Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PROFILE: Estrada's star untarnished by Philippine corruption trial Read more:

Despite being detained for more than six years while on trial for large-scale corruption, ousted Philippine president Joseph Estrada still has the support and faith of the Filipino masses, who catapulted him to the presidency nine years ago.
The charismatic action-film-star-turned-politician also still has strong influence in Philippine politics, with top politicians seeking his support and endorsement.
According to a recent survey, a majority of Filipinos considers Estrada as more trustworthy than incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who replaced him in January 2001.
The poll, conducted two months before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court was to hand down a verdict on Estrada's plunder trial, showed that only 31 per cent of respondents believe the former president is corrupt, compared to 71 per cent who believe Arroyo is corrupt.
Estrada's undiminished love affair with the Philippines' impoverished millions dates back to his early childhood when he would pilfer bread from his house in Manila's San Juan town and give it to his playmates in the slum area a few blocks away.
The 70-year-old Estrada, who is the eighth among 10 children from an upper-middle class family, dropped out when he was in high school and pursued a career as an action-movie star.
Throughout his awards-rich movie career, Estrada starred in films that were mostly about the struggle of the poor against the elite and the elitist system, or the rise of an underdog. This further endeared him to the ordinary people.
Estrada's first foray into politics was in 1967 when he ran for mayor in his hometown in San Juan and lost. But he contested the results and in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled he was the true winner in the race.
For the next 17 years, he held the post of mayor of San Juan, winning re-elections and turning the town into a first-class municipality. But his key achievement as town executive was providing a decent housing resettlement site to more than 1,600 squatter families living in San Juan.
Estrada's political star shone brighter in 1987 when he ran and won as senator, one of the only two opposition politicians who made it to the administration-dominated Senate then.
Despite being derided for his "carabao" English or ungrammatical use of the language, Estrada distinguished himself in the Senate by staunchly supporting the removal of US bases in the Philippines, which happened in 1992.
When his six-year-term as senator ended in 1992, he ran as vice president and won. By this time, his gambling and womanizing activities were pushed to the limelight by his detractors.
These personal weaknesses, however, were eclipsed by Estrada's achievement as chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, which successfully dismantled kidnapping and drug trafficking syndicates.
Estrada's rise to power was unstoppable in 1998, when he won the presidential election by the widest margin ever in Philippine politics. He was the only elected Philippine president in recent times who was not accused of vote-rigging.
He vowed to uplift the masses from the quagmire of poverty during his presidency, which he often referred to as "the greatest performance" of his life.
But 31 months later, he was ousted by a military-backed mass uprising over allegations he pocketed public funds and accepted bribes from illegal gambling lords, the same accusations currently haunting Arroyo and her administration.
Estrada has denied the allegations and hopes that the Sandiganbayan's verdict on Wednesday would finally clear his name.
"I have served my country as mayor for 17 years, six years as senator and six years as vice president and my record as public official was untainted," he said in a radio interview. "It was when I became president that I was accused of stealing money."
Estrada said that if the allegations were true, he would have already accepted an offer to flee the country shortly after he was ousted in 2001.
"But I rejected that offer because I knew I needed to clear my name and I did that, I proved that the charges against me are all lies when I testified at the Sandiganbayan during my trial," he said.
While the verdict is still out on Estrada, a Transparency International report has already included him in a list of the 10 most corrupt leaders in the world for the past two decades. He rounded up the list, which was topped by Indonesia's Suharto. dpa jg gl jh

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