Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ousted Filipino leader announces election bid

MANILA, Philippines – Ousted leader Joseph Estrada, convicted of plunder and later pardoned, said Wednesday he wants to run in next year's elections despite legal challenges and immediate objections to the idea of his political comeback.

"This will be the final, final performance of my life," Estrada told The Associated Press. "I should not fail the Filipino people in this next chapter."

Estrada said he would formally announce his plans later Wednesday in Manila's slums _ the base of legions of his supporters who propelled him to movie stardom, then to political power.

A return to politics would mark a new episode in Estrada's checkered life, which many say has been as colorful as his B-movies.

The 72-old-year stepped down amid massive anti-corruption protests in 2001 after serving only half of his six-year term. He was convicted of economic plunder in September 2007 but was immediately granted a pardon by his successor and political nemesis, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Rivals are expected to challenge his candidacy before the Supreme Court and invoke a constitutional ban on a second term for any president.

A study by his legal team, Estrada said, indicated he was not covered by the ban because he was illegally forced from power. Arroyo, who was elected vice president separately, helped lead the military-backed protests, then succeeded him.

"I was demonized then unconstitutionally removed," Estrada said.

Albert Lim, spokesman of the Makati Business Club, a prestigious group of the country's top business executives, said Estrada's poor record as president and his criminal conviction should be enough reasons for him not to run again.

"Going by his track record, why should anyone think that he'll be a good president?" Lim asked. "He won't be good for business."

Despite his ouster, conviction and detention, Estrada steadfastly denied the charges of plundering Philippine coffers through kickbacks and illegal gambling payoffs. He never parted with a visible symbol of his power _ his trademark wristband with the presidential seal, which he intended to wear in a major public rally in his power base _ Manila's Tondo slum district.

"During the lowest point in my life, the poor did not abandon me," he said. "I'll announce my candidacy in their midst and I won't fail them this time."

Estrada rose to movie stardom in his early 20s, playing tough guys with a soft spot for the needy _ roles that earned him the hearts of the masses that make up almost half of the population. In the 1970s, he won five best actor awards in the Philippines' version of the Oscars.

Estrada entered politics in 1969 with his election as mayor of Manila's San Juan suburb, a post he kept for 17 years. He was elected senator in 1987, then vice president in 1992 despite a life of boozing, gambling and womanizing _ foibles that humanized and endeared him to ordinary Filipinos but disturbed the influential Roman Catholic Church and the business community.

He has acknowledged fathering children with several women other than his wife.

He banked on his macho, Filipino everyman charisma and a pro-poor platform in the impoverished Asian nation of 90 million people to win the presidency in 1998 with one of the largest margins in recent memory.

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