How Erap missed his moment of greatness
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-11-08
Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph "Erap" Estrada are the only two presidents of this country who were ousted by People Power. They also happen to be the two chief executives who could have been the greatest in Philippine history.

They had the unique opportunity to redirect the Filipino’s destiny away from the cultural and economic disintegration wrought by colonization that dates as far back as 1521.

Marcos had the absolute power and golden opportunity to positively change Philippine society. He had the vision and the blueprint — the concept of building a New Society that will be driven and shaped by a Revolution from the Center.

Many were inclined to give Marcos the benefit of the doubt when he imposed martial law on September 21, 1972, the official date that PD 1081 was promulgated. As early as 1972, Filipinos already felt the need for change — one that will break loose from the stranglehold of an oligarchy that assumed the cloak of democracy.

But instead of producing an honest-to-goodness revolution, Marcos created a new oligarchy. He and his cronies monopolized economic and political power.

Joseph "Erap" Estrada captured the imagination and support of the masses, something contemporary revolutionaries could not do. If enlightenment is the hallmark of a great national leader, Estrada could have been the best person to bridge the information gap that fosters continued exploitation of the underprivileged class.

Economic boom and improved standards of living are manifestations of a more enlightened society. The world's eras of enlightenment are inspired and advanced by great national leaders. We have seen such leadership in China's Deng Xiaoping and Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew. Deng and Lee defied extreme adversity and transformed their countries into phenomenal economic successes.

Despite being touted in the mid-1960s as the second best economic performer in Asia, second only to Japan, we missed the boat because we are clueless as to how we are being exploited by a few. This is the result of the information and education gaps I often write about in this column.

We fail to think and feel as a nation because we are divided by the information and education gaps. Bridging that information and education gap would have been that one key accomplishment of a national leader that would ultimately bring the Philippines to its place in the sun.

When Joseph Estrada became president in 1998, his biggest contribution to Philippine history would have been the bridging of that information gap. He captured the hearts and minds of the masses, the one sector that is mostly in the dark and most exploited.

Estrada did not need the magic formulas wielded by China's Deng or Singapore's Lee. He did not even need to forge any great diplomatic initiative to market the Philippines.

Estrada's communications skills were all that he needed in order to be great.

All Estrada had to do to surpass all other presidents before him was to make the Filipino understand his condition and realize his role in making Philippine democracy work.

Dole outs and the other hallmarks of patronage politics do not solve wealth disparity. Instead of a dole out, great national leaders provide enlightenment that promotes self-help and initiative.

Estrada's greatness would have been in the use of his charisma and popular rapport in empowering poor Filipinos with the skills and know-how to take control of their own destiny — as against being dictated by the self-serving machinations of the power elite.

However, instead of using his communications skills to enlighten his people, Estrada allowed himself to be distracted by the trappings of power. His "Erap para sa mahirap" (Erap for the poor) remained a slogan and never bore fruit for the masses who pinned their hopes on him for economic salvation.

Just last weekend, Estrada brought a medical mission to a depressed Manila community. That's your typical politician giving the poor a fish for the day and not the hallmark of a great leader who is determined to teach his people how to fish.

If Estrada really had the emancipation of the poor in mind, he would have made greater impact by establishing an alliance with Gawad Kalinga (GK). GK has liberated depressed communities and snapped the generational cycle of poverty of the poor by addressing the problem at its very core — the need to reform their values and restore their dignity.

But have we ever heard of Joseph Estrada espouse values like those of Gawad Kalinga? Has he ever been to any GK site and related with the GK beneficiaries? Has anyone ever heard of Joseph Estrada providing insights on how to really win the war against poverty the way GK's Tony Meloto has done it all these years?

The Focolare's Economy of Communion (EoC) espoused that only the poor can help themselves — but not alone. It is the mission of the enlightened leader to help the poor help themselves. How come Joseph Estrada, the man who would champion the emancipation of the Filipino poor, does not espouse principles like the EoC?

  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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