Philippines: President Estrada Fights for Survival


Professor Mark Turner

President Estrada has been no stranger to scandal during his first two years in office. One newspaper counted 20 scandals, or one for every 6 weeks of his administration. However, the revelations of Ilocos Sur Governor. Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson, that the President received kickbacks from illegal gambling plus a share of tobacco taxes has been one scandal too many for the President to evade. A wide range of interest groups has been roused to action by Singson’s accusations. The Roman Catholic Church led by Cardinal Jaime Sin, two former presidents, student bodies, numerous NGOs, labour unions and business organizations have been vociferous in calling for the President to resign. Regular demonstrations have returned to Manila’s streets and to those other cities. The media have had a field day and have been giving the President a hard time.

In Congress some members of the president’s ruling party have crossed to the opposition while Vice-President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, quit the cabinet and launched the United Opposition, a coalition aimed at ousting Estrada from the Presidency.

President Estrada has consistently proclaimed hi innocence and has refused to resign. He has mounted a counter-offensive by courting the military and local government executives, and mobilising 1 million people at a Manila prayer rally for ‘peace and unity’.

But on 13 November the opposition won the first round in the formal political battle. The House of Representatives approved the instigation of impeachment proceedings citing a litany of presidential sins: bribery, graft and corrupt practices, betrayal of public trust, and violation of the Constitution.

The President has state that he is ‘very comfortable that the truth will come out in the end’ and that his ‘graceful exit’ will be in 2004 at the end of his official 6-year term. However, some of his own utterances have not helped his cause, such as the admission that his lawyer and corporate secretary of the Muslim Youth League had accepted 200 million pesos in alleged gambling kickbacks for the organisation. The President said that he set up the foundation to fund the overseas postgraduate training of ‘future Muslim leaders’, and that the 200 million pesos had remained untouched. This was evidence of his innocence, the President claimed.

The political turmoil has added to the difficulties facing the economy. The peso has lost 11 per cent of its value since the kickback accusations were made and is at an all-time low. Overseas fund managers unloaded 18.6 billion pesos of stock between January and September and the stockmarket has slumped. Foreign direct investment has also fallen sharply in 2000. The government has already exceeded its 2000 budget deficit target, largely due to the cost of military action on Mindanao against Muslim separatists and kidnappers and lower than expected revenue collection. The global rise in oil prices has caused the oil import bill to jump 67 per cent in the first 8 months of the year. Labour unions called a general strike on 14 November and said it was only a ‘dress rehearsal’ for ‘bigger and longer’ strikes.

Against this background the government’s economic managers are trying to talk up the economy, Economic Planning Secretary, Felipe Medalla, has stated that the economy was likely to ‘normalise’ before the year is over. Others have forecast recession if the impeachment process drags on. Restoring the credibility of policymakers is identified as the key to extricating the Philippines from its current precarious predicament.

WATCHPOINT: Will the impeachment process restore the credibility of policymakers?


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