ESTRADA FEELS OUT OF THE LOOP

[PHOTO AT LEFT:
FORMER PRESIDENT Joseph Estrada ponders what’s in store for him.File Photo By Rene Dilan]

CAMP CAPINPIN, TANAY, RIZAL, March 25, 2004  (MANILA TIMES) By Dante “Klink” Ang II, Executive Vice President (First of two parts)

The opposition is more fractured than what has been reported.

It is not only Fernando Poe Jr. and Sen. Panfilo Lacson who cannot work together. It seems that former President Joseph Estrada and his supporters are outsiders in the Poe campaign machinery.

The Manila Times recently visited the former president in his detention house in this camp. During that visit, Estrada talked about his friend, Poe, the standard-bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Asked if he is helping out in the Poe campaign, Estrada said, “Parang hindi na ako kailangan [It is as if I’m no longer needed].”

Even those in Estrada’s party, the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), have been marginalized in the Poe camp. That’s too bad, he said in Filipino. The PMP is tried and tested, he added. “It has [already] produced a president.”

The man running the show is Sen. Edgardo Angara, a fact that is known in political circles and perhaps to the public. Angara is president of the Laban ng Demok­ratikong Pilipino (LDP).

He coalesced with Estrada in the 1998 election, running as his vice-presidential candidate. He lost to then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who ascended to the presidency after Estrada was ousted in the second People Power Revolution.

It should be Poe, not Ping

If it were up to Estrada, the opposition is right in fielding Poe for president, not Lacson.

It’s a question of “winnability” in choosing who shall face off with President Arroyo. Surveys have consistently reported Poe leading Lacson.

He said he made this sentiment known to Lacson from the very beginning. And he said Lacson should not take this against him.

Asked in Filipino why Lacson should not harbor ill feelings toward him, Estrada said he gave him all the breaks in his career. Lacson owes Estrada. Estrada was primarily responsible for Lacson’s professional breaks and promotions from the time he became vice president until he was elected president.

Lacson was promoted several times, ahead of more senior officers, despite their protests.

Estrada has known Poe for four decades, and has been a helpful friend. “It’s now my time to reciprocate, but unfortunately I can’t, because I’m detained,” he said.

Unsolicited advice from Erap

Estrada said he had warned Poe about drawing parallels to his successful campaign in 1998. Back then, Estrada won the overwhelming plurality but not a majority, some 11 million votes.

Estrada said Poe should not expect to get as many votes as he did in 1998. There is a big difference, he said. Back then, Estrada did not run against an incumbent, whereas Poe is running against a sitting president who has all the resources of government at her disposal.

Indeed, President Arroyo has been widely criticized for distributing largess, including Philhealth cards. Opposition candidates argue that this is tantamount to vote buying. The administration’s spin doctors and other officials contend that President Arroyo is simply exercising her normal duties, continuing the work started before the campaign.

The latest polls show President Arroyo gaining on Poe, the early front-runner and favorite at the start of the campaign period. The latest Pulse Asia poll reports that Poe and Arroyo are at a virtual tie. Other polls show Arroyo has the edge.

Estrada is not troubled by the polls. He believes the disqualification issue is responsible for Poe’s stalled ratings. Cases were filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Supreme Court against Poe, arguing he should be disqualified because he is not a natural-born Filipino—one of the constitutional requirements for running for president. Poe won both cases.

Still, Estrada said there is time to recover. He admitted it would be difficult running against President Arroyo with government planes, people and other resources at her disposal.

This is exacerbated by Poe’s “shy” personality. “Tipid na tipid sa salita [He talks so little],” Estrada commented.

Poe’s only chance, Estrada said, is “daanin niya sa sipag (He should get the job done through hard work].”

He said that when it comes to campaigning hard, it might be hard to outdo President Arroyo. She has been known to get up before dawn, hit the campaign trail all day and turn in late at night, often even after midnight.

Other Estrada warnings

Other than campaigning hard, Poe should be vigilant against cheating on election day and during the outrageously long canvassing period afterward.

Estrada said the government has the ability to “create” some three million votes. He is worried about the reported two million ballots missing from the National Printing Office, although Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos denies there is wrongdoing.

Referring to President Arroyo, Estrada said, “She has no mandate. At kapag nandaya pa, baka magkagulo [If she cheats, there might unrest].”

Estrada added that President Arroyo should not take the military for granted. Last year she faced a military uprising when soldiers took over the Oakwood service apartments in the heart of the business district in Makati. The soldiers capitulated without a fight, and the leaders are now facing trial for rebellion.

The Poe presidency

Estrada asserted that if elected, Poe will be his own man and will not be beholden to vested interests, as his opponents have charged.

“’Di nila kaya diktahan ’yun [Nobody can dictate to him],” Estrada said. This seems like a contradiction in terms, though, as Estrada had said that Senator Angara is already exerting much influence in Poe’s campaign.

In fact, he said, he sent word to Poe’s camp that Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. was not to be taken in by their party. Guingona is credited with starting the chain of events that led to Estrada’s impeachment and eventual ouster with his “I accuse” speech. But on March 13 Guingona joined forces with Poe, endorsing him for president.

That Jinggoy Estrada was included on the KNP senatorial slate is not evidence of the former president’s influence over Poe. In fact, the elder Estrada said it is the reverse.

He did not want his son, Jinggoy, to run for the Senate. Instead, the plan was for Jinggoy to run for the lone congressional seat in San Juan, Metro Manila. The incumbent representative would give way to Jinggoy, Estrada said.

It was all arranged, he said. In San Juan, their bailiwick, there was no losing.

But the KNP was hard pressed to look for a replacement for former Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who joined the administration ticket, and for Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, who chose reelection in her House seat.

Estrada did not ask his friend Poe to take on his son as a senatorial bet. “Sila nakiusap sa akin [They were the ones who asked me for a favor],” Estrada said, referring to Jinggoy’s inclusion on the KNP senatorial ticket.

No pardon even if Poe wins

“I will not accept any pardon or parole,” Estrada said. “I believe I’m innocent.”

He maintained that he did not resign, and that he stepped down only because he wanted to stave off bloodshed.

Estrada pointed out that even the Labor Code does not recognize effective resignation, the argument used by his opponents. He said the law protects those who resign under duress.

He said he does not expect any special treatment in case Poe wins. In fact, he expects to be acquitted if President Arroyo wins.

She does not have a mandate, and if she works to pardon or to have Estrada acquitted now, she would have to step down and hand over power to him, Estrada explained.

He denied having entered into any kind of deals with President Arroyo, who was criticized when Estrada was allowed to spend some time in his rest house near Camp Capinpin. But the Department of Justice defended President Arroyo, since she did not issue an order allowing Estrada to visit his rest house.

“In fairness to GMA, walang deal [There was no deal],” he said.\


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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