Erap Comeback, Anyone? Does Joseph Estrada have what it takes to regain his so-called lost presidency?

Five years have passed since Joseph Estrada was ousted as President. But for those who continue to support him, Estrada is merely on a leave of absence and he will assume his duties as President anytime soon.


Joseph Estrada, popularly known by his nickname Erap, is said to be perceived by those belonging to the D and E social classes as a “miracle worker,” based on the roles he portrayed in movies where he ends up solving the problems of the poor.

However, this is not because he was a good actor, said Prof. Benito Lim, a political analyst who teaches at the Ateneo de Manila University. According to him, this is because previous presidents who had better academic credentials failed to solve the problems of the people, especially the poor.

Estrada was a college dropout and many doubted his competence and intellectual preparation to be president. “It’s like you have gone to the best of doctors to cure you but they all failed so you decided to go to an albularyo (local healer),” said Lim.

Despite the insults hurled against Estrada, many politicians copied his pro-poor style. But they did not succeed as unlike them, Estrada’s image was a product of a long build-up. Unlike them, too, Estrada has the movie industry behind him.

Estrada knew how to reach out to the poor. For instance, in his visit at the Payatas dumpsite during his term, Estrada fed a resident using his own hand. There was also a time when, as he was about to ride the presidential chopper, he turned back and approached a boy who was to give him flowers.

“If you belong to the poor, you will tell the story a thousand times and you will not be tired of telling others about it,” Lim said. He said, however, that Estrada ended up destroying his image as a savior when he associated himself with shadowy characters like Atong Ang and Dante Tan.

Lim added that when Panfilo Lacson, then Estrada’s Philippine National Police (PNP) director-general, got involved in the Kuratong Baleleng case, Estrada made a mistake of not castigating him. This incident, he said, brought down his popularity rating from 70 percent to about 50 percent.

Luckily for him, Lim added, he did not suffer systematic destruction because it was the Edsa II (people’s uprising in January 2001) that destroyed him.


Accused of plunder which is punishable by death, Estrada is currently detained at his rest house in Tanay, Rizal. “He has been treated shabbily as the illegitimate president,” said Ronald Lumbao, chair of the People’s Movement Against Poverty (PMAP), a group associated with Estrada.

Lumbao said that those who benefited from his “leave of absence” need to allegedly portray him as a “plunderer, sinner president, as a symbol of all evils” in order to legitimize their stay in power.

“No matter how brazenly they project themselves as the savior, the people know this regime is corrupt, a cheater,” Lumbao said. “This regime would be eventually overthrown.”


The late Jaime Cardinal Sin alone could have destroyed him. But because of the charisma he was able to carry with him from being an actor to being a politician, Estrada won the 1998 presidential elections by a landslide 39 percent of the votes. “He was an insult to the traditional elite,” Lim said, adding that Sin, the business tycoons, and former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos allegedly conspired to bring him down.

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of EDSA II last January 20, thousands of Estrada’s followers gathered at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City to renew their commitment and support to the ousted President by establishing the Free and Restore Erap Estrada Democracy Movement (FREEDOM).

Freedom, Lumbao told Bulatlat, will be the start of a movement that will eventually grow “to reinstall the legitimate presidency of Erap and reestablish constitutional order and democracy in the country.” He explained that it was also a collective call for Estrada to terminate his “leave of absence and reassume the presidency by virtue of his legal mandate as duly elected president.”

He also said that the number of people who went to Edsa to decry what happened during Edsa II and to call for the people to recognize the legitimacy of Estrada “was a lot bigger than that of the second Edsa.”

Up to now, his supporters do not believe that “it was an ouster by the people of a very popular president” but rather a “manipulation by the troika of the church, the business elite, and the adventurist and trapo (traditional politician) generals in the military hierarchy.”

Kingmaker but not a king

Despite his supporters’ numbers, Lim told Bulatlat that a comeback for Estrada would be very hard.

Although his children have political positions, Lim said that they do not have the charisma of their father. And while in prison, his family also “collapsed,” he said, because “his family is being united to support him politically and not to serve the country.”

Lim cited the incident when Sen. Jinggoy Estrada humiliated a school teacher who issued a memorandum asking and teaching the students not to vote for actors. Jinggoy could have used his father’s soft approach instead of taking it personally, Lim said.

Also, Lim said that the speaker of the political family of Estrada did not try to preserve his image consistently. If the handler was to portray Estrada as a hero in the movie who also loses a battle and gets beaten up but still triumphs in the end, “he should have handled his image consistently, and made his sons behave consistently with his image.”

Lim opined that Estrada “can be a kingmaker but he cannot make himself a king anymore.” In fact, Lim said he did not say anything memorable while he was in prison. Most of all, his inability to unite then presidential candidates Panfilo Lacson and Fernando Poe Jr., shows that he was not very convincing anymore as a political leader.

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