Denying charges, confident Estrada sticks to his script

It's dinnertime at Malacanang, the grand Spanish-era presidential palace whose Tagalog name means "a noble man lives there," and a crowd waits for Joseph Estrada to arrive for dinner. Inside the ballroom, cushiony red carpets, baroque chandeliers, and overhead floodlights give the feeling of a movie set.

Waiting for the president to arrive, this country's ambassador to Washington explains that things are looking up for the beleaguered president. "He's in good spirits because the tides have turned," says Ambassador Ernesto M. Maceda, recently recalled from the US to Manila by Mr. Estrada to help deal with the crisis. Mr. Maceda says that protests against the president are dying out, Estrada's popularity is buoyant, and he has been reassured that his coalition partners will not abandon the president.

The president enters during the second course, wearing an embroidered white barong shirt. Unmistakable with his black pompadour and thin mustache, he sits at a carved wooden chair at the head table.

Maceda continues his case: "I sincerely think that we're better off with the current administration.... It's better to have a chastened and repentant administration than to have a new one... trying to figure things out." The president is cleaning up his act, Maceda says, and has a "personal reform plan." Later, Estrada reiterates his innocence. "I'm confident," he proclaims, "because the charges against me are baseless. [My accusers] are the ones damaging the country."

A reporter asks what changes he'll make if he survives impeachment.

"What changes do you want?" Estrada replies. "I am a man of the masses.... It's the masses who put me up here, and I don't want to alienate myself from them. I won't change my character."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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