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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

'I AM MY OWN MAN'

Joseph Estrada on how he will govern the Philippines


Estrada's Agenda

THE OFFICIAL CANVASSING FOR the Philippines' May 11 presidential elections has barely started, but Joseph Estrada is confident he has won. In the unofficial but government-authorized quick count of the National Movement for Free Elections, the country's vice-president is ahead of Jose de Venecia, President Fidel Ramos's candidate, by more than 4 million votes. If his lead was just 1 million, Estrada told Asiaweek's Antonio Lopez, "todas ako [I'm dead]" - because he believes the government can then easily cheat him of victory. Twenty-four hours after the polls closed, Lopez spoke with the former movie hero over the phone, had lunch with him the next day and then spent most of May 16 with the president-apparent. At one point, Estrada got a call from someone who informed him the new anti-impotence drug, Viagra, costs $28 apiece. An aide then told the story of a 72-year-old retired judge who cut a capsule in half and still found it effective. Estrada, 61, a self-confessed womanizer in his younger days, roared with laughter. What can the Philippines - and the rest of Asia - expect from a college dropout who admits he is no expert in economics? Excerpts from the conversations:

On the elections:

"History repeats itself. One hundred years ago, the friars and ilustrados [elite] were against the Revolution. [Warehouse worker] Andres Bonifacio started the Revolution against these people and the Spaniards. This time, we have another kind of revolution to stop the lopsided distribution of wealth. In a way, my victory is the revenge of the masses. They got sick and tired of traditional politicians, the so-called intellectual pretenders and snobs who think they have a monopoly on leadership of the country. The masses have now matured and rejected the candidates of the big corporations, which controlled and manipulated the presidency of the Philippines. This is the end of party machinery."

On his first act as president:

"I will abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government [PCGG, created in 1986 to recover the alleged ill-gotten wealth of deposed president Ferdinand Marcos and his associates, including Estrada backer Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco]. Its function will be turned over to the Department of Justice, which will be given one year to finish the cases. The PCGG has become the dumping ground for political proteges and political lameducks. But there will be no cronyism under my presidency. Danding supported me without conditions. He didn't talk to me about his cases [with the PCGG]. Danding is not asking any favor from me."

On his other priorities:

"The mass number of our people should share in the country's wealth, unlike now when only the Makati Business Club people are making money. This does not mean I will take away from the rich and give to the poor. It means equal opportunities. I will be unwavering in my dedication to helping the poor. I owe what I am now to them. After six years, I hope to have reduced poverty incidence by 50%.

"My priorities are food security, peace and order, and eradicating graft and corruption. Each Filipino will eat three meals a day. Right now, we have a rice shortage because of the neglect of agriculture. I will eliminate useless expenditures in government, such as pork barrel [funding for discretionary projects of legislators]. That alone will free 20% of the budget, which can be rechanneled to farm-to-market roads, dams, irrigation canals, post-harvest facilities, and research and development. Land reform in its present form is counter-productive. I am going to have the Constitution amended so that farmer-beneficiaries can have support facilities, including assistance from government banks.

"I will improve the peace-and-order situation in six months. I will personally run the Department of the Interior and Local Governments. After one year [when the ban on appointing defeated presidential candidates to government posts ends], I would like former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim [a former police general who conceded to Estrada last week] to head the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission.

"We will reduce graft and corruption by 50%. I will give grafters due process, not overdue process. I will see to it that every single centavo due the government is paid. We will start with the big fish in going after tax evaders."

On what big business can expect:

"Peace and order and no graft, no red tape, no bureaucracy. Simplified rules. They will not be harassed. We will not change the rules in the middle of the game. We will have to change the Constitution to avoid situations like the Manila Hotel case, so that we will know what is part of the national patrimony and what is not."[A foreign company won the bidding for the historic hotel in 1995, but the Supreme Court ruled it should go to a Filipino firm.]

On free trade:

"We have to go along with that. Otherwise, we will be left out of global trade. We may have to calibrate our tariff reduction program, just like what our neighbors are doing. Our problem now is how we can compete, so we will have to give assistance to our own industrialists, such as a five-year tax holiday on importation of capital equipment and raw materials. We will study a single tax for corporations and individuals along the Hong Kong model, to give less discretion to the Bureau of Internal Revenue so you will have less corruption."

On his advisers, a mix of leftists, businessmen and former Marcos associates:

"You have to get the consensus of the left and the right, but in the end I am my own man. I make the decisions, based on what is the greater good for the greatest number. Former congressman [and Marcos presidential assistant] Ronaldo Zamora will become my executive secretary, Sen. Orlando Mercado, secretary of defense, banker Edgardo Espiritu in finance, [former communist rebel] "Boy" Morales, agrarian reform, and economist Benjamin Diokno, budget and management. Domingo Siazon will remain as foreign secretary while Central Bank governor Gabriel Singson will keep his job until he retires in 1999.

"Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile [a presidential candidate who has also conceded defeat] will be one of my senior advisers. Sen. "Edong" Angara [Estrada's running mate, who is trailing Ramos's vice-presidential candidate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] will be one of my close advisers. He will join the cabinet after a year, to head agriculture. I am still considering if I should give [Arroyo] a cabinet position. I might even let her preside over cabinet meetings, which I will call only once a month. I am considering Ramos men - Victor Ramos for environment and natural resources, Gen. Alexander Aguirre as national security adviser, "Leny" de Jesus as chief of the Presidential Management Staff, and Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani [Ramos's sister] to the United Nations.

"I am going to fire Richard Gordon [chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority]. He did a lot of nasty things to me. When I was doing an anti-bases movie, my movie crew was stoned by his people. When we held a rally in [Gordon's home city], he cut off the power supply."

On the Marcoses:

"Imelda [Marcos's widow, who faces a jail term for graft] is not asking for a pardon. She says if she is pardoned she will not accept it. She endorsed me for president without even talking to me. There was no deal. [Imelda withdrew as a presidential candidate days before the polls.] It seems we don't know how to forgive. The late president will buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani [Cemetery for Heroes]. Imelda is not exactly looking for a hero's burial, just burial at the Libingan. Anyway, it's just a piece of land. Marcos built most of the roads in this country. Cory [Corazon Aquino, who became president after the 1986 People Power revolt ousted Marcos] did not build any. His 11 Major Industrial Projects to industrialize the country in the 1980s did not succeed because it was sabotaged by the Americans. They didn't want us to be strong economically because a strong economy would spur nationalism, which means people would be against the U.S. bases."

On his foreign policy:

"We cannot afford to antagonize the Americans. We will honor all our military agreements with the U.S. But we would like to be treated as an equal, based on the principles of interdependence, mutuality of interests and non- interference in each other's internal affairs. I am agreeable to having U.S. planes and ships to stop over in the Philippines for repair and refuelling as long as they don't violate the Constitution's ban on nuclear weapons. I don't hate Americans. It's just that I love Filipinos more. If we had not removed the bases [in 1991], Filipinos would forever be mendicants in their own country.

China will probably be the first country I will visit. I want to know how the Chinese are able to feed 1.2 billion people."

On the Indonesian crisis:

"I do not interfere in the internal problems of other countries. We have enough problems. But I believe democracy is the wave of the future in Southeast Asia. Filipinos, however, abuse their democracy. They should remember that with freedom comes responsibility.

You cannot forever be a dictator. In the first few years of nation-building, maybe it was useful. In our case, we missed two opportunities [to use strongman rule to develop the country] under Apo [Marcos] and Cory Aquino. They could have used it to clean the government and instill discipline in the people. Instead, they abused their power."

On Bill Clinton:

"We both have been accused of womanizing. The only difference is that Bill Clinton has the scandals and I have the sex. [Laughs]. I am the most maligned presidential candidate in history. The Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, the establishment, the business community - they were all against me. Why? Even President Ramos has his own affairs. Our top executives have affairs. Even priests have affairs. It is normal for men. I am the only one who is transparent. My life is an open book. These people are hypocrites."

On his work habits:

"I will be in my office at 8 a.m. and work until midnight or 1 a.m. I am used to working late when I was in the movies. I will work even on weekends. I will spend six months in Manila, three months in the Visayas [in central Philippines] and three months in Mindanao in the south."


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