By Rommel Deleon Clemente
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Amid the controversy surrounding the unpopular Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) administration, former President Joseph Estrada has expressed interest in becoming, once again, chief executive of the Philippines in 2010.In the recent ANC Leadership Forum, Old ‘Erap’ conveyed the interest in his own distinctive, inelegant style. Confronted by the moderator with a statement he made years ago about no longer seeking the presidency, Estrada said his prior statement was not “categorical.”
Therefore, Estrada said he left enough logical space to justify a future campaign. Rather than articulating the pressing needs and dire circumstances of the Filipino people or presenting himself as one to provide the solutions, he came off as elusive and an equivocator of the highest order — one could not help but cringe when hearing his answer.
Estrada should be content that he is not in jail and should live his life peacefully by staying away from politics. Electing Estrada as president would be like the United States electing Richard Nixon as president after the Watergate incident. The only difference is that Nixon, by all accounts, was a political and policy genius (according to Alan Greenspan or the belated Milton Friedman), while Estrada, quite frankly, is not. The Filipino people deserve better.
Why shouldn’t Estrada be considered a serious and legitimate contender as leader of the opposition? First, his election as president would most likely be unconstitutional.
In Article 7, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippines Constitution, it states in no uncertain terms, “The president shall not be eligible for any re-election.” According to common understanding of “any,” it means “all” and “without exception.” Therefore, since Estrada has been elected as the president once already, he cannot be re-elected into office — period.
Supporters of Estrada may argue that a more proper understanding of the clause applies to presidents in office who serve their full terms and seek re-election afterward. Nevertheless, the persuasive force of the word “any” still remains, and the clause reasonably applies to presidents who later seek re-election, especially those who do so after being impeached.
Second, one of the most effective ways to change the government’s image, embodying a culture of corruption, is by electing people who appear as upholding the highest ethical values. Setting the proper tone at the top is important for any organization insofar as ingraining a culture of integrity and accountability. Don’t forget, Estrada was impeached by the House.
Before facing a Senate vote on his removal from office, Estrada abdicated power by resigning in the midst of vociferous rallies against him. A Philippine anti-corruption court later convicted him of amassing millions of dollars in illegal bribes and kickbacks when he was in office.
The only reason why he has not served a day of his 40-year prison sentence is because GMA made the politically prudent, yet morally suspect decision to pardon him. However one thinks of the legitimacy of that conviction (although the burden of proof rests with Estrada supporters to explain why the court’s ruling was unjust), an Estrada presidency would be indelibly marred with the taint of corruption. It would be a step backwards for those who believe in restoring integrity and ethics in their government.
Finally, judging from his performance at the ANC Leadership Forum, Estrada makes the striking impression of being a narcissist and shameless opportunist. He presented virtually no substantive vision of a brighter future for the Philippines. He is like Machiavelli’s prince.
In other words, he schemes for power and prestige for the sake of having power and prestige His answers were dull and hollow — he was, after all, a college dropout.
Charisma and likeability should not be the criteria by which people offer their support and cast their votes, especially during these troubling times. The global economic crisis and the resulting economic slump call for leaders who are serious and engaged in the important policy debates of the day.
Unfortunately for Estrada, he does not seem to be one of them. ♦
Rommel Deleon Clemente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.