More tributes

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto M. Maceda -

At the tribute to Erap last Monday at the Enderun College, former Finance Secretary Jose Pardo, gave the following remarks: “His name lit up the movie marquee but his star shone even brighter as the most-loved Mayor of San Juan. When our paths crossed in 1972 as fellow awardees of TOYM, then Mayor Erap Estrada, the name and the man, was already larger than life. That is why I count TOYM as one of three passages in my life where I was privileged to be his journey-mate.

“The next chance was in 1994 when then President Ramos appointed me as Commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) which was directly under the office of the Vice-President. Again, then VP Erap’s persona loomed before me. But this time, I got to stand closer to marvel at his charisma as a leader.

Later on, when 11 million Filipinos gave him the mandate to become the President of the Philippines in 1998, I was tasked to organize, as I did for President Ramos, a dialogue between the leaders of the business community and the newly-elected President. Early June of that year, 50 top businessmen met President Erap to a dialogue of cooperation. And what was to be an ordinary day for me turned out to be a surprising third encounter with the President as he publicly offered me to become his Trade and Industry Secretary!

But fate would have me working for the new leader of the land with the understanding that I would not stay the length of his term. Knowing that I had my President’s full confidence, I began to recommend programs and projects that put on track meaningful reform measures for the economy. Even as I knew that we did not agree 100%, President Erap always reminded me of his bottomline…the benefit of the greater number of people and the need to de-clutter, simplify and just do what needs to be done.

‘“Huwag ninyong pahirapin ang madali,” he would often say, as we took to the task of finding solutions to problems that have long beset the Filipino people. To him, over-analysis often leads to paralysis. It would be easier, he said, to correct errors from over-reaction than to correct problems from under-reaction.

“I daresay President Erap was transparent to a fault. I suppose this was a trait not borne of political naivete but of his promise of a better life to the very people who put him in office.

“I also recall instances where personal relationships were put to extreme tests. There was a case involving a former classmate who headed the Excise Tax Division of the BIR whose appeal he ignored when he decided to abolish the entire division because of corruption issues.

“This was singled out by the World Bank as an unprecedented and welcome move to increase revenue collections from “sin” products. Then came the SGS pre-shipment inspection contract which was not renewed upon his instruction, thus saving the government around P400 million in monthly fees. These were generally showcases of political will given the unrelenting lobby activities of those affected.

“There is also President Erap, my loyal friend and the best brother I never had.

“Then again, to describe the friendship and camaraderie we’ve built and shared all these years would require more space. But suffice it to say that I know enough and maybe even more of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the silver screen legend, the public servant, and the man, to affirm that his heart is truly in the right place.”

* * *

Former Congressman Luis “Baby” Asistio, a close friend of Erap, wrote “A President who was sincerely committed to the poor, I witnessed this myself in Malacañang among five visitors, four of whom were rich and one of whom was poor. Erap let the poor man in first. Later I ask him why. He said, ‘Pare hindi kayang maghintay ng problema niyan. Ang mga kaibigan natin may paraan pero itong mahirap, ang paraan ay ako lang. So I have to serve him as fast as I can.’ These are words coming from the heart. Any other president would have directed you to just talk to his secretary. Not Erap. His attention to the problems of the poor was personal.

“Caloocan, especially the residents of Tala, will eternally be grateful to him. During the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos, my father, Mayor Macario Asistio Sr., requested for one hectare of land in Tala for the family of the patients of the Tala Leprosarium.

“Marcos refused, saying it is Tala property. When my brother became mayor, he asked for 5 hectares because the population had grown. Again, he was refused by Marcos. When Erap became president, I became Congressman of the 2nd District. I asked him for 30 hectares because by then the population had exponentially grown. He immediately asked Housing head Lenny de Jesus how many hectares Tala owned. She answered 70. Erap himself went to Tala. He told the people there ‘Masuwerte kayo mayroon kayong congressman na bagamat hindi taga 1st district kundi taga 2nd district, humingi sa akin ng 30 ektarya para sa inyo. Ito pala ay hinihingi noon pang panahon ni dating Pangulong Marcos, gayunpaman hindi binigyan.’ And then he signed a proclamation giving the people of Tala not only 30 hectares but 40 hectares.

When the residents of Bagong Silang complained that they were being evicted from their homes, Erap also came to their rescue. I told him about it and he called the head of the National Housing Authority to Malacañang, who explained that the poor were being evicted because they were not paying, Erap said ‘Ang tao hindi manunuba kung may pera. Kaya lang hindi nagbabayad iyan dahil walang pera. Tandaan mo, ang programa ko ay ‘pabahay,’ hindi ‘magpaalis ng tao sa bahay.’’ He saved those people from eviction.”









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