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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

ALL OVER SAVE THE COUNTING

Joseph Estrada prepares to be the next president

By Jim Erickson and Antonio Lopez / MANILA


IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG for him to start acting presidential. A day after polls closed - and weeks before official election results will be known - Philippines Vice President Joseph Estrada declared himself the country's new president. He also appointed cabinet members, outlined his embryonic administration's populist priorities - and risked offending an already hostile Congress.

Swift work for someone who can't even call himself president-elect with any authority. But preliminary tallies of the May 11 vote, as well as exit polls, strongly indicate that "Erap," the action-movie-star-turned-politician, will indeed become the Philippines chief come June 30. One exit poll, for the ABS-CBN broadcast network, gave him 39% of the total. That was far ahead of his closest rival, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, who had 16%. A citizens' watchdog group conducting preliminary vote counts put Estrada's portion of the total at 37% - though that was with just 6.7% of all ballots tallied. "My lead is irreversible," crowed Estrada. He urged other contestants in the crowded, 10-candidate field to "concede as early as possible."

Only one did: Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who managed just 1.4% of votes. De Venecia, who was handpicked by the ruling Lakas-NUCD party to succeed outgoing President Fidel Ramos, held out. Some 25 million paper ballots must still be hand-counted over the next several weeks before results are official.

Barring massive election fraud, however, Estrada will almost certainly ride a landslide into office for a six-year term. The victory is galling to the country's ruling elite, many of whom consider the paunchy ex-screen idol, leader of the populist opposition party, to be unschooled, unskilled, untested and uncouth. The powerful Catholic Church refused to support Estrada because of a less-than-pious personal life. The screen idol freely admits that he used to be a gambler, boozer and womanizer.

Past peccadillos didn't matter to the poor majority, who identified Estrada as one of their own. About 70% of registered voters cast ballots. By rough-and-tumble Philippines standards, voting was orderly. An estimated 51 people were killed in campaign violence. "There was much less blood spilled in these elections," Ramos observed. In 1995 races, more than 70 died.

This time around, voters repudiated both church and trapos - traditional politicians - by electing outsiders and unconventional candidates. Independent Victor Aguedo Agbayani, for example, was trouncing Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, Ramos's sister, in the race for governor of Pangasinan province. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late strongman, handily led the race for the governorship of Ilocos Norte province. Estrada's own vice-presidential running-mate, Senator Edgardo Angara, was far behind Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, daughter of a former president.

While business interests fretted that Estrada would scrap economic reform efforts that boosted the nation's growth rates in recent years, the stock market and the peso steadied after polls closed. "The peaceful conduct of the elections puts us back on the growth path," said Alberto Fenix, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "What is important is that we have elected a legitimate president."

Estrada certainly lost no time reinforcing his claim. He named an investor-friendly cabinet, retaining Ramos's foreign secretary, Domingo Siazon, and central bank governor Gabriel Singson. Also chosen was banker Edgardo Espiritu as finance secretary, Senate Defense and Security Committee Chairman Senator Orlando Mercado as defense secretary, and Congressman Ronaldo Zamora as executive secretary.

Among the future administration's priorities: ensuring an ample food supply in the drought-stricken country, and a war on crime and corruption. "I guarantee that all Filipinos will eat three meals a day," Estrada said. Congressional support for his policies may be hard to find: Lakas-NCUD has a solid majority. Yet Estrada was anything but conciliatory in victory: "Congress is a den of corruption," he said. "I will not horse-trade with Congress. I will not play politics."

The ex-actor may be forgiven for playing to the crowd instead, repeating the rhetoric of his grassroots campaign. "This is the greatest performance of my life," he said of his upcoming presidential role. Filipinos can only hope that Estrada lives up to his own advance notices.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

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TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

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JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


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