“LOCAL lang ako ngayon (I’m only dealing with local issues now),” curtly quipped the City of Manila executive in dodging somebody’s attempt to get his stand on the heightening tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). “
“Hindi naman ako tumatakbong presidente. Sa kanila mo na lang itanong iyan. (I’m not running for president. Ask those who are.)”
The occasion was a press conference at the Manila Mayor’s office meant to tackle the city’s local concerns, the hottest issue at the time being the so-called privatization of Manila’s public markets, which Erap’s expected opponents in the coming elections are making much noise about.
They wrongly claimed that the city’s implementation of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program of government would deprive thousands of Manila’s market vendors of their sole means of livelihood. The vendors staged a protest rally in front of Manila City Hall, but ever the epitome of calm and balance, the former President invited the protesters to his sprawling office and treated them to snacks as he listened to their grievances. Anybody who had anything to say got a chance to speak.
A vendor from the Sta. Ana public market complained of Erap’s alleged plan to demolish the already renovated market building to conform to PPP’s specifications.
Erap snapped, “Sira ba’ng ulo ko? Gawa na pala, bakit pa gigibain? Huwag kasi kayong nagpapaniwala sa mga kalaban ko. Pinaglululuko lang kayo ng mga iyan para makuha ang boto nyo.”
Erap elaborated that the intention of the PPP in the renovation of Manila public markets is to raise them to world standarda. As to ownership, Erap assured the folks that the city stays the owner of the markets, with the vendors even sharing in the administration of the same through representation in the management board.
To a particular complaint by a stall owner, Erap’s response was an instruction to his secretary to get the complainant’s stall address as he would personally attend to the matter.
“Mas mahirap ang maging mayor ng Maynila kesa maging presidente ng Pilipinas, alam nyo ba? Sa Malakanyang, utos lang ako nang utos. Dito, ako mismo ang pumupunta sa kalye.”
Thus Erap seems now more inclined to devoting attention to local constituents – directly dealing with their problems. This has been his cup of tea, so to speak, from the very beginning. He was for a long time a town mayor before reaching Malacanang in 1998.
Come to think of it, he is so far the only local executive to have risen to the pinnacle of Philippine political power. Isn’t this, in fact, his ultimate credential to being the best president the Philippines might have had were it not for the most blatant bastardization of Philippine democracy that unseated him in 2001? He has been mayor, has gone among the people directly, known their dreams and aspirations, and recognized just how to serve them best in terms of their everyday needs. Just too bad that having risen to president, he had to shoulder burdens far more weighty than having to renovate public markets. He was thrown into the crossroad of having to acquiesce to America’s scheme of dismembering the Philippine republic or holding true his oath of keeping the nation intact.
“I will not tolerate the flying of a flag on Philippine soil other than the Philippine flag,” he has been quoted as declaring in reaction to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) flying its flag in Mindanao, putting up checkpoints on Philippine highways.
The Estrada presidency had one distinct feature: All out war against the Muslim insurgency. Beginning March 2000 Erap made a determined push of the war policy. After pulverizing 13 MILF satellite camps, Erap geared for the final onslaught, the crushing of MILF main fortress, Camp Abubakar.
Until this time, it has been little known to the Filipino people that on the eve of the attack, President Estrada got two urgent messages. One, through a telephone call, from Jaime Cardinal Sin, imploring him to desist from the planned attack as per wishes of America, and two, through a US diplomatic messenger, conveying President Bill Clinton’s own admonition to President Estrada not to attack Camp Abubakar. To both messages, President Estrada countered with a citation of fourteen Marines beheaded by the MILF.
“I have here a video of the beheaded Marines, Cardinal. Please come and see them before you ask me to do as you please,” said President Estrada.
As history would have it, in utter defiance of US wishes, President Estrada proceeded to crush Camp Abubakar – and the MILF rebellion practically. And as history would have it as well, toward the end of 2000, the Chavit Singson expose of Erap took place, triggering the latter’s impeachment trial. Eventual walk-out of the opposition from the trial sparked the upheaval which Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide readily seized upon in declaring the presidency vacant and swearing in Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as successor president.
At this moment, the nation has just gone through a much ballyhooed recollection of the Mamasapano Massacre on January 25, 2015 in which 44 Commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were mercilessly mowed down by MILF troops after accomplishing the killing of international terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir aka Marwan.
From the debris of Camp Abubakar wrought by President Estrada, the MILF evidently has resurrected through the two subsequent administrations. With the SAF 44 carnage, the question unavoidably arises: Would it have happened if Erap were in place as president? Evidences point to the SAF slaughter as a US handiwork. President Estrada would definitely not have any of it at all.
It is in this context of pestering American intervention in Philippine affairs that the guy in the Erap press conference sought to solicit his position on the simmering South China (West Philippine) Sea tension. The guy would be interested to know which between China and the United States would Erap side with in the confrontation. Erap chose not to tackle the issue, but in begging off from the question, he in effect spoke words far more than his curt reply. It imparted the picture of a man grown wise to the fact that in the Philippines until now no President has stayed in place who has not kowtowed to American desires.
In the run up to the presidential polls in 2016, Erap was perceived as a strong contender. Counting the odds, he could win. Still ultimately he decided not to join in the fray.
“Pag tumakbo pa akong presidente, papatayin na ako ng CIA,” he said.
At any rate, he enjoys the distinction not given to any mayor anywhere else in the world, anywhere else in history – President Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada. That’s tantamount to calling him President-For-Life.