(AFP) – Sep 11, 2007
MANILA (AFP) — Joseph Estrada rose from an obscure bit player to a major national film star then blew the biggest role of his life -- president of the Philippines.
Despite his meteoric rise, while in office Estrada retained his common touch and folksy charm that has made him the idol of millions of poor Filipinos.
At the same time he managed to keep all the traits that made him a star and openly flaunted his hard drinking, womanising and gambling.
He also retained a cluster of shady characters who helped him make policy decisions during late night drinking sprees in what was often called his "midnight cabinet."
Those years finally caught up with him on Wednesday, when he was found guilty of massive corruption and jailed for life.
Born Jose Ejercito into a middle-class family in April 1937, the future president was the black sheep of the clan, getting expelled from a top university for fighting.
Estrada never finished his college education, defying his family's wishes and going into the film business in 1957.
His respectable family was so embarrassed by this they forced him to use the alias Joseph Estrada, which would soon become a household name as his fame increased.
From bit-part roles, Estrada eventually made his mark playing Robin Hood-type characters who battled greedy landowners, vicious gangsters, corrupt policemen or crooked politicians.
In more than a hundred movies over three decades, Estrada cultivated an image of the everyday man in jeans who spoke in fractured English.
He portrayed characters who avenged the downtrodden and adopted the moniker Erap -- a play on the Filipino word "Pare," or friend, early in his career.
In 1969, Estrada first translated his celluloid fame into political power when he was elected mayor of his home town, the Manila suburb of San Juan.
From there, he rose to senator, then vice president and finally, in 1998, he was elected president, running on the slogan "Erap for the Poor."
His victory, the largest majority vote in Philippine presidential history, came despite the opposition of veteran political leaders, the educated classes and the dominant Roman Catholic Church.
Estrada never hid his vices, openly keeping several mistresses despite being married to Luisa, a doctor, for more than 40 years.
His self-deprecating humour endeared him to the masses, who identified closely with Estrada's foibles. In campaign rallies, he joked that "of the many women I have loved, I only married one."
His shortcomings became obvious soon after he won the presidency. Often rising late, he regularly missed appointments.
Larger than life, he would shadow box for the cameras and once flew in beer and roast pigs to a mosque in Mindanao to thank soldiers fighting Muslim extremists, only to be told the troops were Muslims.
In 2000 one of Estrada's old drinking buddies turned against him, accusing him of receiving money from gambling syndicates.
The Congress called an investigation, which resulted in Estrada's impeachment in the House of Representatives. But allies in the Senate were able to prevent him from being convicted by the impeachment court.
Public outrage snowballed into a military-backed popular uprising in 2001, a scene reminiscent of the 1986 people power revolt that toppled then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Estrada fled the presidential palace through the back door, and retreated to his suburban mansion.
He was later arrested and became the first president in Philippine history to be processed like a common criminal, his mugshot gracing publications around the world.
But the unflappable Estrada retained his profile, later issuing juicy soundbites from his villa, where he has been under house arrest.
His popularity has rarely fallen, with his long-suffering wife and son, Jinggoy, winning seats in the Senate on a sympathy vote.
Throughout his trial Estrada maintained his innocence, saying his removal from office was a conspiracy.
Recently, the hard-drinking Estrada, 70, has admitted that the ordeal has had an impact on his health.
He said in an interview that he had recently been hounded by sleepless nights.
"I feel depressed," he told a local newspaper. "But it's my style not to show it."
Speaking before the verdict, he said if found guilty he could not stop his fans from taking to the streets in protest.
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