by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak | 12/03/2009 12:01 AM
(Second of a series on ANC's Harapan presidential debates held December 2, 2009 at UST)
MANILA – Former President Joseph Estrada vowed to rid the country of hunger and insurgency if he makes a political comeback in 2010.
During ANC’s “Halalan: The Presidential Forum” on Wednesday, Estrada outlined his game plan if he resumes the presidency next year.
This includes boosting food security through rice production and supporting farmers, as well as bolstering peace and order by strengthening law enforcement.
“Food security because the hungry stomach knows no law. The country has also failed to solve the 30-year insurgency. That shows the weakness of the government,” Estrada said.
“You should plant the idea in the minds of the people and soldiers that there is only one flag, one Armed Forces of the Philippines, and one government. We should enforce our own laws in our own land,” he added.
Estrada also harped about how he is “more experienced” than his opponents in the 2010 presidential race.
“Hindi naman ako siguro ang pinakamatanda dito. (I’m definitely not the oldest here),” he said, jokingly. “Pero ako siguro ang pinakamaraming experiyensiya. (But I have the most experience).”
Estrada, 72, started out as an action star. He was mayor of San Juan for 17 years, senator for 5 years, then vice president for 6 years.
He was the anti-crime commissioner under Fidel V. Ramos’s administration before he was elected president in 1998.
Amid allegations of plunder, Estrada was ousted in 2001 after an aborted impeachment case against him. He was replaced by Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
At the forum, Estrada said he was “illegally removed.” “Look where we are now. Is the country better?” he said.
He is running under the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) party with Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as his running mate.
Stand on key issues
Each candidate at the “Harapan” forum gave their stand on pertinent issues like population control and peace and order issues.
Asked about 3 things he would do in response to the Ampatuan town massacre, Estrada said he would not have allowed it in the first place.
“I will not tolerate warlords in the area,” he said. “Kung ako ang president diyan, wala pang 12 hours, arestado lahat ‘iyan (If I were president, the suspects would all be arrested within 12 hours).”
He claimed he once refused to meet with Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., who sought an audience with him regarding a proposal that was “not good.” “I noticed he had the mind of a warlord,” Estrada said.
However, during his presidency, Estrada proposed supplemental budgets for the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) to aid in the fight against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao.
CAFGUs, as auxiliary forces, are primarily used by the military for community defense and anti-insurgency measures. These units are sometimes appropriated by local warlords as part of their private armies.
Estrada also said he is against state-led population control policies like family planning. He said families, especially women, should be free to choose how many children they want.
“Give them education that families should only produce a certain number of children that they can afford to support or care for,” he said.
Darling of the crowd
Estrada’s answers were peppered with jokes. This is reportedly his way of charming the crowd.
At times, Estrada would comically ask for a few more seconds to answer questions, prompting a round of laughter from audiences.
For example, Estrada said Arroyo should not run for Congress in 2010, adding that she should be satisfied with holding a position of power for over 9 years.
“Pati aking 3 taon at kalahati (bilang president) kinuha pa. (She even took my 3 years and a half as president),” Estrada quipped. “Hindi na siya kuntento doon (She wasn’t contented with that).”
On the subject of political dynasties, meanwhile, Estrada fumbled with examples as he explained how the president should not limit competent family members from running for elective posts.
He insisted, however, that the president should never appoint family members in government posts.
“Example, pari ako. May anak akong gusto mag-pari. Bawal ba ‘yon? (For example, I’m a priest. I have a child who wants to be a priest. Is that not allowed?)” he said.
The forum’s host Ted Failon quickly pointed out that Catholic priests are not allowed to have children.
However, in ANC’s post-forum analysis with anchor Ricky Carandang, political and media experts said Estrada’s comedic streak may endear him to audiences, but may also send signals that he is not serious about his presidential bid.
His ‘only vice’
Asked about some vices or luxuries he cannot live without, Estrada had to pause for a while before coming up with a safe answer that his only vice is to serve the poor.
“Ang hindi ko maiwanan ay ‘yong luho ng paglingkod sa mga mahihirap,” he said.
“Kaya gusto kong bumalik pa (bilang president) ay ‘yong utang na loob ko sa mahihirap. Wala si Erap kung walang mahihirap,” he added.
(That’s why I want to be president again, because of my debt to the poor. Erap would not be here without the poor.)
With 30 seconds left in the question and answer portion, University of the Philippines economics student Sigfried Alegado asked about Estrada’s other vices, besides serving the masses.
Estrada, reported to be an avid gambler and womanizer, said: “Alam mo, wala na akong nalalaman na ibang luho. Dahil naka-focus na isipan ko sa mahihirap.”
The former president said that since he is the “twilight” of his years, he wants nothing but to repay the masses for showing their support throughout his film and political career.
“I just want to be remembered that Erap championed the cause of the masses,” he said.
In a special report by Newsbreak on the presidential candidates, political analysts like UP professor Prospero de Vera III and Ateneo de Manila professor Benito Lim doubt that Estrada will receive the same magnitude of support he got from the poor in 1998.
They said his support base is “residual” and that his supporters declined after he was ousted. Lim said he will still enjoy support from the poor, however, but not on the same scale. -- With reports from Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak.
as of 12/03/2009 1:18 AM