“Once Upon A Time”

by Juan L. Mercado

“Once upon a time, I lived happily ever after.”  Movie actor Mickey Rooney offered this one-sentence story of his checkered career.  He played roles alongside film giants, including Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland. Later, he skids into drugs, gambling and bankruptcy.

“Once upon a time”, a movie actor assumed he’d “live happily ever after” in Malacanang.  Filipinos gifted Joseph Estrada with an opportunity: to serve selflessly as 13th president of the republic.

Erap’s conversation piece, in those euphoric days, was a unique watch.  It counted down  2,191  days  from  delivery of   his  inaugural  speech “Now  Power  Is With  the  People”. But  jueteng, booze,  sleaze, plus a honky-tonk “midnight  cabinet”,  stopped  that  watch   two years  into his six year term.

“Now, power  is with the concubines,” Sun-Star  said of   Estrada’s “5-K governance — kamag-anak,  kaibigan, kaklase, kumpare — at  kabit   Ousted by People Power Two, he was detained, tried  and  convicted for plunder.   
No Filipino president shares this “distinction”.  Ferdinand Marcos dodged it by scampering out the exile backdoor.  We hope no other president, or prime minister, will be so “honored” —, for our grandchildren’s sake.

Erap’s conviction, and equally sordid pardon by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is blots on our history.  Not even God can alter the past.  Men can only doctor historical accounts. The Marcos’s, bankroll rewriting of   the “New Society”   …

Indeed, “four things never return”, the old proverb says.  These are:  “the sped arrow, the spoken word, wasted time —   and missed opportunity.”

For squandered opportunities,   re-read   Erap’s   Luneta speech.  In cadenced prose, stitched by ghost writer Teodoro Locsin, Jr, Erap spelt out pledges of service, especially for the mahirap.  .From day one, he fractured them, with soused relentlessness:

“There is no excuse for the spread of crime in any society, unless government is an accomplice,” he said.  He’d   use presidential power to clobber “hoodlums in barong and acquitted by hoodlums in robes, dishonest stockholders”, etc.…

“Must we always measure progress only by   the golf courses of the rich…? This time, things will be different…The poorest would enjoy first priority… What wealth will be generated will be more equitably shared. What sacrifices are demanded will be more evenly carried.

“This much I promise, for every stone of sacrifice you carry, I will carry twice the weight… The job is mine now and I’ll do it….The common people have waited long enough for …for their day to come.  That day is here.”

That   day came — and went as the regime stumbled from one scandal into another: Jose Velarde, “midnight cabinet” carousing.  Borcay mansion, mistresses, Dacer-Corbito murder, BW stocks   became bywords. Aborted impeachment, People Power Two ouster, arrest, protracted trial and conviction followed.   

Today Erap would brush aside that sordid legacy. Without blushing, he threatens to seek reelection. ” The same delusion afflicted Richard II.  “Call back yesterday,” the monarch cried.  “Bid time return.”

Will we have elections for president in 2010?   Or will it be for a prime minister in a parliamentary system?  The major contender would be Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. That’s what   the Lower House frenzy to overhaul the Constitution means.

Can a convicted-then-pardoned ex-president run?  That will   spiral into a Supreme Court case.  “It’s 90 percent sure the opposition won’t agree on a single candidate,”   Erap gleefully claims. So, how about me? Only Vice-President Noli de Castro matches his clout with the strapped D and E social classes.            .

The most  recent   surveys, however,  show  four  “presidentiables”  outpolling  Erap  by double digit  margins,  tartly notes  the Inquirer   editorial  “Erap’s  Folly”. . Aside from De Castro, they  are  Senators Manny Villar,  Loren  Legarda and Chiz  Escudero.. “The worst deluded are the self deceived”

“His  present  striving  for power brings  back to memory those two precious years  when he made a fool of  himself  as  president,” Sociologist  Randy  David  notes..”It  ( also )  awakens the impulses  that brought many angry Filipinos to Edsa Shrine in January 2001.”

The  “mahirap”  felt    personally attacked when  police mistreated Estrada,  David adds   “But  they also know that  Erap  betrayed  their  trust  while he was president. He abused his powers…In so doing, he insulted, not only himself, but also the Filipino poor who looked up to him to represent their aspirations.”

“My  family  does not eat sardines,” Erap  once  snapped, recalls  Aprodicio Laquian who was Estrada’s presidential chief of staff.  It was a tell-tale reaction of  well-hidden disdain for the poor.

”Erap   never understood  the true meaning of poverty,”  Laquian notes in his book: “The Erap Tragedy”  For  him, “helping the poor was no more than giving them charity…These gestures were short term palliatives….His programs became an incoherent  mishmash of fragmented actions…Erap declared war on poverty. And poverty won.…”

Between 1997 and 2000, overall poverty increased from 25.1 percent to 27.5 percent,” Philippine  Human Development Report documents. “There were an estimated three million more poor Filipinos in  2000 than in 1997..

“Once upon a time”, an  itinerant  Teacher from Galilee wept  over Jerusalem. The city squandered  opportunities  for  service and  grace .  “Because you did not know the time of your visitation,” he  warned,  “not a stone will be left upon stone”  in you.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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