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Houston Texas

March 2007 Issue


by Lope Lindio

Erap called his presidency the last and best performance of my life. I would say that his conviction last September 11, 2007, for plunder, may well be then considered his worst performance, even topping in mediocrity his lackluster siga roles in his long career as a movie star. Contrary to the press releases issued by his spokesman and members of his family, he looked pitiful, obviously frightened, like a newly captured animal, red-eyed, visibly teary and tired. He was reduced to wearing a forced smile, and clearly ill at ease staying calm and composed as he faces the prospect of spending at least a 40 years in Muntinglupa. Compared to Enron Ken Lay and Jim Skilling when making their protestations of innocence during their own curtain calls here in Houston , Erap's acting lacked the poise and class of a trained stage trouper many said he was. Perhaps, Lay and Skilling were the better crooks, trained longer at disguising their fraud and flawed character. They sounded truly hurt and righteously indignant at what they called a miscarriage of justice. Erap's was sheepish, without his recognizable trademark for bluster. He looked like a beaten man.
Erap didn't fare better, either, when he dismissively discredited his conviction in a fashion he thought lawyerly, thought provoking, or profound. He intoned: I thought the rule of justice would prevail here, but really, it's a kangaroo court. And then he contradicted himself quickly in the next vein, in a bid to impugn the integrity of the court that convicted him. He said it was a gamble he took when he submitted to the court against the advice of friends and lawyers, because this was the only forum I could use to tell the Filipino people I am innocent. But when his gamble misfired, and the rule of law prevailed over the roll of the dice, he lambasted the result: I disagree with the findings and conclusions of the court. These conclusions, however, did not come as a surprise to us. If that were true, then why did he bet his life in a game of chance?

There had been persistent rumors that as president, his mahjong partners threw their game in his favor, big time. Maybe he did gamble at a possibility that his die-hard followers, who were let loose in the streets of Manila and Makati by his cohorts every now and then, in a manner that looked threatening to the Arroyo government, could put pressure on the administration to get the prosecution or the anti-graft court throw the government's evidence in his favor. He lost his big gamble. As the enormity of the loss finally sunk into his consciousness, he must have really swept through his whole range of knowledge to be able to come up with the idea of a kangaroo court. It must have also hurt him to take note that his conviction was not greeted by riots and protests. Scheming politicians showed up to be seen with him when he's down, but the expected horde of protesters did not come, just a few hundred stragglers, probably coming more for curiosity sake rather than to proclaim his innocence.

No where to be seen were the perfumed women who would fall into a fainting fit just by the sight or smell of him, or the unwashed slum dwellers who elected him in great numbers to lead the country out of the wilderness.

Erap has been leading a lucky and charmed life almost all his life, including the six years he has been kept in prison. His lucky star has given him a free ride to power and unabashed good life. It might be winding down, if his conviction means anything, but there's no guarantee yet, if his battery has already run out for good or just low bat. He has the longest running record of getting up unharmed after being tripped down by scandal or miscues. No amount of gross indiscretion, offensive language or mental lapses, whether sober or drunk, or contemptuous conduct, could hold him down for long. There are even allegations of unsolved murders of people supposedly in possession of dossiers against him. Politicians with far better credentials kowtow to him and follow his orders. He is indeed still powerful that even when confined in jail, he dictated the senate slate of the opposition candidates in 2007, which included his own son who will be joining Erap's wife in the upper chamber. Politicians fought for photo opportunity when he came to court for the reading of the decision that convicted him.

And, surprise! His life's highest stake game of chance did him in. And of all that's rouge and holy, he got caught for graft and corruption in high places, and in a country, like the Philippines , yet.

Over the years, people rallied to his calls for support of his electoral adventures despite his meager qualification that amounted only to his mere possession of the most basic eligibility for public office, namely, citizenship and the ability to read and write. But powerful politicians sought him out to either head or bless their line-up of candidates. Filipinos were so taken by his movie portrayal of being the champion of the underdog that resonated well and endeared him to the bakya crowd. But more importantly, self-perpetuating leaders, of the likes of former UP president Edgardo Angara and martial law hero Nene Pimentel, found him their convenient ticket to power by riding on his coattails to political victory. With such kind of victory-at-any- cost, power-hungry and dynasty building leaders, and coupled with followers in social sectors and intellectual levels known to idolize his flamboyant tastes, Erap got himself elected city mayor, senator, vice president, and then president.

When Erap finally got his hand caught in the cookie jar, these politicians had to look for someone else to replicate Erap’s success, like in a pyramid business. They found another actor, a high school dropout, Erap’s very own buddy, Fernando Poe Jr., or FPJ, to run for president. Only the street-smarts of his opponent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her all out use of government power and resources stopped these insatiable leaders from having another Erap becoming president.

If destiny hadn’t willed Erap’s fall from power, just on time before he could do more damage to the country, and if President Arroyo were a pushover politician who was not equal to the challenge and the chicanery of her opponents, the Philippines would have 12 years of Erap and FPJ, assuming the latter would not die sooner of exhaustion or disappointment. These matinee idols, whose main claim to achievement was in making housewives scream, swoon or cry about something and tough guys mimicking their indestructibility in the face of the enemy, would have to face the American president George W. Bush, the Russian president Vladimir Putin, and other leaders, talking about free trade, global warming, war on terror, alternative energy, etc. Only Erap's greed and the Hello Garci skullduggery saved these world leaders from being driven stunned and confused by what they would have heard from Erap and FPJ. And the Philippines was rescued from the power grip of their political handlers manipulating and operating around them.

Only in a dysfunctional society could you see Erap's amazing rise to power happen, especially for a man like him, who does not carry a famous family brand name like Osmena, Roxas, Marcos, Kennedy, or even Bush. George W. Bush is similarly situated but twice blessed. But at least for Erap, if credit is given to whom it is due, he did it on his own right and account, getting himself elected without the help of a famous name or resorting to pious references to God and patriotism exploited by Bush. In Erap's case, he even went against or defied the socially accepted moral scruples and didn't use the religious catchphrases interspersed in Bush speeches in order to establish his moral pretensions.

But why, it might be asked, should we be too openly critical of Erap or figuratively kicking him, when he's already down, and possibly, even out? For one thing, there might be an element of envy lurking in every man's consciousness for Erap's extraordinary success and good luck not given to most people. But seriously, his conviction is probably the last best time to say what we think of him. There are already enough politicians shedding crocodile tears supposedly to commiserate with him and his family. In our case, let's just be honest with ourselves.

You must have seen on TV and in the newspapers, Manuel Villar, for example, the Philippine senate president. He's running around issuing press releases bemoaning Erap's conviction. Yet he was the one who rushed reading the impeachment charges against Erap right after the invocation prayers to open the congressional sessions which he led as speaker of the House of Representatives some six years ago. He is the best example of why Philippine society is dysfunctional. He was for Erap's impeachment then, and now he was heard saying, The genius of our justice system works when we bestow faith in it. I am certain, given another day in court, President Estrada will get justice. He's implying that Erap was not convicted justly. And if his conviction was unjust, why did Villar allow the impeachment charges to be filed in the first place?

Given this kind of Filipino leaders, is there anyone in the Philippines worse that Erap? (lopelindio@aol. com)

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