Everyday scores of Erap jokes crisscross the land, appearing as email and text messages in thousands of cellphones: Why will Erap win the Nobel Prize for chemistry? Because he turned the peso into crap. The Filipino people should be thankful our President is close to the Lord...Jueteng Lord, Gambling Lord, Drug Lord. Why can't Erap resign? Because that would be the intelligent thing to do.
It's a torrent, not of bitter abuse but something worse: ridicule.
Erap jokes probably account for a significant portion of text message content in the Philippines (which, in sheer volume, is already the world's text message capital) and government is helpless to stop the traffic in mockery. Standing on the brink of impeachment, Estrada is suffering the long, slow agony that comes not from a thousand cuts but from a million laughs.
None of it mattered when Estrada's popularity rating was high. Even when he was still vice-president he reveled in the reputation of being unlettered. When he campaigned for president he turned what others would see as a liability into an asset. He cultivated the image that, ignorant as he was, he was not part of the corrupt lettered elite. He told the masses that when the elite were laughing at him, they were actually laughing at them.
During the campaign he distributed books making fun of himself. One was titled "Eraption: How to Speak English Without Really Trial." One its jokes: Before singing his favorite tune in a gathering of friends, Erap says "I'd like to dedicate this song to my one-and-only, and they are the following..."
Assuming the presidency, Estrada did nothing to erase the image of stupidity or stop the flow of jokes. When a group of businessmen met the President and expressed concern about how Erap jokes were ruining the image of the Executive Office, Estrada actually beamed and said: "but it's good for name recognition isn't it?"
On another occasion he proclaimed: "You can call me bobo, just don't call me corrupt." With possible links to illegal gambling and tax skimming exposed, he's now being called both.
While most politicians who insist they're simpleminded are probably actually smart, Erap is the genuine article. He is one of the few candidates in history to have sincerely lived up to his billing. Shambling and mumbling, he's never failed to live up to -- even exceed -- the standards set by his jokes.
When Estrada went to the 1998 APEC meeting in Kuala Lumpur and delivered a speech without making any mistakes, Congress was so relieved it proposed passing a resolution congratulating him
Once asked to rate himself, Estrada replied: "on a scale of 1 to 10, I give myself 70 per cent"
In a radio program meant to inform the public about dengue, Estrada said that dengue was the same as malaria. "They just changed the name," he asserted
During the televised celebration ushering in the Millennium, when everyone around him was counting down to the New Year, Estrada was counting up
He could also be insensitive. When his wife mentioned how heavy the workload of a First Lady was, he replied "stop complaining, there are many interested in the role" -- a reference to the lineup of Presidential mistresses. When government troops captured a major Muslim insurgent camp, Estrada celebrated the victory by feasting on pork in the camp's main mosque.
Earlier this year one indiscreet aide painted Estrada as a stupid administrator who can't focus on crucial issues and holds late night to early morning drunken revels.
Estrada traded on his buffoonery to endear himself to the masses. In the light of revelations that he's favored a few cronies, coddled the Marcoses, built vast mansions for his mistresses and received money from illegal gambling proceeds, the charm is palling fast.
If analysts ever need to study how a presidency built on jokes can itself turn out to be joke, they won't need to look far. They can just take President Estrada. Please!