Of course Estrada supporters would say he's different from Bucaram. El Loco is younger -- 45 when he fled -- and his administration didn't last as long as the 63-year old Estrada's has. So far. All that seems to prove though, is that between young and crazy and old and stupid, stupid and old lasts somewhat longer.
Initially, Estrada's buffoonery might have been endearing. Now many Filipinos are wondering where all their illusions went. If Luis Singson, singing like a deadly canary, is to be believed, then Erap presided over a vast, entrenched and well-oiled network of corruption fueled by kickbacks from government funds and skims from illegal gambling. The sort of gambling that preyed specifically on the poor.
Estrada denies everything, says he won't resign. Of course. Nobody expects the accused to own up at once. And didn't Marcos, Duvalier, Suharto, Milosevich and yes, Bucaram -- didn't they all say they would never resign?
Estrada, the aging action star, vowed in his inaugural speech that "this will be the greatest performance of my life." It certainly has been. This, the 13th president, the Millennial President, has presented an extravaganza that could be bannered "Millions, Mansions and Mistresses." His show is currently drawing huge crowds, mostly wishing him ill. All he needs now is for a giant crooked stick to yank him off the political stage to deafening applause. As it is, Estrada is like a cartoon character running on a carpet extending over a cliff. The carpet's soon going to run out.
He and Bucaram share the same fallacy, that you can build solid political support by giving largesse instead of reforming the system. Bucaram's departure left Ecuador in a mess where the military took a hand in politics. Estrada says he won't resign precisely to avert such an outcome. "We are not a banana republic," he's said.
But events have been moving with a momentum which has surprised everyone. Whatever Estrada says about the future, his present concerns a growing tide of anger and frustration.
The reason is simple. If Estrada had truly represented the poor and he truly meant to reform the system, the power elites -- the oligarchs, the moneyed politicos, the jueteng lords -- would have turned against him and torn him to pieces right at the start. But they didn't. They all hastened to line up and make accommodations with him. They immediately knew him for what he was. A fake.