Philippines: The Showman and The Farm-Girl


Dr Reynaldo C. Ileto

The polls show that Joseph "Erap" Estrada is headed for victory in the May 11 elections. His only possible rival, Jose de Venecia, is blessed with an efficient, well-endowed, party machine and with the Presidentís blessing might just squeak past Estrada in the end. However, a De Venecia win would be plagued with suspicions that irregularities had occurred in the electoral process. The four other "presidentiables" (Lim, Roco, Osmeña, de Villa) have their own bastions of support, but none with enough clout to beat Estrada. An attempt (led by churchmen) to unite them into a Third Force last week failed. Cardinal Sin and most other "moral crusaders" are loudly criticising Estrada's extra-marital affairs and tough-guy/do-nothing image. Worse, an Estrada win is generally interpreted in high financial circles as a recipe for disaster. Although both frontrunners have pledged to continue the Ramos government's financial reform programs, Estrada has not been able personally to articulate his views on the financial crisis. Instead he says he will turn to his 30 or so advisers, many of whom are top academics, for the serious business of managing the economy. De Venecia, meanwhile, is touted as a "doer." As speaker of the house of representatives he had an admirable track record of negotiation and consensus building. Nevertheless his critics associate him with a few scams and other anomalies linked to the palace. He is nicknamed the supreme "TRAditional POlitician" or TRAPO, which in Filipino means "a soiled cleaning rag." As long as Estrada holds true to his pledge of running the country through his legion of expert advisers, the Philippines should not be any less attractive for foreign investors than it was under Ramos. We should also bear in mind two other factors: first, is that Gloria Macapagal, a professional economist, looks to be the sure winner of the vice-presidential race. Although her popularity is based on the "farm girl" image that her party machine promotes, not to mention the publicís familiarity with her surname (her father, Diosdado, was president in the 60s), Gloria is a pragmatist who will steer clear of any programs that might derail the Philippines from its path to economic recovery. With rumors afloat of Estrada's worsening health problems, Gloria Macapagal has a fair chance of becoming president sometime during the six years of her term. The second factor is that the Philippines is celebrating the centennial of its revolution against Spain, and formation of the first republic, on June 12. This is a centennial election and so, whether genuine or not, the desire to promote pride in the nation-state's achievements will be foremost in the minds of the winners, whoever they may be.

WATCHPOINT: Elections on May 11


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