Shortly before his 76th birthday on Friday, April 19, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada took a few hours from his hectic campaign schedule to meet with “old friends”—the local entertainment press.
Now running for the post of Manila City mayor in a very heated race against the incumbent executive Alfredo Lim, the living legend of Philippine Cinema had very good reason to do so. One that resonates with the very inspiration of his latest bid for public service, which is to come full circle and repay his debt of gratitude to the ordinary Filipino who have loved, supported and believed in him through the ups and downs of his storied life.
“Matagal na panahon ko nang hindi kayo napatawag at nakasama,” he greeted generations of writers who have all played a part in chronicling close to five decades of his existence. “You have all helped me during my time in showbiz and hinding hindi ko makakalimutan yon. Humihingi ako ng tawad sa inyo,” the 13th leader of the land humbly added.
As Philippine show business’ most prominent son, the former president said he believes he also owed the movie press a face-to-face explanation as to why he has exposed himself to criticism for running at a local executive level, and more importantly, to the kind of political battle that has become too harsh and personal.
“Even my own son, [Senator] Jinggoy [Estrada], questioned why I made the decision to run for mayor when I was already president of the Philippines,” said the enduringly fascinating figure. “Ang sabi ko nga, it’s the masa who made me—from a movie actor, a leading man, producer, mayor, senator, vice president, and even more so as president.”
More emotionally, Erap (the nickname given to him by fellow movie legend and his closest friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr.) recounted how the Filipino masses never left him, even when he was ousted from power in 2001 and jailed for the next six years.
“Ngayon, dahil ba natalo ako sa nakaraang eleksyon [he finished second in the presidential race of 2010], iiwan ko na sila?” he asked. “Hinding-hindi ko magagawa yon, lalo na’t malakas pa naman ako at nakikita kong marami pa rin sa kanila ang naghihirap.”
Without mentioning the name of his latest political opponent, former President Estrada went on to take higher road and discussed his plans for Manila City, should he win in the May 13 elections.
“I called for this gathering for the movie press to know what is really the issue here. I’ve been a politician for so many years and I don’t like to encroach on the personalities of my political opponents. And from the very start, I’ve wanted this campaign to be [carried out on a]high level.
“Ang issue dito ay hindi yung personalan kung hindi yung kalagayan ng Maynila ngayon. Based on the study of UP Professors that the city has the highest poverty incidents, the highest number of jobless people, and [worsening]peace and order. And according to the DILG, out of the 38 organized cities in the Philippines, Manila is No. 36. At ang lahat po niyan ay hindi nanggaling sa akin, ngunit sa mga binanggit kong research.”
Widely known for his humor, Erap said in pouring over the statistics, he was reminded of the national tourism slogan, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.”
“Totoo nga yon, kasi dito sa Maynila, maraming ‘kahira-fun’,” he quipped bringing the house down.
Turning serious again, he went on to discuss the 10-point program he and his advisers have designed for the capital’s urban renewal, which he believes, will “restore the lost glory and prestige of the country’s most famous city.” (See sidebar).
Recalling his achievements as mayor of San Juan at the beginning of his political career, he confidently promised that he can whip the city into shape, well enough to turn it over to the next mayor, whom he hopes will be his running mate, another former actor, Vice Mayor Isko Moreno.
“Ganoon din naman ang ginawa ko noon sa San Juan nung umakyat na ako sa senado,” he reminded his audience. “Lahat naka-plano na at naka-kasa na para maituloy ang pag-unlad.”
Robinhood of Tondo
As the former president continued to impart the details of quest to give back to those to whom he owes his life, he waxed poetic when he said, “Isinilang ako sa Manuguit, Tondo; my first starring role was [as a]Robinhood of Tondo; sa Tondo ako sumikat bilang artista; at narito ulit ako ngayon sa Tondo, sa Maynila.
“I hope you know the reason why hindi ko puwedeng matiis ang masa,” he pleaded with the industry where he began. “Mamamatay at mabubuhay si Erap, hindi pa rin makakaba-yad ng utang na loob sa mahihirap. These are the last years of my life and I’m giving it to the masses of Manila where I was born.”
Indeed, the life of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada plays like a movie—one whose happy ending is yet to be seen in the weeks to come. But despite this uncertainty, for the industry of show business whose producers, directors, stars and crew he has helped in countless and touching ways, Erap will always be a champ.