Former president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, has been convicted of plunder.

Estrada, an ex actor whose nickname is Erap, resigned several years ago due to pressure and mass demonstrations in Manila, is expected to receive a pardon from his successor and once vice president, Gloria Arroyo.

To those unfamiliar with the Philippines, it comes down to this. Estrada was a man of the people, not well educated, but very popular. He was removed for corruption but in a country where corruption is widespread, many suspect the real reason was that the Manila elite didn’t like this outsider who might take over and take away their ability to plunder the country, so they arranged to remove him and allow his vice president, Gloria Arroyo, to take over. Arroyo has a Masters degree in economics, and is the daughter of a socialist president who was popular. She prides her connections with the people –her nickname is Gloria Laundress, after the fact that her grandmother took in laundry, but in reality she grew up in Manila in a rich family.

Unlike Estrada, whose popularity was unquestioned, Arroyo is accused of stealing votes to become president, but was not impeached. However, not allowed as evidence in the impeachment hearings was a famous wiretapped conversation, known as the “hello Garci” tapes. This conversation was somehow made public, with street vendors selling the CD despite the government confiscating it as illegally obtained.

Here in rural Luzon, Arroyo, whose emphasis is finding jobs overseas for Filipinos, is liked by many in the business community but disliked by the farmers and workers. Part of this is political, since they view her as “stealing” the presidency from their candidate Estrada. But part of this is the heavy handedness in her push against the local NPA (communist inspired insurgents), whose men remain popular as a symbol of resentment against the rich who monopolize the jobs.

Globalization has allowed an escape hatch for these families. Many farmers and their children are skilled blue collar workers: mechanics, carpenters, drivers, and builders, and the women can find work as nannies and maids and even nurses.

Unlike the US, where strong trade unions guaranteed good wages for skilled blue collar workers, nurses, drivers, teachers and office workers, here the local wages do not allow the family to live at more than poverty level, but jobs overseas are available to those willing to emigrate. But the social cost of an estimated Ten million Filipinos working overseas, often with prolonged family separations and children raised by relatives, is high.

Estrada was a leader and symbol of the lower classes striving to become middle class, and that symbolism outweighs his lack of expertise as president.

So expect demonstrations in Manila and a quick pardon to prevent chaos in the streets.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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