By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Manga Avenue rarely sees the bustle of the nearby residential areas in Santa Mesa, Manila.
While the buildings along this street are bounded by big gates and high walls, it isn’t part of any subdivision. There are few stores close by, and the traffic it usually gets comes from passing tricycles.
The quiet at Manga Ave. may soon change with the transfer of its newest and likely most illustrious resident.
If the house-move last May 9 gave any hint, hubbub won’t be stranger to this place in the next year. Former President Joseph Estrada has brought the noise of Philippine politics to his new territory.
As early as 4 a.m., the one-lane street was already choked outside the gate marked Number 589. News vans parked a pace away were culprits. Their portable generators injected a steady hum to the silence, as TV crews prepped for advancer live shots in the morning shows.
By mid-morning, around a hundred people in white, orange, and green shirts had gathered, holding up the traffic.
The prints on the shirts gave their aim: “Welcome to Manila Mayor Erap”. Others read “Manila ♥ Erap,” “Erap ♥ Manila.”
By then, Erap had left his Polk Street house in Greenhills and was driving to Santa Mesa in his pimped out “Jeep ni Erap.”
This day would answer if Estrada would follow through on his next reported conquest—this time for the top seat of the City of Manila.
Riding beside him was Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who with other members of the city council had transferred allegiance to Estrada from his former ally, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.
Estrada had hinted recently of challenging Lim in the 2013 midterm elections. The only deterrent to his qualification for running was his registered address, famously in San Juan.
The transfer convoy, which included three trucks laden with wood cabinets and hard-plastic containers, all timed to the year before the polls.
At Manga Avenue, a brass band, complete with dancing girls, had marched in to perk up the welcoming throng. Ice cream and corn vendors had also stopped by.
Placards were passed around. Their messages ranged from the familiar slogans–“Erap para sa mahirap”–to the shout-outs–“Bawal ang Dirty sa Maynila”. “Dirty” an aside against Mayor Lim, nicknamed “Dirty Harry” for his hard-line stance against crime in the 1990s.
Erap had his own action star moniker: Asiong Salonga, after the mid-20th century local gang leader he portrayed on the silver screen.
The impending showdown in Manila has now been lent ready references to action movies.
Arms, cameras, and chants mobbed Erap’s jeep as it approached. As the vehicle entered the already-occupied compound, photographers rushed inside along with residents eager for a glimpse.
The rush continued as cameramen tried to capture the former President’s wave when he alighted from the car, up until he entered his new house. A camera light hit Isko Moreno’s brow during the scuffle.
The half-hectare property on 589 Manga Avenue isn’t exactly new. Already 60 years old, it has once housed a former President (Ramon Magsaysay), and later, the Legarda clan, from whom Estrada bought it for around P80 million.
With all the fanfare of the transfer, no words amounting to “I will run” were uttered at the press conference inside the house.
Clearly though, in his opening statement, Estrada was building a case of why he moved to Manila.
The first reporter who asked after just had to clarify if the move meant Estrada was finally decided on pursuing the mayoralty.
His answer, to laughs: “Hindi ka ba nakikinig? Sinabi ko na, yung huling taon ng aking buhay, inaalay ko para sa lungsod ng Maynila. (Weren’t you listening? I said, I will offer the last years of my life for the city of Manila.)”
“Bilang mayor, o residente lang? (As Mayor, or just as a resident?)”
“Sa Maynila lang. Tapos na ako sa Malacañang. Dito na sa Maynila… sa City Hall. (Just in Manila. I’m done with Malacañang. This time here in Manila… in City Hall)”
Then cheers and claps.
Erap’s latest move might again puzzle voters, the same way his decision to run again for President in 2010 raised eyebrows.
For one, wasn’t it enough that he had already been Mayor, Senator, Vice President, and President before?
The same accusations were hurled against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who replaced Estrada as President in the 2001 EDSA Dos uprising. She ran for reelection in 2004, and then won a Congressional seat in Pampanga as her six-year term ended.
Estrada himself criticized Arroyo then for running and called it an insult to the institution of the President’s office.
But he begged to differ in his case, since he was not an incumbent holding government resources during the election.
Still, no one raised legal complaints about Estrada’s running, and his votes in the 2010 polls showed that had Benigno Aquino III not decided to run, Erap could have regained the Presidency.
While Arroyo and Estrada are the first in the Philippines, they’re not alone in world politics.
John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. President, was elected to Congress in 1829, a year after he left the White House. Itamar Franco, 33rd President of Brazil, later served as governor and senator until his death in 2011.
But Erap says it’s merely public service—and payback for his short-lived term as President and the succeeding decade he was in house arrest for plunder charges.
“There’s no such thing as demotion when serving the people,” he told reporters after registering as a resident of Manila.
Estrada’s strategic transfer to ensure his residential qualification for the Manila elections is another point of concern.
But “carpetbagging”, the practice of running for election in a place where a candidate has no local ties, is a regular sight in local politics.
The word was coined in the post-Civil War United States, when persons from the northern states went south to benefit from the Reconstruction. They would arrive carrying carpetbags laden with their belongings.
The one-year minimum residency rule (Section 39 of the Local Government Code) was adopted to avoid that. But candidates are also expected to have brought all their personal interests to the area they would run in.
Other notables who transferred residence for political ambitions included:
- Boxer Manny Pacquiao, who won as Sarangani Congressman in 2010 after losing the race in his hometown General Santos City in 2007;
- Former Tarlac governor Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, who moved to Mindanao for the now-postponed elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM);
- Sen. Lito Lapid, who moved from Pampanga vying to replace then-Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay; and
- Actor Richard Gomez, who was disqualified from running for the Leyte congressional seat on residency grounds.
Estrada, however, has constantly repeated his long-held links to Manila.
When he visited an evacuation center in Del Pan a week after his transfer, he reminded fire-ravaged residents that he never forgot to share his blessings with them in past years.
If they didn’t know, Estrada said, he was born in Tondo, and his father, an engineer, had served in the city public service department for 30 years.
He said it was in Manila he shot his first films, especially Asiong Salonga. And it was in Manila where his movies were patronized by the masses.
His near-win in that election is evidence his clout as a politician has not diminished, and may tell how the 2013 race for Manila might end up.
Some contend though, that Estrada should have just channeled his influence into anointing the next generation of leaders for his Partido ng Masang Pilipino and United Nationalist Alliance parties.
He said his limit of service was three years—one term of what he called fixing a city allegedly left behind by its neighbors. Then Estrada would pass the mayoral baton to Isko Moreno.
Estrada claims a connection to a group not bounded by location: the urban poor, whom he says he could never fully repay a debt of gratitude for their support.
And as he and his entourage handed relief goods and envelopes of P200 to the fire victims of Del Pan, to him it is not politicking, but merely a reaffirming of that connection.
With a little hint in his words, though: “Ang puso’t damdamin ng inyong vice mayor (Moreno) at ng inyong magiging mayor ay iisa lamang–para sa mahihirap. (The heart and sentiments of your vice mayor and your soon-to-be mayor is the same–for the poor.)“
Erap’s big move is but the latest sign the election season is at hand—and that the political bigwigs of the recent 20 years are still here for a bit more.