Erap had long indicated his desire to obtain vindication against his ouster in January 2001, done via a veiled conspiracy described by the New York Times as "the opportunist coalition of church, business elite and left [with] former presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos actively [encouraging] the military to take sides against a properly elected president."
Standing against Estrada's "Pagbabalik" are a bevy of daunting forces and hurdles that seem reminiscent of the resolve of the old conspirators behind "Oplan Excelsis," the Erap ouster plan reported in October 2000 by the Daily Tribune's Ninez Cacho-Olivares. One of the hurdles he has to overcome before reaching the goal of historical redemption is the formidable mainstream media, which has been instrumental in his demonization--no matter the presence of the continuing Filipino support for him as reflected in periodic survey studies. The rather unwarranted bastos tone of the interview GMA-7 anchor Mel Tiangco gave him during the evening news right after the nomination rally should tell him to prepare well for the demonization component of Part II of the anti-Estrada movement.
The seeming train of orchestrated events targeting his 2010 candidacy began this year with the April 2009 revival of the BW Resources case against supposed Estrada crony Dante Tan, which was already dismissed in 2007. Dacer-Corbito case witness and former PAOCTF agent Cesar Mancao was brought home from the United States, although they were less successful with Glen Dumlao who eventually chose to stick to his claim that he was only tortured to implicate Lacson and Estrada in the murder case.
Then around the same time, former Senate minority floor leader Nene Pimentel and former Sen. Jovito Salonga asked Erap not to run anymore in 2010 as they took turns giving their dissuading opinions that the Supreme Court wouldn't allow him to run anyway. When Erap did not listen, Salonga then appealed to the Filipino people to "respect" the Supreme Court decision, as if he's certain of what the ruling will be. Lacson came next, who asked that Erap "unite" the opposition by giving way to the candidacy of neophyte senator Noynoy Aquino. Lacson then made threats and as the ex-President refused to retreat from the race, took the Senate floor twice to try to deliver some 'bombshell' expose in order to "save the Philippines from Joseph Ejercito alias Joseph Estrada."
Media's Treatment of Estrada
Lacson's privilege speeches did not exactly turn out to be explosive--either because the statements were rehash charges or were belied by other Estrada cabinet officials. One particular point, however, caused some stir with help from the media. Lacson claimed that Estrada used "strong arm tactics" to force businessman Alfredo Yuchengco to sell his shares in the Philippine Long Distance Telecommunications back in 1998. In what appeared to be a coordinated development, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) soon ran a banner story that backs up Lacson's claims. The letter on which the story was based turned out to be unsigned.
Earlier, the PDI also towed Lacson's line when its Sept. 10 headline made it appear that Erap's refusal to give way to presidential hopeful Noynoy Aquino, the neophyte senatorial son of former President Corazon Aquino, served to 'bust' opposition unity. Daily Tribune's Cacho-Olivares had described Noynoy Aquino as the presidential candidate of the Inquirer and broadcast news entity ABS-CBN.
PDI has a seeming history of disfavor, if not animosity, towards Estrada, as seen in its almost regular description of the former President as "convicted plunderer." This, without implying in any way the questionable verdict of the special Sandiganbayan court justices, almost of whom were subsequently promoted to the Supreme Court (one is pending).
Reliable reports paint a 'kangaroo court' picture of Estrada's conviction: some two months before the verdict was handed down, veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas had reported that religious leaders Mike Velarde and Cardinal Vidal were told by Arroyo "that she wanted the Estrada trial to end in a conviction" and the decision will be released "anytime soon," respectively. The Inquirer blames Estrada for the loss of its revenues in 1999 following the pullout by certain businessmen of their advertisements in the newspaper following a series of hard-hitting articles.
Back to the rather dissuading, if not humiliating, interview conducted by GMA-7's Tiangco with Estrada. Following is a transcript of the "24 Oras" October 21, 2009 news clip entitled "Interview with Joseph Estrada":
Mike Enriquez: Magandang gabi po Mr. President. Si Mike Enriquez po ito at Mel Tiangco.
Ex-President Joseph Estrada: Magandang gabi sa iyo din kaibigang Mike.
Enriquez: Mayroon pong mga nagsasabi na hindi daw po kayo pinapayagan ng Konstitusyon na tumakbo ulit sa pagka-Pangulo. Ano pong masasabi ninyo diyan Mr. President.
Estrada: Wala. Na-konsulta na natin iyan sa mga retired justices ng Supreme Court at mga dean ng UP law school. Sila ay... masusi nilang pinag-aralan iyan at nagkaisa sila na qualified na qualified daw akong tumakbo bilang Pangulo.
Enriquez: ok, Mr. President. Ang payo nila sa inyo hindi nyo rin nilabag iyong kondisyon noong pagpapatawad na binigay sa inyo ni, o iyong tinatawag na pardon na binigay sa inyo ni Pangulong Arroyo na hindi na kayo kakandidato sa anumang posisyon na tinatawag na elective, Mr. President.
Estrada: Wala pong nakalagay dun sa dispositive portion ng pardon. Yun pong nakalagay po doon: "restoring all civil and political rights." Ang ibig pong sabihin noon, kung pwede akong bumoto, pwede rin akong butohin.
Enriquez: Opo, Mr. President. Isang tanong na lang po ako bago po si Mel Tiangco. Bukod po kay Mayor Jejomar Binay na katambal ninyo sa pagiging kandidato sa pagiging bise-presidente, mayroon ding senatorial line up na, na buo na?
Estrada: Ah, hindi pa. Siguro mayroon na kaming walo hanggang sampu.
Enriquez: Ok, Mr. President. Salamat po. Eto po si Mel Tiangco.
Tiangco: "Sir, hindi maganda ang karanasan ninyo sa Malacanang, bakit gusto n'yo pang bumalik doon?
Tiangco: Bakit ho gusto nyo pang bumalik sa Malacanang, eh kayo na rin ang nagkwekwento kanina na napakapangit ng experience nyo … minsang kayo ay Pangulo ng ating bansa.
Estrada: Napakapangit dahil nagsabwatan sila at ako ay napilitang bumaba. Ang katotohanan nga ay si dating Pangulong Cory Aquino ang nagssisisi kung bakit sumali siya sa EDSA 2. At ako naman ay, iyong mga programa ko para sa kapakanan ng mga mahihirap ay hindi ko nagawa kaya gusto kong ipagpatuloy.
Tiangco: Palagi ninyong nababanggit na kayo ay inosente, hindi totoo ang ang mga pinaratang sa inyo. Eh bakit po tumagal ng anim na taon Sir. Anim na taon kayong nilitis sir, di ba?
Estrada: Anim na taon nga at anim na buwan. Wala silang napatunayan na nagnakaw ako kahit na isang kusing sa kaban ng bayan. Ang totoo nga niyan ay nagtayo ng Task Force ang DOJ--lahat ng kontrata na naaprobahan sa aking administrayon ay hinimay. Himay nila at wala silang nakita na isa mang kontrata na may halong anumalya, sa ano mang kontrata.
Tiangco: Eh bakit po pardon ang naibigay sa inyo
Tiangco: Bakit po pardon?
Estrada: Ewan ko sa kanila.
Tiangco: Hindi po kaya sabi ng ilang diyan ay kaya nais nyo lang tumakbong muli ay para daw balikan iyong mga nagpatalsik sa inyo?
Estrada: Alam mo Mel, sa aking anim na taong ako ay nakakulong ay nalapit tayo sa panginoon. at laging pinaaalala sa akin ng panginoon iyong Lord's Prayer. Iyong ama namin. iyon mga nagkasala sa iyo ay dapat mo ring patatawarin : "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sins against us." Kaya iyan po ang malapit na malapit na parang laging pinararamdam sa atin ng ating panginoon.
Tiangco: Maraming maraming salamat po sa oras na binigay ninyo sa 24 oras. Magandang gabi po.
Estrada: Salamat, salamat Mel.
While both interviewee and interviewer remained 'polite' all throughout, vexation and put down were arguably detectable at some points in the tones of their voices or body languages.
On the point of the six-month trial and pardon, respectively, Tiangco was obviously implying that Erap was convicted and was therefore guilty of some crime and not innocent as claimed. In a politely veiled manner, the news anchor was arguing against the former President's statements.
Estrada was taken aback--as in he seemed to have been on the way to turning his back and concluding the interview were it not for another question hurled at him. Those who understand the political nature of Estrada's arrest and legal cases are aware that as far as government funds and contracts are concerned, the former President comes off clean.
The ousted leader obviously couldn't answer the "why pardon" question because to do so would be to claim that Teresita de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, and Francisco Villaruz Jr were kangaroo court justices, which would imply an ungentlemanly or unethical undermining of the pardon he accepted.
Tiangco very well knew what she was driving at because she's a veteran journalist who began with Channel 4 way back the Martial Law days. Established press figures like her are, in fact, well ahead of the news. By badgering Erap with such questions, is she saying that she is unaware of reports of Vidal/Velarde's knowledge of Arroyo's manipulation of the Plunder verdict? Is she saying that she does not even suspect the kangaroo court character of the Special Division of Sandiganbayan, with its two justices being subsequently promoted to Supreme Court positions (Villaruz is in the shortlist of SC nominees)? As news anchor and official of GMA-7, it can safely be assumed that her news objectivity, or lack of it, is representative of the network's own position.
'Star Struck' Interview of Noynoy
It is easier to see through the slant in Tiangco's interview if it is compared with the interview conducted with Sen. Noynoy Aquino, along with Sen. Mar Roxas, on September 21, 2009 right after the Liberal Party stalwarts formally announced their tandem for the 2010 presidential elections in Club Filipino.
Following are the questions thrown at Noynoy by Pia Arcangel and Raffy Tima based on my transcript of the "QTV: Live interview with Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino":
__: Kay Senador Aquino naman ho, ngayon kasado na ho ang tambalang Aquino-Roxas para sa 2010, ano sa tingin ninyo ang pagbabagong dadalhin ng inyong tandem sa election race, ika nga?
__: Hindi rin ho kayo nahirapan na kumbinsihin si Senador Roxas na maging running mate nyo, dahil sabi nga ninyo matagal na ho kayong magkaibigan ni Senador Roxas?
__: Sa tingin ninyo Senador Aquino iyong pagkakaibigan o iyong friendship malaking tulong po ito sa inyong pangangampanya at inyong pagtakbo?
__: Senador Aquino, may nakatakda po kayong pagpupulong kay dating Pangulong Estrada, di po ba? Ano po kaya ang paguusapan dito at anong changes kaya ang mangyayari kapag nagkausap kayo ni dating Pangulong Estrada?
__: Senador, may pagkakataon pa po ba kayong magkaisa ang oposisyon? Kung di man ho magkaisa sa iisang kandidato ay malimitahan yung mga kandidatong oposisyon.
__: Sen. Mar Roxas at Sen. Aquino, mapunta naman tayo sa medyo live na isyu. Eh kumusta naman po ang paghahanda sa inyong kasal, Senador Mar? Kung nagkataon eh parehong single ang pupunta sa Palasyo.
__: So next year na po si Senador Aquino?
__: Senador, mukha hong nag-eenjoy kayo sa inyong, well, friendship. At ito nga, sabi ninyo, malaking bentahe ito sa inyong pangangampanya at sa kagustuhan ninyon suportahan kayo, lalo na ng mga kabataan.
__: Senador Aquino, bukod po kay dating Pangulong Estrada, may mga balak pa po ba kayong kausapin?
__: Gaanong kalaking factor ho ngayon ang suporta ng inyong mga pamilya dito sa inyong ginawang desisyon ngayon?
Watching the Tiangco portion of the "24 Oras" interview with Erap made me cringe both from disapproval at the rather callously inappropriate line of questioning and from the discomfort of watching Erap slide from proclamation "high" into interrogation put down. Imagine the subject were not Erap but another comebacking politician who just concluded his proclamation rally--how would it sound for a news anchor to hammer on why the former public official had to run again? Wouldn't that be considered bastos by any decent journalistic standards?
Contrast the badgering Erap got with the kids' glove treatment the network gave Noynoy. Same interview format for the two presidentiables right after after their respective formal declaration of intent to run in 2010: two interviewers--female and male who hurled questions one after the other. While GMA-7 subjected ex-President Estrada to an interrogation-style interview, Sen. Aquino was accorded brattish tweetums TV time.
Is it by sheer "luck" that Noynoy was asked rather 'beautiful' questions in the tradition of "Star Struck": about his "friendship" with, and how he wooed his VP bet; and "family support" behind the decision to run? Or is it by the network's deliberate design?
Of course, the sets of interviewers were different--veterans for Erap and a little less for Noynoy--but is that an excuse for a pronounced journalistic slant? The interview with Sen. Aquino was conducted by children's program "Art Angel" host Pia Arcangel and Raffy Tima, who might be a commended news producer but is still very "soft" in interview work. It was reported by QTV, which is a television network owned by GMA Network, Inc., with the video published at the GMA News website. If the interview was not deliberately designed to be pro-Noynoy, shouldn't the network have assigned the task to the politically sharper hosts such as Tiangco and Enriquez or others?
What GMA-7 should have asked Noynoy
If the network that describes itself as "Walang Kinikilingan..." were genuinely even half as fair and non-prejudicial, it would have been as polite and tweetums in its interview with Estrada as it was with Noynoy. After all, it's hardly politically correct to turn an interview of a former leaders ousted by a conspiracy into a prosecution-style interrogation on the very occasion of the proclamation of his political comeback. Actually, such a badgering interview bordering on humiliation--given the context of the occasion--is politically incorrect regardless of who the interviewee is.
Then again, the "Kapuso" network is a proud member of the Fourth Estate tasked to serve as watchdog that ferrets out the truth and is exempted, perhaps, from the dictates of political correctness. Still, the network should have been as tough-talking and callously inquisitive in its interview with Noynoy. It would have been a lot more real and unbiased had GMA-7 asked presidentiable Noynoy questions that hewed somewhat to the following:
Host: Magandang umaga ho, Senador Aquino. Hindi po ba't humingi ng tawad ang inyong ina na si yumaong Pangulong Corazon sa kanyang naging bahagi sa pagpapatalksik kay dating Pangulong Estrada, eh bakit ho tumatakbo kaya ngayon?
Host: Hindi ho ba dapat suportahan n'yo na lang ang kandidatura ni Pangulong Erap bilang paggalang sa naging posisyon ng inyong ina?
Host: Napabalita po noon na kinausap ng inyong ina si Erap upang ipasok kayo sa line-up ng oposisyon noong 2007 elections, hindi po ba? Kinonsidera nyo ho ba ang bagay na ito sa desisyon ninyong tumakbo bilang pangulo at lumaban sa mga ibang kandidato kabilang na si dating Pangulong Estrada?
Host: Ang sabi ho ng ilan ay itinakwil ni yumaong Pangulong Aquino ang EDSA 2 nang humingi siya ng tawad kay dating Pangulong Estrada. Ano ho ang inyong posisyon? Itinatakwil nyo rin ho ba ang pangyayaring iyon sa kasaysayan ng ating bayan?
Host: Senador Aquino, bakit ho sa Club Filipino kayo nag-deklara ng inyong kahandaan tumakbo sa pagka-Pangulo sa susunod na halalan? Ginagaya ho ba natin ang nangyaring proklamasyon bilang Pangulo ng inyong ina noong 1986?
Host: Noon hong 1985 o 1986, tinanggap lamang ng inyong ina ang hamon na kumandidato laban kay Marcos nang naiprisinta na sa kanya ang isang milyong pirma na nagu-udyok sa kanyang tumakbo. Kayo ho ba ay tumatakbo dahil nakatanggap na din kayo ng kaparehong bilang ng pirma ng mga taong nais kayong lumahok sa halalan sa pagka-Pangulo sa 2010?
Host: Sinasabi ho ng ilang kritiko na hindi ho naging lubos na matagumpay and Reporma sa Lupa sa panahon ni Dating Pangulong Aquino. Ano hong ba ang gagawin ninyo tungkol sa isyung ito sakaling manalo kayo bilang Pangulo? Ano ho ang plano ninyo at ng inyong mga kamag-anak sa Hacienda Luisita?
Host: Senador Noynoy, meron pong nagsasabing hindi naman daw ho talagang maganda ang inyong legislative performance. Ano ho kaya ang magagawa ninyo bilang Pangulo sakaling mahalalal kayo?
Host: Huling tanong na laman po. Buo na ho ba ang inyong senatorial line-up?
Overcoming the Media Bias
In fairness to GMA-7, it is not the only network that has exhibited a critical tendency against Estrada. Back in 2001, it joined ABS-CBN in the demonization of the former President and the corollary celebration of the "People Power II" coup by covering the 4-day uprising practically 24/7 and running their respective 'Edsa 2 victory' video clips soon after Erap's ouster. It should be mentioned, however, that GMA-7 ran their celebratory EDSA 2 video days, if not weeks, longer than did ABS-CBN (I well took mental note of that).
Both networks can be said to be guilty of condescending treatment of the pro-Erap EDSA 3, giving it minimal coverage. It was only non-mainstream Net 25, owned by Iglesia ni Cristo," which covered "People Power 3" full time.
In other words, hindi nag-iisa ang GMA-7 in having a history of either belittling political actions of the masses or simply being biased against Estrada. Veteran journalist Rowena Carranza wrote snootily about EDSA 3, with the title saying it all: "Excuse me, Please Don't call it People Power III.' Carranza, of the print media, along with the PDI, is not alone in the tendency to negatively portray either the former President or his supporters, or both.
The TV, radio, and mainstream print media, along with the blogosphere, are littered with anti-Erap content, whether or not veiled in pretenses of objectivity. Cacho-Olivares of the Daily Tribune, a fiery but hardly mainstream media entity, laments the resurgence of the demonization of Erap in time with his renewed bid for the presidency:
"With the Erap magic still glowing, as shown by the crowd of thousands that went to Tondo to witness Erap Estrada's official declaration to run for the presidency, there went the usual elite civil socialites, once again demonizing him, and even saying that Estrada has a poor track record and a bad Cabinet.
One truly wonders where they get their facts, because official records show that Estrada certainly did a better job as President than their anointed has."
In explaining the political longevity of Arroyo despite huge problems in corruption and hunger, nationalist economist and political analyst Alejandro Lichauco writes that despite obvious support of the majority of Filipinos, Erap is faced with the problem of his inability to get a considerable segment of the upper and middle classes to his side, which includes the opinion makers, along with the intellectuals and revolutionary leaders. Alejandro continues: "While that class is numerically insignificant, it holds the levers of political power."
It is clear that the media is not the only hurdle for the ousted President. Military support--not necessarily in terms of loyalty to him but to the majority of the Filipinos--is perhaps even more important. Granting that the nation is able to maintain some democratic space for 'press freedom,' however, the opinion maker that is the media remains an important tool that would make or break Joseph Ejercito Estrada's "final, final performance."
Videos & References at: SOBRIETY FOR THE PHILIPPINES