press, October 27, 2007]

“The pardon was greeted with a heavy dose of cynicism because of the timing -- Arroyo is currently fighting a third impeachment attempt and calls for her resignation. But Estrada, who has been one of Arroyo's chief critics in the past six years, sounded conciliatory for the first time since his ouster. He thanked Arroyo, reiterated his wish to live the life of a "plain citizen" and, in a turnaround, urged his supporters to back Arroyo's programs to combat poverty and hunger. "I am aware of the agonizing times and tough choices that Mrs. Arroyo has had to wade through before arriving at this executive decision," Estrada said in a statement read by his lawyer before the paperwork for his release was completed.

Arroyo admitted that her decision was controversial, but said the pardon was for the greater good to end "the single most significant cause of political noise and controversy" during her tumultuous time in office. She cited the pardons of former US and South Korean presidents as precedents. "In the end, we had to make a decision that was bound to please and displease, impress and confound, unite and divide," Arroyo said in a speech to businessmen. Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said the pardon restored Estrada's civil and political rights. However, a court ruling that forfeited Estrada's villa and more than US$15.5 million in savings remains in effect. Estrada said his first act as a free man would be to visit his ailing 102-year-old mother, who is hospitalized in Manila, where crowds of supporters, family and friends prepared a fiesta for his homecoming. Orange balloons and ribbons festooned the route for his lengthy motorcade.

Estrada Shoots Comeback Movie in 2009

In 2009, shooting started on Estrada’s first film since he was toppled on corruption charges. Oliver Teves of Associated Press wrote: Estrada, once an action movie star, is returning to the big screen with his first film since he was toppled on corruption charges. "I am back. I am happy," Estrada told ABS-CBN television, the sister company of film maker Star Cinema. "This is where I came from, where I became known." Estrada, 72, on Wednesday started filming a comedy about a minibus driver trying to deal with his daughter's plans to marry her Filipino-American boyfriend. "He really thinks that the poor, who are already suffering, should not be made to cry some more in the movies," spokeswoman Margaux Salcedo said. "He wants to make them happy, even if only briefly." [Source: Oliver Teves, Associated Press, July 29, 2009 *=*]

“Estrada, with his trademark mustache, pompadour and wristband, is a Filipino movie hall-of-famer, having starred in more than 100 films. His last movie, "Sa Kuko ng Agila (In the Eagle's Claws)" - made in 1989 while he was a senator - portrays him as another minibus driver who opposes U.S. military bases in the Philippines. *=*

“Estrada said he felt uneasy with the modern "high-tech equipment" on the set. Toni Gonzaga, who plays his daughter, said she was honored to work with the former president. "I am speechless. He is really a classic actor," she said. They were shooting a scene inside a jeepney, the ubiquitous Filipino minibus that was originally fashioned from surplus World War II U.S. jeeps. Director Wenn Deramas also praised Estrada, saying he didn't need second takes for his scenes. He said Estrada gave specific instructions that he be treated like other actors.” *=*

Estrada Runs for President in 2010

In October 2009 Estrada announced that he would run again for president with Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay as his running mate. Estrada had stated earlier in interviews that he would be willing to run for the opposition in the event that they are unable to unite behind a single candidate. Rufus Rodriquez, one of Estrada's lawyers, said that the constitutional limit of one term ban didn’t prevent Estrada from attaining the presidency because the prohibition banning re-election only applies to the incumbent president. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Estrada was second but he finished far behind the winner, Benigno Acquino III, who became the Philippine president in 2010. Results of the 2010 Presidential Elections: 1) Benigno Aquino III (Liberal)- 15,208,678 (42.08 percent); 2) Joseph Estrada (PMP)- 9,487,837 (26.25 percent); 3) Manny Villar (Nacionalista)- 5,573,835 (15.42 percent); 4) Gilbert Teodoro (Lakas Kampi CMD)- 4,095,839 (11.33 percent); 5) Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas)- 1,125,878 (3.12 percent); 6) Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan-VNP)- 501,727 (1.39 percent); 7) Nicanor Perlas (independent)- 54,575 (0.15 percent); 8) Jamby Madrigal (independent)- 46,489 (0.13 percent); 9) John Carlos de los Reyes (Ang Kapatiran)- 44,244 (0.12 percent). +

Arroyo’s pardon absolved Estrada of any political disqualification, and that allowed him to run for president in 2010. His loss to President Benigno Acquino III was his first electoral defeat. He believed he could have won if not for the sympathy Mr. Aquino after his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, died of cancer just months before the elections.

In October 2010, the magazine Foreign Policy included Estrada in its list of five former head of states/governments who did not make "a positive difference in the world", but "faded away into obscurity." Also included in this "Bad Exes" list were Thailand's Thaksin Shinawatra, Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, and Germany's Gerhard Schroder. Estrada announced in November 2010 that he will be selling his 3,000 square-metre (0.74-acre) home in San Juan, Metro Manila for nearly $7 million dollars to "pursue his real estate business." AFP reported that Estrada "has put up two high-rise residential condominium buildings and plans to build a third soon."

Estrada Wins Race for Mayor of Manila in 2013

In May 2012, Estrada announced his intention to run for Mayor of Manila in the 2013 elections to continue his political career. In May 2013, the day Philippine mid-term elections were held, Estrada was named the winner in the election for mayor of Manila. Cris Larano wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Estrada started out as his political career as mayor of San Juan, a neighboring city of Manila that he served for 17 years. After Monday’s midterm elections, it appears the 76-year-old movie-actor-turned-politician could possibly end his political career as mayor of the Philippine capital. Manila Mayoralty Elections 2013 results: Joseph Estrada (UNA)- 349,770; Alfredo Lim (LP)- 307,525 (47.33 percent). [Source: Cris Larano, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2013 ==]

“We will return Manila to its old glory,” Mr. Estrada told supporters after the Commission on Elections declared him winner of the Manila mayoral race against Alfredo Lim, the incumbent mayor and candidate of President Benigno Aquino III. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Estrada, who was born in the impoverished district of Tondo, decried how neighboring cities had overtaken Manila, with the city showing the largest number of poor and jobless in the National Capital Region. Asked by SolarNews on what he would say to 83-year-old Mr. Lim, with whom he had a bitter campaign, often deteriorating to muckraking despite being once close political allies, Mayor Estrada said: “Happy retirement.” ==

“Estrada views his victory in Manila on Monday as redemption. Speaking to reporters shortly before he was officially proclaimed winner, “This is one of my consolations: That people still trust me despite all the black propaganda thrown at me during the time that I was impeached. The people know that I am innocent…. Today is additional vindication.” Mr. Estrada won by a margin of around 35,000 votes; his running mate Isko Moreno, also an actor-turned-politician, won by a landslide. ==

Gmanetwork.com. reported: “Manila says hello to "Asiong Salonga," and goodbye to "Dirty Harry." Estrada was proclaimed the mayor-elect of Manila City. It marks the return to office of one of the country's most popular politicians. This will be his first elective position since he was ousted in 2001. Estrada had also been the long-time mayor in San Juan until he was replaced in 1986. Later, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Aquino and Estrada are in "good terms" despite the President's endorsement of Lim during the campaign. "They have always been in good terms. I just see no reason why Manila City Hall and Malacañang could not work together," Lacierda said at a press briefing. The President's spokesman said Aquino has always considered Estrada as a family friend. "Their families have remained good friends in spite of being affiliated in different political parties," Lacierda said. [Source: gmanetwork.com, May 14, 2013 ||||]

Lim was running for his third term as Manila mayor. The total number of registered voters in Manila is around 900,000. Monday's polls yielded more or less 650,000 votes. The colorful mayoralty contenders are known by the tags "Asiong Salonga" for Estrada, and "Dirty Harry" for Lim. Estrada played the lead role in the movie "Asiong Salonga" about a 1950s Filipino mob boss. On the other hand, Lim is known for his "cop exploits," similar to "Dirty Harry," the lead character in the Hollywood movie starring Clint Eastwood, during his stint as long-time chief of police in Manila. In a speech after being proclaimed, Estrada said he plans to change Manila's image as the Philippine city with the highest crime rate and highest joblessness rate. “I thank the great people of Manila for putting a true son of Manila at the helm of the Philippine capital city,” Estrada said in the statement. “Dear Manileños, I will not fail you. I was born in Manila, and I will die working to bring back the glory and pride to Manila,” he continued. Estrada vowed to “work harder than I have ever done in my past loftier political positions” and asked his opponents and the people of Manila to "finally leave politics behind" to put "Manila back to the pedestal of being once one of the greatest cities of the world, the Paris of Asia." This is not the first time that Estrada and Lim have gone against each other for a government post. In 1998, they were both presidential candidates, with Estrada winning by a wide margin against his opponents. “ ||||

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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