BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, February 27, 2010

interviewing Erap

My phone rang early afternoon. I had just been told that deposed president Erap would be coming over to The Philippine Star newsroom for the paper's presidentiables series. I was told to join the discussion and write about his economic plans.

I panicked. I was in my jogging outfit, carelessly unexpecting any event that would require more decent clothes. So I crossed the street to an age-old mall in Manila and bought a blue polo for P75. I only had P100 left in my wallet. All I could afford was the P75 polo in a small tiangge stall in Harrison Plaza.

Not surprisingly, Erap did not even notice my long-sleeves polo. He liked my recorder, examining it for a long time.

For three hours, he talked about a lot of things under the sun.

He gave a mouthful --

from his sex-life: "dati araw-araw, gabi-gabi, ngayon, gabi-gabi nalang." his smoking habit: "I smoke one pack a day. Why should I quit? I don't bother anyone. I buy my own cigarettes." eliminating smuggling: "It's very easy to eliminate smuggling...what we can do is...ay mahirap din ah." family planning: "Every woman should have the right to plan her own family. I am 100 percent against abortion."

to his plans to declare a debt default as what Argentina did in 2002: "If Argentina can do it, why can't we?"

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Joseph Ejercito Estrada(again).

No new taxes under Erap
By IRIS GONZALES (The Philippine Star) Updated February 28, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Promising not to impose new taxes if he gets elected as president again, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino standard-bearer Joseph Estrada said his administration will negotiate with creditors to restructure the country’s debts, like what Argentina did in 2002.

In a round table with The STAR editors on Friday night, Estrada said the savings from debt restructuring would be used in infrastructure projects for food security such as farm-to-market roads and irrigation facilities.

“We can talk to our creditors like what Argentina did. If they were able to do debt restructuring, why can’t we?” Estrada said.

Estrada was referring to the move by recession-hit Argentina to finance its large foreign debt by swapping 76 percent of its defaulted bonds with discounted new ones at a longer maturity rate.

The center of Estrada’s economic agenda is food security because the country cannot compete in manufacturing, except in the canning industry.

He noted that the Philippines only assembles imported materials.

“My priority is food security and agriculture, “ Estrada said.

In line with his food security agenda, he promised to make the country self-sufficient in rice, but did not lay down specific measures to achieve that goal.

On the issue of agrarian reform, Estrada said he would push for the repeal of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988.

“Agrarian reform is a total failure in the last 20 years since it was made into law,” he said.

Estrada said there are too many factors that prevent it from succeeding, such as middlemen who prey on farmers who own the land and the regular typhoons that damage crops.

In the area of tourism, Estrada said the Philippines has many attractive tourist destinations but lack peace and order, causing tourists to prefer other countries in Southeast Asia.

“In Thailand, they attract six million tourists a year because it’s very peaceful. We can have the best platform in government and the best economics but for as long as we don’t have peace and order in our country, we’ll never move forward,” he said.

He said the problem of peace and order in the country has been the same for more than 50 years now, leading several foreign governments to issue travel advisories against the country.

“There’s bombing here, and kidnappings there,” Estrada said.

He said if there were peace and order, investments would also come in.

He said that to attract more investments, the Constitution should allow foreign ownership of land, except agricultural lands. Media liberalization should also be allowed.

To address the power supply shortage, Estrada said the government should tap geothermal energy.

Estrada, whose ouster was triggered by allegations of jueteng (illegal numbers game) pay-offs and insider trading in the stock market, said he still has no plans on how to improve the country’s corporate regulatory environment.

“I have to be honest, I haven’t studied that (improvement of corporate regulatory environment) yet,” he said.

Estrada, who runs on a pro-poor agenda, also failed to elaborate on what concrete measures he would take to make economic growth trickle down to the grassroots.

Estrada, an actor before entering politics, was the 13th president of the Philippines. He was elected in 1998 and served until his ouster in January 2001.

(photo by Fernan Nebres for The Philippine Star)