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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


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AS FOR TAN, LEONORA de Jesus, the president's chief of staff, insists that Estrada is demonstrating his independence by criticizing the government's tax case against the man. Tan's bad crony image is to Estrada "not an issue" because Erap himself has been similarly maligned by the media. Salonga asserts that both Tan and Cojuangco were "heavy financiers" of Estrada's presidential campaign, and the president has "a very keen sense of gratitude." This trait, says Salonga, is "part of our culture as a people." Neither Tan nor Cojuangco show up on the official list of Estrada's contributors. However, Cojuangco's brother Henry and a long-time business associate of Tan's, Ramon Lee, did give significant amounts. One businessman who used to work in government and says he understands how one hand washes the other in Manila, says Estrada has an abiding sense of gratitude toward the people who helped him get elected: "That's the character of the president. He owes you. He gives his word. He honors it."

Where does gratitude stop and cronyism begin? For the above businessman, who voted against Estrada and asked not to be named, the gratitude will stop when it runs up against an issue that has been at the heart of Estrada's popularity: fair treatment for the poor. "I think he's very sincere about doing something for them," says the businessman. "If there's a real, real conflict between helping the poor and his friends and benefactors, I think he'll help the poor." Such words are music to the ears of Estrada's people. Says de Jesus: "[Estrada will] always decide for the greater good of the greater number."

But Estrada's administration may be developing a disturbing habit of saying one thing while doing another. Take the government's recently announced measures to grow revenues, which include a plan by Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Beethoven Rualo to make the poor cough up taxes. Estrada critics are sure to have a field day pointing out that Rualo seems to find it easier to tax the poor than the rich. It was the revenue chief, after all, who last week reduced a $200 million tax bill for Tan in 1992 to $133,000. The bureau justified the action by claiming the tax evasion case against Tan was weak.

Not to say this puts Estrada in Marcos's league. Imelda recently broke a 12-year silence to provide some insight into how her late husband systematically bought up vital industries using the likes of Tan and Cojuangco as "trustees" ñ to help the poor and employ many people, she said. In an exclusive interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, she boasted how her husband raised Tan, a mere "bottle pedlar," to wealth and power. In all, she claimed personal ownership of nearly $13 billion in assets including major stakes in 150 Philippine blue-chip firms, half of them publicly listed.

The stock market has already discounted the ill-effects of cronyism, says stock analyst Ed Bancod of Paribas Asia Equity (Philippines) Inc. "I'm not worried. It never left us in the first place. What's different now is you have a democratic institution that one way or the other mitigates the excesses of its officials," he says. Political analyst Amando Doronila agrees: "It's not as brazen as in Marcos's time when he had dictatorial powers. Today, the areas for cronyism are more restricted than before because government does not have the power to award selective empires."

On the other hand, an owner of a medium-size firm, who asked not to be identified, says he is postponing a planned expansion because he is worried Estrada's cronies will corner most of the action. Doronila suggests that cronyism brings "a general demoralization in the business community." The president may at least be guilty of ignoring the troubling signals his actions give off. In October, Estrada was photographed sharing his limousine with Tan. Two months later, he cited the tax case against Tan as proof that he didn't have cronies. Shortly after, he said he wanted to drop the case. Since then, Estrada has hailed Tan a "hero" for "losing" $650,000 a day to keep the troubled national flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, flying. Responds one cynic: "If that's your criterion, you'll have an overcrowded constellation of heroes." It seems faith and trust in government have been early victims of the Estrada administration.

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This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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