“FOR the people’s sake, Erap, shoo, go away. Spare us four more years of your Presidency.”

This is what the Philippine Collegian, official student publication of the University of the Philippines- Diliman, asked President Estrada to do, in a Page 1 editorial in its July 27 issue.

“For your own sake, get out of Malacañang before the people cart you out. Remember Ferdie, your chum–you would not want to end up like him: disgraced, debased, depraved. Do the honorable thing. Resign. Face up to the harsh reality that you are not quite up to the task,” the editorial continued.

The editorial appeared alongside the banner story, which carried the results of a Collegian survey showing that 60 percent of UP Diliman students wanted Estrada out of Malacañang.

Out of 924 respondents, 555 or 60 percent said Estrada should resign. Only 157 respondents or 17 percent wanted him to stay in office. Undecided on the issue were 22.5 percent of the respondents, while 0.22 percent did not answer.

The survey, done July 17 to 21, asked UP Diliman students to rate the Estrada administration using UP’s grading system, which ranged from 1.0 (excellent) and to 5.0 (failure).

Failing mark

A total of 314 respondents, or 34 percent, gave the President a failing mark of 5.0 and 14 percent a passing mark of 3.0. Twenty percent gave him an incomplete mark, while 15.5 percent wanted him dropped. Far smaller percentages gave him marks ranging from 2.75 to 1.25. Three respondents, or 0.32 percent, stood foursquare behind the President by giving him a flat 1.0.

Asked what they thought were the biggest problems of the Estrada presidency, 44 percent cited his dealings with his advisers and cronies. Nineteen percent cited his economic policies, and 9 percent his failure to give priority to education. Seven percent said Estrada himself was the problem.

(The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, with the help of UPSC and other student organizations, has conducted a separate opinion survey on the Estrada presidency among 3,000 students and youth. Results of the survey, called “Isang Tanong Isang Sagot (One Question, One Answer),” were yet to be released as of this writing.)

The same issue of the Collegian carried articles, statements, and interviews critical of the administration’s policies on housing, tourism, health, education, environment, indigenous peoples, labor, and the foreign debt. The series of oil price increases and Estrada’s so-called “macho regime” also came in for a drubbing.

The subtitles of some of these items read:

  • “Erap’s health policies do not refocus the direct interventions to empower the poor.”
  • “Mapanlinlang ang industriya ng turismo sa panunung-kulan ni Erap (The tourism industry under the Erap administration is deceitful).”
  • “Saksi ang kababaihan sa paglala ng prostitusyon at sex-trafficking, mga bayolenteng strike dispersal, problema sa paggawa, at dislokasyon sa Mindanao sa panahon ni Estrada (Women bear witness to the worsening of prostitution and sex trafficking, violent dispersals of strikes, labor problems, and dislocation in Mindanao in Estrada’s time).”
  • “The Estrada administration’s skewed budget priorities, coupled with its strict adherence to IMF policies, render its economic programs futile.”

Democratic process invoked

Explaining why she believed Estrada must resign, Collegian associate editor Lisa Ito told PNI: “Two years is just too long for an incompetent president.” She stressed, however, that only democratic means must be used to get him out of power.

Another Collegian editorial said that since Erap “will not heed the best piece of advice anyone can ever give at this time of his presidency,” the democratic alternative is to impeach him.

Collegian staff writer Jayson Edward San Juan said he would not approve of any extra-constitutional means, such as a coup or revolution, to oust Estrada.

Estrada’s ouster apart, he said there are other questions that need to be answered. For instance, he said, the President’s opponents must ask themselves: “Si Erap ba talaga ang problema, o ang mismong sistema (Is Erap truly the problem, or is it the system)?”

Some observers do not think an impeachment procedure will prosper since it can only be initiated by Congress, and both the House and the Senate are now dominated by partymates and allies of the President.

Oust-Erap movement

Despite the odds, the UP Student Council in Diliman has intensified its campaign for Estrada’s resignation.

As early as April 15 this year, even before the present officers took over, the council came up with an “oust Erap” position, said Ninai Festin, UPSC vice chair.

She said that the UPSC, during an “educational discussion,” summed up the problems its members saw in the Estrada presidency. These include its insistence on constitutional amendments, cronyism, attacks against press freedom, militarization, “fascist tendencies,” all-out war against the Moro separatists, promotion of gambling; failure to recover the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, the reduction of the education budget (including that of the UP) and lack of direction in governance.

Unfulfilled promises

Festin added that Estrada, thus far, has failed to fulfill his campaign promise of alleviating poverty. She also assailed the government’s reported daily expenditure of P50 million for its troops in Mindanao, as well as the government’s mismanagement of the garbage problem that she said led to the Payatas tragedy.

Because of these and other shortcomings, the UPSC believes that Estrada deserves to be booted out of Malacañang, Festin said.

She cited three ways to do that: pressuring or forcing Estrada to resign, impeaching him, or overthrowing the government. The UPSC, to go by its statements and activities, appears to favor the first recourse-forcing him to step down.

At present, the UPSC has engaged in an information campaign to push for Estrada’s ouster, conducting fora, symposia, and discussions.

In a statement in the Collegian, UPSC Chair Mong Palatino said: “Erap is the student who flunks his subjects. Graded by the people, Erap begs to be expelled. Certainly, he must be ousted.”

Interviews with three UP students yielded mixed reactions.

Jeff, a communications engineering student, described Estrada’s activities as “puro kabobohan (all stupidity)…and to think he has so many advisers.” Supporting calls for the President’s ouster, he described Estrada as “hard-headed,” always insisting on his way of doing things.

Turnabout on issues

Allan, a fourth year student of the UP College of Education, said Estrada must be ousted for his turnabout on important issues. “What he used to oppose, he now supports,” Allan said.

He was referring to the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement that Estrada was reported to have reaffirmed during his state visit to the US. As a senator in 1991, Estrada was one of the Magic 12 or the dozen members of the Senate who rejected the retention of the US military bases.

However, Wilfredo, a third year engineering student, said it was all right for Estrada to continue serving his term. “It’s okay for him to stay, but I would like other officials in the government to help him so his performance would improve,” he said, adding that critics were just wasting time hitting Estrada. He did not elaborate.

Leaders speak against Erap

But UP student leaders, in statements in the Collegian, uniformly expressed the need to oust Estrada if he doesn’t change his style of governance.

“Seemingly, the government is numb to the needs of the people,” said student regent Hannah Eunice Serrana. “Worse, it tries to quell the masses’ opposition through militarization. The undeclared martial rule, especially in the countryside, has extracted the lives of innocent civilians. And it will continue unless Estrada wakes from his stupor.”

Rhoda Villar, chair of Sandigan para sa mga Mag-aaral at Sambayanan, criticized the President’s statements in his State of the Nation Address.

“Talking about what he plans to do will not make the Filipino people forget that he has done nothing for them,” she said. “Whatever comes from his mouth will no longer matter to the people.”

“Sobra nang pahirap (We’ve suffered more than enough),” said Nova Navo, spokesperson of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP. She urged fellow UP students to continue fighting for the people’s rights and prevent them from being trampled by the Estrada presidency.