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THE RETURN OF PEOPLE POWER IN THE PHILIPPINES Carl H. Landé F or the second time in recent memory, Filipinos have overthrown a corrupt president before the end of his term. Not surprisingly, there were striking similarities between the ouster of Joseph Estrada on 20 January 2001 and that of the late Ferdinand Marcos 15 years earlier on 25 February 1986. Lessons learned during the first event influenced the course of the latter, and many of the principal figures involved were the same. But there were important differences as well—most notably, the fact that Estrada was still in the first half of a single six-year term, whereas Marcos had been in power for more than 20 years after having prolonged his tenure through a declaration of martial law. When then vice-president Joseph Ejercito Estrada announced that he would run for president in 1998, well-informed Filipinos had little doubt that he would win. His popularity among the impoverished majority, the divided opposition he faced, and the financial and electoral support he drew from followers of former president Marcos were all working powerfully in his favor. The well-informed could also see reasons to fear that his administration would be disappointing, and maybe even disastrous. Estrada, whose nickname of “Erap” comes from pare (buddy) spelled backwards, was a son of the upper-middle class who had dropped out of an elite college decades earlier to become a movie star. He won the common people’s admiration by often playing Asiong Salonga, a rough- hewn but goodhearted “tough guy” who defends the downtrodden against the armed “goons” of unjust landlords, as well as lying politicians, crooked cops, and bullying soldiers. Off screen, Estrada womanized and caroused, which also did not hurt him among the masa (masses). His movie career Carl H. Landé is professor emeritus of political science and East Asian studies at the University of Kansas. He has published extensively on the politics of Southeast Asia, with particular attention to the Philippines. His article “Manila’s Malaise” appeared in the Winter 1991 issue of the Journal of Democracy. Journal of Democracy Volume 12, Number 2 April 2001
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Carl H. Landé 89 thus pointed to both the dark underside of the Philippine establishment and the aspirations of the poor. During his campaign for the presidency in 1998, his slogan was Erap para sa mahirap, “Erap for the poor.” At the height of his film career, Estrada was elected mayor of the middle-class Manila suburb of San Juan, and held the post for 17 years. A Marcos loyalist, he lost his post after Marcos fell, but he rebounded quickly, winning a Senate seat in 1987 and becoming vice-president in 1992. Six years later, he won the presidency with 40 percent of the vote in a crowded 11-candidate field, obtaining almost half of all ballots cast by the Philippines’ lowest-income citizens but less than a quarter among the wealthy. Although the poor loved him, most of those in the business and
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This note was uploaded on 05/15/2010 for the course SEA 215 taught by Professor Lorenryter during the Winter '10 term at University of Michigan.

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