POSTSCRIPT / July 2, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Estrada to masses: We made it! Now, let’s do it!

THAT was a stirring inaugural address that President Joseph Ejercito Estrada delivered June 30 at the Luneta before a mammoth crowd of Filipinos massed in front of the Quirino grandstand and countless others before their TV and radio sets at home.

Now even those who have had reservations about this movie star who dared to dream of the presidency are saying “This is it!” To know what we mean, you have to watch Erap on tape in the Luneta opening scene of the greatest performance of his life.

His 30-minute rousing speech, delivered in plain Pilipino, was a revelation to the many who had been fed propaganda that this is a bumbling dropout who wears a wristband to tell his left from his right hand.

The fighting speech could have sounded to some like a warning that Erap has galloped into town to rid it, finally, of its crooks and give each man, the common man especially, his fair share in the fruits of progress.

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ERAP addressed the expectant nation toward sundown. Earlier at noon, he took his oath at the 131-year-old Barasoain church in Malolos, Bulacan, where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was inducted president of the first Republic exactly a hundred years ago.

In what sounded like the intro to a folksy campaign speech, he first acknowledged several personages on stage, mentioning by name his siblings and children bunched behind him, his 93-year-old doting mother, the untiring campaigner superstar Nora Aunor, and his bosom friend King of Philippine Movies Fernando Poe Jr. (shrieking of fans).

Then, back to the script largely written by him… “Papalubog na ang liwanag. At malapit nang kumagat ang dilim. Gayunpaman, ngayong hapon ay nagsisimula na ang isang bagong araw. Ang Araw ng lahing Pilipino. Ang araw ng masang Pilipino.” (Thunderous applause)

He proceeded to develop his message of a new day, a new deal, the deliverance of the Filipino from poverty and the clutches of crooks in high and low places. It was the same message he had pounded on in his campaign that won him 40 percent of the votes.

He talked in an idiom that everybody understood. It was moving. One could feel the sincerity and the resolve to do exactly what he was saying.

* * *

THE agenda that Erap had set for himself was a tough one. The economic crunch alone—with the peso plunging and prices soaring, investments flying and jobs vanishing—was enough to make any leader of a fledgling economy tremble.

But Erap, fired by a clear mandate, said that with the people behind him he would make things happen.

“Araw na natin ngayon!” he told the cheering throng like he would tell his barkada.

He stressed that while it won’t be easy, that he would ask for belt-tightening, he would be the first to make sacrifices. “Sa ating paghihirap, ako ang una.”

Taking the concurrent position of Secretary of Local Governments (under which operates the national police), Erap made a very strong point about stopping crime. His choice quotes on this:

“What I did in PACC (Presidential Anti-Crime Commission), I will now do. And more. As President of the Philippines. Walang sino mang makapipigil sa akin. And when I succeed this time, nobody can clip my powers.”

“There are crimes that I will make it my personal apostolate to punish: Low crimes in the streets, by rich and poor alike; high crimes on Ayala Avenue and Binondo.”

“I want every Filipino, rich or poor, to feel that the safest place in the world for him is his own country.”

* * *

HE went on: “We know that the major crimes in this country are committed by hoodlums in uniform. We know they re protected by hoodlums in barong Tagalog and acquitted by hoodlums in robes. We know that the most damaging crimes against society are not those of petty thieves in rags, but those of economic saboteurs in business suits. The dishonest stockbrokers, the wheeling-dealing businessmen, influence peddlers, price padders and other crooks in government.”

Even now, he added, some operators are already approaching his relatives proposing deals and offering kickbacks.

“Binabalaan ko sila,” he warned. “Walang kaibigan, walang kumpare, walang kaibigan o anak ang makakapagsamantala ngayon. At ngayon pa lang sinasabi ko ngayon, huwag ninyo akong subukan.”

Earlier in his first Cabinet meeting (opened to the press and covered by television), Erap issued a code of conduct for Cabinet members. Item #4 says in part: “Abuse of power and influence peddling, especially by my relatives and friends, will not be tolerated in the Estrada administration. Institute immediate measures to eliminate opportunities for graft and corruption.”

* * *

WHILE Estrada has painted the broad lines, he still has to spell out the details, especially the how-to nitty-gritty of carrying out the grandiose plans.

His economic program has not been fully spelled out, but he has gone ahead to reiterate to the nation that he would see to it that the masses get a bigger share in the fruits of their own labor.

There had been earlier comments in media that while former President Ramos boasted of economic success, only the rich and the well-connected profited immensely from the gargantuan contracts and the stepped up economic activity.

Erap inherits a government that is deep into deficit spending and a ballooning public debt. Sources said we’ve just ended the first semester, but most of the money up to the third quarter had been spent.

Erap wants to freeze the balance of the P50-billion pork barrel for the second half of the year. He will probably realign it, or spend it instead for his priority concerns, but congressional resistance is expected. To raise funds, he also wants to sell some big business corporations and assets owned by the government.

Meantime, Erap has wittingly or unwittingly raised the people’s expectations. Let’s see how he handles it.

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