Erap: Keeping the Opposition Divided

Disgraced former president Joseph Estrada has announced the possibility that he may run for the office of president again come the 2010 elections.

“If the opposition will not unite, that will be my last option—I might run,” said the man who was president of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001 when he was deposed in a mass uprising over corruption charges.

Better known by his moniker Erap, which is the inverse of “pare”—a word that means buddy in Filipino, Estrada was convicted of plunder last year. Today, he still enjoys the support of some layers of the country’s poor and plays a leading role within the opposition.

On the surface, Erap’s pronouncement looks like a challenge for the opposition: he will only run if the parties and personalities opposed to the administration remains divided on the question of who to anoint as standard bearer—a challenge that can be overturned by any future agreement among the presidential aspirants within the opposition.

However, I think such a perspective misses the point entirely. In the next few days, many will begin to see is that what Erap means by a unified opposition is in fact a unity that is centered around him. This is what he implied when he said “I will unify the people.”

Hence, in order to unite the opposition, Erap’s camp will have to keep it divided. A fragmented opposition gives him an excellent position to regain the presidency. It is in his best interest to keep it divided until as he forecasted, “maybe the last quarter of next year”—for in the long stretch only he can unify the opposition.

If everything plays into in his hands, the question of legality would not even matter. For sure, detractors will question his candidacy at the Supreme Court. But if the court chooses to decide after the elections, then an Erap victory would make the matter moot. The people have chosen after all.

In short, this is exactly the scenario that should not be allowed to develop. The Arroyo administration, with its unresolved crisis of legitimacy, abuse of human rights, and equally massive corruption charges, and the deposed Erap clique are both rotten to the core. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of the same bankrupt order.

Candidates tainted by close identification to the two should be rejected offhand. ■

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