MANILA, Philippines - The top three presidential candidates pretty much have the same campaign message – end poverty in the country.
However, Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III believes the anti-poverty campaign should focus on eliminating corruption. His chief rival, Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar, says the focus should be on a pro-poor economic program.
What about third-placer Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) bet Joseph Estrada, whose slogan "Erap para sa mahirap" (Erap is for the poor) propelled him to victory in the 1998 presidential race?
Well, Estrada has apparently decided to distinguish his campaign from the rest by focusing on peace and order.
At the PMP proclamation rally Tuesday, Estrada said he would eradicate poverty by eliminating the secessionist movement in Mindanao and the Communist New People’s Army.
"I’m warning the New People’s Army, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and criminal specialists…you should change now," the 72-year-old Estrada said before a crowd at Plaza Miranda.
"For our people to move forward, we must dismantle insurgency," he said. "There are no investors if there is no peace and order."
Estrada said that when he was commander-in-chief, he ordered an all-out war against the MILF in 2000, which led to the capture of the separatist group’s main camp in Central Mindanao.
If elected again, he said he would not close the doors to peace talks, but stressed that the government should "negotiate from a position of strength."
‘Believe Eddie Garcia, not Dolphy’
Estrada’s campaign kick-off also unveiled a new slogan: from "Erap para sa mahirap" and "Erap tapat sa mahirap," his campaign catch phrase is now "Kay Erap, may ginhawa."
The new slogan carries a more positive message, Estrada’s campaign manager Ernesto Maceda said.
The slogan will be in Estrada’s campaign jingle, which was played all throughout Tuesday's star-studded proclamation rally.
Veterans from the entertainment industry such as Lorna Tolentino, Eddie Gutierrez, Tirso Cruz III and Rex Cortez joined the gathering.
Actor Eddie Garcia told the crowd to vote for Estrada because he cares for the masses. This made one supporter shout, "Believe Eddie Garcia, not Dolphy."
This was an obvious attack against Villar, whose celebrity endorsers include King of Comedy Dolphy.
Singer Rico J. Puno, the candidate of PMP for vice-mayor in Makati, also showed up.
Puno is the running mate of 'Junjun' Binay, son of Makati Mayor and PMP vice-presidential aspirant Jejomar Binay.
PMP also threw its support behind the whole slate of former Mayor Lito Atienza, whose candidates for councilor include actor Robert Ortega.
Meanwhile, Atienza gave Estrada’s conviction for plunder in 2007 a positive twist during the proclamation rally.
He said people who have been imprisoned usually come out better persons, adding he was speaking from experience.
Atienza pointed out that he was also detained for a while during martial law because he was a critic of the Marcos administration.
Estrada’s conviction was a different story, however. He was declared guilty of plunder by the Sandiganbayan in 2007 for various graft cases.
The former president maintained he was innocent, and told the crowd that the Sandiganbayan allegedly failed to link any direct evidence to him.
"If I really stole from the country, I would not have the guts to face you tonight," he said.
Kim Bitancoro, a 28 year-old Abra native who showed up at the rally, believed him. "If he really stole money, then he should be rich by now," she told Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak.
Estrada’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth showed that he is far from poor. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported that he had a net worth of P1.18 million in 1985, P3.82 million in 1992, and P35.86 million in 1999.
On Wednesday, Estrada will head off to Pangasinan, the hometown of Jose de Venecia III, one of the PMP’s senatorial candidates Wednesday, and then to Davao City on Sunday.