ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

NOVEMBER 20, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 20

Bullit Marquez/AP.
Pressure is building on embattled Philippine President Joseph Estrada to resign after his admission he had accepted bribes -- but hadn't spent the money.

Longer Odds
Scandal-plagued Joseph Estrada clings to power, as the ranks of those seeking to impeach the Philippine President swell


The Vice President says she's ready to take over

The coalition of forces lined up against Philippine President Joseph Estrada grows more imposing by the day. "History may treat you more kindly if you go peacefully and you go now," former President Corazon Aquino advised him at a rain-soaked rally in Basig City on Nov. 4. Added Cardinal Jaime Sin at the same demonstration: "Sometimes it is more courageous to withdraw and seek refuge than to face the impending calamity." Former President Fidel Ramos was there, as was Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is already drafting a program for her first 100 days in office. Also on the stage, as if to serve as living proof of Estrada's culpability, was provincial governor Luis Singson, the man who claims he delivered to the President $8 million in proceeds from the illegal numbers game known as jueteng.

But the most vital critics may not even have been there—the 40-odd legislators who had abandoned Estrada's ruling coalition the day before. The defections have rewritten the odds of Estrada hanging on in the face of corruption charges: last week, 47 members of the justice committee voted to send an impeachment bill to the full House of Representatives; only 4 members voted against the motion. Now the body, which barely two weeks ago looked to be solidly controlled by Estrada, seems certain to pass the bill. Opposition leaders say they have nearly 100 representatives on their side, and they need only 73.

COVER: No End in Sight?
A presidential race that everyone thought would be tight has become too close for comfort, with the candidates separated by vicious rhetoric and only a few hundred votes

Defections among ruling-party legislators fuel the movement to oust scandal-plagued President Joseph Estrada
Interview: The Vice President says she's ready to take over

VIETNAM: A New Chapter
U.S. President Bill Clinton will push the virtues of trade and reconciliation on a visit to America's former enemy

CHINA: Don't Count on Me
Millions would rather not be tallied in the nation's census

INNOVATORS: Cooking Up a Storm
In the field of food, a few people are radically changing the way we prepare, eat or just drool over dessert

TRAVEL WATCH: Visit Tibet, But Go With Low Expectations

The vote, expected in two to four weeks, is rapidly pushing the Philippines toward the first impeachment trial in its history. Legislators, scrambling to write the rules for such a trial, know one thing: conviction requires the votes of 16 out of 22 serving senators; at last count the anti-Estrada lobby numbered 14. But the populist President is not going quietly. Last week, he conceded that he knew about a $4 million deposit made by Singson at the Equitable Bank under the account of Estrada's Muslim Youth Foundation, but said the money had been forced on him—suggesting, presumably, a setup—and maintained that he hadn't used any of the cash. He also rejected the idea that he might negotiate a graceful exit. "There will be a time for truth and judgement," he told radio listeners. "It's drawing near. My graceful exit will be in 2004."

His confidence is not entirely misplaced. Not all of the recent defections—at least 46 in the House and 14 in the Senate, including the leaders of both bodies—will necessarily translate into votes against the President. Senator and former basketball star Robert Jaworski, who resigned from Estrada's coalition on Nov. 4, said he did so "to avoid any suspicion of bias" during an impeachment trial. And there is a fair chance that the numbers will swing back in Estrada's favor, if public opinion stays on his side. A survey conducted last week by pollster Social Weather Stations found that 44% of Filipinos did not agree with calls for the President's resignation (compared with 29% who agreed). A pro-Estrada prayer meeting at Manila's Luneta Stadium on Saturday drew hundreds of thousands of supporters—considerably more than the 80,000 who attended Aquino and Sin's rally the previous week. "Erap will be my President forever," says Marife Bautista, 25, using Estrada's nickname. She is struggling to raise two children in a Makati slum without running water. "He is our protector. He is one of us."

Sentiments like those may yet upset the plans of opposition figures who watched with dismay in 1998 as voters elected the hard-drinking, womanizing former movie star in a landslide. While the poor probably have some romantic ideas about Estrada—who was born into a middle-class family and whose personal wealth is now estimated to be in the millions of dollars—they may also have good reason to feel disillusioned with the more refined, land-owning Elites that produced former presidents like Aquino and Ramos. "How much did they reduce the number of poor people? How much did they raise the wages of factory workers? The answers are not very flattering," says political scientist Felipe Miranda.

A large part of the opposition's argument is that the longer Estrada stays in power, the more damage he does to the Philippine economy and thus to the poor. The President himself concedes that the economy is a "picture of contradiction" in which, "despite our healthy fundamentals, we are faced with negative business perception." He prefers not to attribute this to the scandal plaguing his presidency. But after the justice committee vote, a heartened Manila stock index shot up a remarkable 16% and the peso—which had fallen to historic lows—rallied 6% to 48.05 to the dollar.

Some analysts argue that much of the downdraft has been due to phenomena beyond Estrada's control, like the strength of the U.S. dollar and the high price of oil on world markets. Even forcing him to resign, they say, would not solve all of Manila's problems. "Those external factors will remain even with the ouster of President Estrada," says Francisco Nemenzo, president of the University of the Philippines in Manila.

Still, if nothing else, a growing moral outrage may guarantee that the former actor is ultimately pushed offstage. "The crisis has already escalated to the point of threatening a paralysis in government and the collapse of the economy," says House Speaker Manuel Villar. "We cannot allow this to happen." Estrada's detractors allege that the as-yet-unproven scandals concerning jueteng, kickbacks and mansions for his mistresses are only the tip of the iceberg, that his presidency has fostered corruption and cronyism on a massive scale. Some who have followed the testimony against Estrada closely, like political scientist Roland Simbulan, claim that "organized crime has been able to penetrate the highest level of our government—the presidency." Philippine politics was not exactly clean in the past, Simbulan says, "but Erap has introduced the most vulgar kind of cronyism and corruption that leans heavily on criminal syndicates."

Estrada has likened his increasingly lonely plight to that of a movie hero "who gets beaten up in the beginning but still wins in the end." Yet given the breakneck pace of events over the past two weeks, there's no ruling out a sudden resignation. Aquino says she has been holding talks with Estrada's Finance Secretary, Jose Pardo, aimed at finding a way for the President to resign with some vestige of dignity. (Arroyo—who would assume the presidency and thus be the one to grant any pardon—tells Time that the negotiations were authorized by her.) Estrada maintains that he is not attempting to negotiate a retreat, and that he will prove his innocence in any Senate trial.

In all the tumult, there is a bright spot: although careers and fortunes are on the line, so far there are no signs that either side of the dispute is considering extra-constitutional measures to further its cause. The military brass has poured cold water on rumors that troops have been restive in recent days, and legislative and executive procedures have been observed without mishap. "Now we have a situation where the claims about democratization are being put to the test," says Miranda. Both Estrada and his foes say that's all they want.

Reported by Nelly Sindayen/Manila

Write to TIME at

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


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

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

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

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

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.