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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?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 18, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 6

'I Am in Control'
Page 3: Battling the Three D's

You have repeatedly warned of a "three-D plot" of disinformation, disaffection and destabilization against you. Exactly how is this plot supposed to transpire?

This is the intelligence information we have gathered although we don't have hard evidence. You can see some of the newspapers appear to be orchestrated [in their reporting] to destabilize me with disinformation. Even during the presidential campaign these people, including the Church, were already against me. On Election Day, the Philippine Daily Inquirer headlined "Anybody but Erap -- CBCP." The elitist were all against me. Some of them still cannot accept the fact that I am president. They spread the disinformation that I have no vision, no direction.

But you can see where the economy is going, you can see the peace and order gains, you can see the bumper harvests which enabled us to lower the price of rice by two pesos. We have improved our infrastructure, especially the farm-to-market roads and irrigation, that's why we have this bumper harvest, the best in 12 years. All these things are hard evidence. The opposition said, it's impossible that you can reach 3.6% [GDP growth]. It would only be below 2%. Now that we've hit 3.6%, they say Korea has grown faster. It seems I cannot do anything right.

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What are you doing about that?

I was very accommodating [to the press]; maybe I was mistaken. When I assumed office, I had this mindset that I would not change [from my informal, folksy ways]. Since the masses voted me into power, I would not look very presidential. I wanted to be accessible to the people, including reporters. Almost everyday I would accomodate ambush interviews. The idea of being president didn't go into my head. But it turned out to be a mistake. The more I was maligned.

Will you be changing your ways?

In a way yes. I will not [entertain] ambush interviews anymore. Maybe, once in a blue moon.

You had a meeting with foreign fund managers. What was the upshot?

We discussed leveling the playing field and such things as the disinformation done by Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Perfecto Yasay. He claimed I called him up to pressure him to clear Dante Tan [of BW Resources]. I never did that. I called him up to call his attention to his policy to limit stock market trading through a vary narrow trading band of 50% above and 40% below. I did this because people were complaining. Why would I ask him to clear Mr Tan. Firstly, I believe Tan is a victim. Secondly, it is not Yasay doing the investigation, it is the Philippine Stock Exchange.

I remember , even before the Tan case, when I took over as president, he had just been suspended by the ombudsman . He came to me promising that he would resign by December [1999]. I said ok I assumed that by December he would resign because I was revamping my economic team. I was expecting him then to submit his courtesy resignation. Instead of submitting his voluntary resignat ion, he went to the US. When he came back, he saw former Senator Jovito Salonga as his lawyer and told these people that I was pressuring him to resign. I know that the night before Yasay made his testimony before the Senate banking committee, he and committee chairman Senator Raul Roco met. You can see this was a setup. The hearing was held at the PSE instead of at the Senate. And there was no quorum. Only Roco was around.

Do you think the fund managers were deceived?

Yes. that's why it's good that the dialogue took place. I told them if Dante Tan is guilty, prosecute him. He's my friend, I do not deny that. He came to me and complained that he was a victim and yet he was the one being investigated. He lost about P2 billion. Later, Yasay came to me to apologize for what he said. First, he offered to resign by Feb. 18. He changed that to March 25. [He shows Yasay's resignation letter].

About leveling the playing field, do you see any change in the way you handle things?

Oh, yes. The integrity of my new economic team is unquestionable. I will ask them first before I appoint anybody. Our arrangement is that before I approve anything, they must first endorse it. I myself I don't know anything about the stock market.

If any person under investigation should approach you to ask your help, will you be making any calls on his behalf?

No way, no way. If anyone under investigation comes to me and asks for help, I will not interfere. No way will I make phone calls to the investigating body.

Is there squabbling in the inner sanctum?

Media blew this out of proportion. There is no real squabbling. It started when I removed from the Office of the Executive Secretary [OES] the power to review government contracts worth P50 million and above, and transferred it to the Presidential Management Staff. I got some information that some of those [in the OES] tasked with reviewing the contracts were having lunch with the contractors, so I transferred the function to the PMS, who are more professional.

So there is no altercation between PMS head Leonora de Jesus and Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora?

Lenny de Jesus, Ronnie Zamora and I always have lunch here [at the presidential residence] together. I mediate. Yet media makes it appear I am not in control. I am in control.

What are you doing with Ms. de Jesus?

I find her very effective in housing, as co-chairman of the housing commission. Housing is far more important than any of my programs, outside of food security. After a transition period, she will leave PMS to head a Department of Housing. Laquian will not head PMS but will be my chief of staff. All papers coming to me will pass through him. He will coordinate all cabinet members so that we speak with one voice. Ronnie Zamora will handle the political and legal side. He's a bar topnotcher.

Looking at international issues, what do you have to say about President Abdurrahman Wahid's moves in Indonesia, particularly his confrontation with some military people?

Out of delicadeza I wouldn't like to comment. President Wahid is the first president elected in a free election. That's something Indonesians should be proud of. The problem with themilitary is a temporary problem. They will have to adjust. The military has been holding power ever since. It is not easy to give away that power. There should be a period of adjustment.

Do you believe the VFA is good for regional security?

Yes. It helps in the balance of power. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia also have VFA with the US. There are US bases in Japan and South KoreAll of us in the region, except China, welcome the VFA.

Do you see incidents continiuing to roil the Spratlys?

I don't believe so. I had a good talk with Zhu Rongji. He agreed to a multilateal talk among the claimant countries. In any case, China has no history of invading another country. I am not in any way bothered by incidents inthe Spratlys. We have very good relations with China.

Do you favor diplomatic relations with North Korea, as the Philippine ambassador to Seoul has mooted?

I am for that. To ease the tension. I also pray that the two Koreas will someday be united.

What's your feeling on ASEAN and where should it go?

We want tohave an ASEAN that is united, in order to compete with China in terms of trade and our economies. ASEAN has 500 million. We should be united as one market. By 2003, there won't be any tariff among us. We have to be united to be recognized as a power. Japan, China are already way ahead of us. I haven't even proposed a common currency. It will take time. It took Europe 30 years to have a common currency.

Personal things: how do you feel about the presidency, your job?

I had my ups and downs and I was feeling my way through. But now, I am more confident. I know now the intricacies of being president. I will be more careful in all my actuations. I am being watched. [My critics] are watching when I am going to make a mistake. So I have to be more careful.

Any regrets?

I have nothing much to regret about. Except what I felt so much about is the malicious and continuous disinformation given by media to the people.

The media keeps reporting on cronyism.

There is no cronyism in my administration. They say Lucio Tan is my No. 1 crony. In fact, Mr Lucio Tan has not borrowed a single cent from the government. When Mr Lucio Tan was losing P20 million to P25 million a day at the height of the strike and he wanted to get out of PHilippine Airlines, I begged with him to remain. Both big and small businessmen were suffering from the strike. Secondly, the Philippine Airlines is the flag carrier of the country and the first commercial airline in AsiSo I had to beg to Mr Tan to continue. I was able to convince him. After one year, when PAL creditors were trying to foreclose on him [on $200 million], he asked that government bail him out with thehelp of government financing institutions. I told him I have made a policy statement -- no government bailout of any private corporation. Some of my advisers had said I could justify a bailout since the government has investments in PAL. But I said no.

I hadfnothing to do with the scrapping of the government tax case against PAL. That was the decision of a lower court. The previous commissioner of the BIR [Liwayway Chato] claimed she had truckloads of evidence. But there were only trucks, no evidence.

They say Danding Cojuangco. is my crony. When I assumed office, there was already a decided Supreme Court case giving to him control of San Miguel. He was elected chairman of the board of directors whose members were appointed by President Ramos. Under Andres Soriano, San Miguel was losing money. Under Danding, San Miguel has been making money. Danding never asked me for any favor. San Miguel is one of the biggest taxpayers. Where's cronyism there?

There is no GFI [government financial institution] that extended loans to any of my friends. But I have the documents to show that during the time of President Cory and President Ramos, GFIs extended loans to their friends.

How's the family doing?

That's one reason I count my days as president. I miss my family. I hardly see them, including my mother. Three months ago, I made it a point not to have appointments on Sundays so I could see my 95-year-old mother. I don't see my children.

How do you plan your day?

I am up by 6:30. I have my calisthenics, my saunI begin work by 8:30 and work up to 2 in the morning.

How's your health?

Yearly I have an executive checkup. After the APEC meeting last November, I went to LA and had an executive checkup. Everything is perfect, except for both knees, I have anthritis which I inherited from my father. Above my knees, everything is perfect [laughs].

What role do see you for yourself in the operation of government?

I have tobe more hands on, especially in monitoring projects. I will ensure that every single cent of money is spent on the project for which it was intended. I will cut down on speaking engagements and interviews. It is taking too much of my time. I have promised to spend three of the year in the Visayas and three months in Mindanao.

My frustration is to make Mindanao the bread basket of the country. They have rains but no typhoons there.

The outlook for peace in Mindanao?

This has been going on since the time of Prsident Marcos and President Cory Aquino. After peace talks with Nur Misuari of the MNLF, we have this MILF. I gave them a deadline. The government has treated these rebels with utmost leniency. There is no sincerity on their part. They keep on their terroristic acts, banditry, killing people, kidnapping people. I might lose my patience. I took my oath of office to defend our Constitution. We have to assert the territorial integrity of the country. There's only one government and one Constitution. I gave them up to June this year. The same with the NDF. I am determined to mount a full campaign against them. In six months, I hope both rebellions will be minimized.

What will be your legacy?

My only dream is to help the poor. In my years as a movie star and an elected official, the masa were always there for me. They patronized my movies and made me the highest paid movie star. They gave me fame, glory and fortune. They elected me mayor, senator, vice president and now president. When I ran for president, [my opponents and critics] threw everything at me, including the kitchen sink and the toilet bowl, accusing me of being a drunkard, womanizer and murderer. What I am now, I owe it to the masses. So when I step down, I would like to be known as the president who championed the cause of the masses. That's how I want to be remembered. Everything I have, I owe to the masses. This is the first time in history that a president has been elected with the biggest majority.

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