The Rise and Fall of Joseph Estrada

Sep 12, 2007
After Sandiganbayan announced its decision regarding the plunder case filed against Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the former president would once again bank on the mammoth support of the masses. He said, "What is important is the support of the people, and they have overwhelmingly acquitted me. This is a political decision."

Jose Marcelo Ejercito—more popularly known as Joseph Estrada, or simply Erap—personifies the Bida ng Masa title. His underdog roles in the movies have helped him carve his persona into a "champion of the oppressed." His "pro-poor" projects in the political arena have been successful in flagging his "Erap Para sa Mahirap" image.

But his rivals, during the latter part of his tenure as President of the Philippines, have accused him running the country like a "gangland boss." And just today, media announcements confirm that Sandiganbayan found him "guilty" of plunder. So, is Erap a bida or a kontrabida?

PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) recalls the highlights of his showbiz and political career.

Joseph was born to a lower middle class family in Tondo, Manila, on April 19, 1937. His father Emilio Ejercito, Sr. worked as a small-scale government contractor, while his mom Maria Marcelo was a housewife. The Estradas weren't exceptionally wealthy, contrary to common beliefs, but they lived a relatively comfortable life.

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The young Joseph was not entirely sheltered from the outside world. Tondo's former reputation as a crowded and rowdy neighborhood cultivated in him a tough exterior, this eventually became the benchmark for his image.

TRADING NUMBERS FOR ACTING. At first, Joseph wanted to become an engineer just like his hardworking dad. But his restless nature, coupled with his growing interest in acting, brought him to the world of showbiz.

He first studied at the Ateneo de Manila University, but he was expelled after picking up a fight with a fellow student. He transferred to Mapua Institute of Technology, but he did not finish his engineering degree.

In 1957, he went against the wishes of his parents and started appearing in movies as an "extra." He quit schooling, pursued acting, and adopted the surname "Estrada." His father forbade him to use "Ejercito" in his screen name. For his first name, "Erap"—the backward spelling of "pare," which means buddy or friend in English—became his friends' and fans' preferred nickname for Joseph.

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In the 1960s, Erap did about 90 films—and that's like having a movie shown almost every month. But it was in Asiong Salonga and Geron Busabos where he was embraced by the masses as their hero. Erap's movies were notorious for themes inspired by Robin Hood, an anti-hero who becomes a hero himself through his fierce yet understated qualities.

His showbiz career spanned 32 years, and Joseph starred in more than a hundred movies, which include Ito Ang Pilipino, Blacksheep Gang, Cuatro Cantos, Lo Waist Gang, Kandilang Bakal, Sa Baril Mag-Uusap, Moises Padilla Story, Tondo Boy, and Markang Rehas, among many others.

And he was good at his craft. In fact, he was the first FAMAS Hall of Fame awardee for Best Actor (1981), and he also became a Hall of Fame Award winner as a producer (1983).

Moreover, he was also considered as one of the early purveyors of independent filmmaking through JE Productions and EMAR Pictures, his own film outfits.

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POLITICAL CAREER. Erap's image as Bida ng Masa proved to be very crucial when he decided to run for public office in the late ‘60s.

His first attempt to run for public office was in 1968. He set his eyes on the mayoralty post of San Juan, but lost to his rival. The results were overruled though by the electoral protest filed by Erap against Dr. Braulio Sto. Domingo, then mayor of San Juan. In 1969, Joseph Estrada was proclaimed as the town's new mayor.

Estrada had a promising start. During his term as the father of San Juan, he was cited as one of the Ten Outstanding Men (TOYM) in Public Administration. He also won the following awards: Most Outstanding Mayor, Foremost Nationalist, and the Most Outstanding Metro Manila Mayor in 1972.

After serving the people of San Juan for 16 years, he ran for the Senate—and in 1987, he won a landslide victory as senator. During his stint, he authored three bills and became one of the staunchest critics of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement. For the latter, he even produced and starred in a film Sa Kuko ng Agila to gain public support.

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In an article published by Newsbreak on August 16, 2007, it reported that Estrada was particularly proud of the said film not just because of its cinematic quality but also because of its political and social significance.

He was very visible and very popular to the Pinoys. Even when Erap jokes began circulating, the idiotic punchline endeared him to his fans and supporters even more. In 1992, he won in the vice-presidential bid. Six years after, he was elected as the President of the Philippines, with the largest votes and margin ever recorded in Philippine history.

Unfortunately, the Estrada administration was tainted by corruption charges and various scandals. The most damaging were accusations that the President himself receives "kickbacks" from illegal gambling activities and tobacco excise taxes. Interestingly, the name Asiong Salonga surfaced and was said to be the pseudonym Erap used on his shady dealings.

Indicted by former friend turned bitter nemesis Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, Estrada was impeached by the House of Representatives on November 13, 2000. The Senate then took the impeachment case under its roof with then Chief Justice Hilario Davide as the presiding officer.

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The impeachment trial dissected the plunder and perjury charges against Erap. (According to, plunder is "the act of seizing goods or property unlawfully", while perjury is "the deliberate, willful giving of false, misleading, or incomplete testimony under oath.") It also uncovered his personal life—particularly his other women and children, and his family's lifestyle.

Pressured by public unrest and withdrawal of support from former allies, Estrada reluctantly stepped down as president in January 19, 2001. The presidency was relinquished to then vice-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Supreme Court officially proclaimed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines on January 20, 2001, at the historic EDSA Shrine.

After six years of being under house arrest, Joseph Ejercito Estrada was found guilty by the Sandiganbayan of plunder, and was sentenced to reclusion perpetua or jail up to 40 years.

MASS APPEAL. His supporters are presently in a state of mourning. On behalf of their idol, they are crying "not fair," "biased decision," and "kawawa."

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Political analysts say that Erap's underdog image has truly worked to his full advantage. Even if the court has evidence and witnesses proving that he's guilty of the plunder charges, his fans still think that he's a victim. And the more his opponents malign him, the more the public throws its support for the former actor.

If we were to follow the line of thought of his critics, we'd clearly see the contradictions between the private and public Erap. There's the man who claimed to champion the interests of the poor, and yet, he lived in such grand opulence. There's the leader who vowed not to give special treatment to his friends, and yet , he was plagued by accusations of upholding the "gains" of his cronies and close associates.

For someone who rose admirably from obscurity and defied the odds despite his "flaws," it was just very anticlimactic to end things in such a tragic note. Yet, despite all these contradictions and flaws, Erap continues to hold the public's fascination. And whether history will be kind or cruel to him in the end, there is no doubt that Joseph Ejercito Estrada is one colorful character deemed as Bida ng Masa.

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After Sandiganbayan announced its decision regarding the plunder case filed against Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the former president would once again bank on the mammoth support of the masses. He said, "What is important is the support of the people, and they have overwhelmingly acquitted me. This is a political decision."
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