Joseph Estrada’s Political Comeback
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Joseph Estrada’s Political Comeback

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After his unceremonial ouster as Philippine president in 2001, Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada has once again been elected to public office, this time as mayor of Manila, the country’s capital.

Estrada was a popular actor who played Robin Hood-type characters before he entered the world of politics in 1969 when he first served as mayor of his hometown in San Juan, an eastern suburb of Manila. After almost two decades as local chief executive, he gained national prominence when he was elected senator in 1987, vice president in 1992, and then finally president in 1998.

In October 2000, a friend of Estrada revealed that the president was receiving money from illegal gambling operations. Estrada was subsequently impeached by the House of Representatives. While the senate was proceeding with the impeachment trial, numerous tales of Estrada’s luxurious living surfaced in the media, undermining his magnanimous image. Rallies snowballed throughout the country, forcing Estrada to leave the presidential palace on January 19, 2001. His vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, replaced him as president of the republic.

Estrada has maintained his innocence and has accused the influential Catholic Church, business groups and the elite of conspiring to unseat him. 

After his ouster, he was charged with plunder, a non-bailable offence. He was placed under hospital arrest and then house arrest pending the completion of his trial. He was found guilty in 2007 but Arroyo immediately pardoned him.

Despite his travails, Estrada remained a powerful figure in Philippine politics. When incumbent President Benigno Aquino III first ran as senator in 2007, he sought Estrada’s endorsement. Estrada felt vindicated when his wife and son won senate seats in 2001 and 2004.

Estrada’s credibility and popularity as opposition leader increased when his successor was accused of committing the high crimes of corruption, electoral fraud and human rights violations. Even the late president and democracy leader Cory Aquino publicly apologized to Estrada for supporting his ouster in 2001 because it led to the ascendancy of Arroyo.

In 2010, Estrada garnered more than 9 million votes and placed second in the presidential race, confirming his continuing national popularity. In fact, Estrada won in many urban and rural poor districts. His running mate, Jojo Binay, was elected vice president, while friend and long-time ally Juan Ponce Enrile was elected senate president. 

This year Estrada completed his successful comeback by winning the Manila mayoral race. Another son was also elected senator.

During his inaugural speech as mayor, Estrada vowed to restore the glory of old Manila and uplift the conditions of the poor. But he also stirred controversy when he compared himself to other world leaders who had served a prison term. 

“For the first time, Manila will have an ex-convict as your city mayor. And I feel I am in good company with Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and our own Senator Ninoy Aquino who was convicted by a military court. We were all convicted. That is why we are now all men of conviction,” he said.

Naturally, many people disagreed and reminded him that he was jailed for plunder and not for fighting apartheid or military rule. Nonetheless, the comparisons reflect Estrada’s stubborn insistence that he was a victim of persecution by the elite. He appears to be hoping to influence the verdict of history by denying that his ouster represented the will of the majority.

Whether it is appropriate or not for Estrada to align himself with global icons like Mandela and Suu Kyi, nobody will deny that the 76-year-old ex-convict has reemerged as a major political figure in the Philippines.

The Philippines’ other living former presidents, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, have already lost whatever political clout they had. Arroyo is in fact facing a plunder case and is currently under hospital arrest. Estrada, on the other hand, continues to be a king and kingmaker in Philippine politics. He has yet to reveal his plans for the 2016 presidential race.

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