Estrada's Resignation Reveals Class Divide

On one side of the police line well-coiffed young professionals and students in designer sunglasses wildly cheered good riddance to President Joseph Estrada, who they say plundered and embarrassed the nation.

On the other side, hundreds of poor Filipinos in cheap plastic sandals and tattered clothing, many missing teeth, screamed threats of reprisal for the loss of the man they say was their hero and only hope.

The two groups were just feet apart at Saturday's rally in Manila, but the gap between them couldn't have been greater.

Estrada's resignation bares the wide division between the poor who brought him to power and the middle class who helped push him out.

Estrada's popularity among the poor dates back to his days as a film star in the early 1970s, when he invariably played tough guys with a soft spot for the needy. His fans dubbed him Erap — "buddy" spelled backward in the Philippine language.

He was elected in May 1998 with 40 percent of the vote with eight opponents splitting the rest. The backbone of his support came from the poverty-stricken in a nation with a minimum wage of just less than $5 a day.

Saturday, Estrada resigned after the military and police abandoned him following three months of allegations that he had stashed away tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes. He denies the charges.

Estrada's support among the poor has likely dwindled after a six-week impeachment trial that outlined the charges. But it was still strong at the outset of the trial that began Dec. 7.

A Social Weather Stations poll taken in the following 10 days said 44 percent of Filipinos were satisfied with him while 35 percent said they were dissatisfied.

"Today is a sad day," said disheartened Bobby Primavera, a 38-year-old cook who leaned against the police barricade while Estrada's detractors chanted yards away. "A lot of people in the provinces will be very, very angry."

Anthony Mercadel, a 24-year-old merchant sailor from the poor southern region of Mindanao, said he doesn't trust the well-groomed and moneyed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the vice president who was sworn in Saturday to succeed Estrada.

"She won't do anything for the poor," Mercadel said of Macapagal-Arroyo, a former economics professor who has promised to increase the role of the poor in decision-making. "These people against Erap think they're the majority. They're the majority only in Manila."

As he spoke, a young man beside him angrily shouted "Gloria Resign!" at nearby Estrada detractors, drawing a finger across his throat in threat.

Estrada's opponents, however, point out that inflation jumped, the peso fell and the poor became even poorer during his term that began in 1998 and wasn't scheduled to end until 2004. He was widely criticized for late-night drinking sessions, frequent visits to his mistresses and a hands-off approach to his Cabinet.

"He has severely damaged our nation and it will take a long time to start to repair it," said J.V. Javier, a 26-year-old architect on the anti-Estrada side of Saturday's barrier.

He motioned to Estrada's angry supporters nearby.

"We have a long way to go economically and politically."