POSTSCRIPT / July 9, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will Erap kiss ass of elite and media?

“SI Erap ba’y para sa mahihirap o para sa magnanakaw?” (“Is Erap really for the poor or for thieves?”)

Thus asked a placard in a picket protesting Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s grabbing back control of food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp. with the help of the Estrada administration.

Poor coconut farmers, source of the export levy that raised the billions that financed Cojuangco’s campaign to control coconut and related businesses, said the money and the shares of stock bought with it rightfully belong to them.

But who listens to the poor in the Philippines?

President Joseph Ejercito Estrada and his subalterns denied having anything to do with Cojuangco’s bouncing back as chairman in the 15-man San Miguel board with four government-nominated directors voting for him.

Estrada may keep denying it till his mustache falls off, but not many people would believe that he did not help Cojuangco, a Marcos crony generally regarded as Estrada’s political patron and one of his heavy financiers in the last campaign.

In the unfair world of politics, it is perception and not realty that moves people.

* * *

THE Cojuangco affair is the latest in a quick succession of high-risk issues that had pushed the still fragile Estrada jeep careening dangerously near the gutter.

Even before his six-year term actually began, Mr. Estrada had to seek cover from the hail of criticisms that greeted his decision to bury the late President Marcos in the hallowed Libingan ng mga Bayani (Resting Place of Heroes).

He was saved in time by former first lady Imelda R. Marcos’ tentative withdrawal of her insistent demand that the late dictator be buried among heroes at the Libingan instead of beside his mother in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

* * *

THEN on Day One of his administration, Estrada issued the marching orders for former Bataan congressman Felicito Payumo to crash into the Subic enclave of Richard Gordon and replace him as chairman of the Subic Bay Management Authority.

Gordon opted to fight the already wounded President, leaning heavily on the law and the fanaticism of his volunteers manning Subic. Stung by this resistance, Estrada unleashed the awesome powers of the presidency to force out Gordon.

But until we write this (July 8), Gordon is still in office with a growing number of people—including those who had no special liking for his sometimes brusque manners—taking a second look at the bullying tactics of Estrada.

Meanwhile, Estrada is also busy conditioning the people and the police to the imminent appointment to key positions in the national police of his favorite generals despite the serious leveled against them for human rights violations.

One of these controversial crony officers is Chief Supt. Panfilo Lacson, among the accused in the massacre of robbery-kidnap suspects two years ago.

* * *

THE traditional 100-day media honeymoon with an incoming president seems to have been abbreviated by the desultory attacks of Estrada on the sensibilities of opinion makers and the social elite.

Fired by his clear mandate (40 percent of the votes in a field of 10 candidates), Estrada fast-tracked the more unpopular of his plans—Marcos burial at the Libingan, replacement of Gordon with his archfoe, opening the door for the triumphant return of Marcos cronies, rewarding with plum positions of discredited crony officers, etc.

Despite his convincing electoral victory, Estrada has to hurdle one basic problem if he is to gain constructive support for his administration.

This dropout who mumbles his English and fumbles with the silver in formal dinners is still on probation as far as the elite is concerned. Despite his popularity, he has not been fully accepted by the elite, who for generations had presumed to dictate who is to rule their lives and their businesses.

With his campaign line “Erap para sa mahirap” and his booming inaugural address that stressed his priority for uplifting the masses and cutting down the filthy rich who exploit them, Erap is regarded with suspicion, if not disdain, by the elite.

He has to be broken into the system.

Part of that power elite is the mainstream media, which is controlled by vested interests. While there are also sipsip media moguls ready to demonstrate their canine devotion to whoever sits in Malacañang, there are the arrogant media sectors who want to first teach a new president obedience before they throw him some bones.

Estrada has to decide soon: Kiss media’s ass or amble on at his own peril?

* * *

WHILE he delays the mandatory genuflection before the media gods, Estrada and his handlers have to suffer the indignities of trivial missteps of a one-week-old president being magnified as Centennial Blunders.

Till he capitulates, media will continue devoting more time and space to his “illegitimate” children than to his positive programs for street children, giving more focus on the way he handles the toast to the diplomatic corps at a Malacañang dinner than on his unique handling of foreign policy, spreading more tsismis on his “tampuhan” with Mrs. Loi Ejercito than publicizing her official plans as the distaff partner of the President.

For a long time now, media have been dictating the agenda, with the government frantically reacting to the headlines — instead of government speaking with studied, sober tones about what is to be done and the people reacting through media.

How can Estrada seize the initiative from media and the elite they represent?

* * *

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