Arroyo aides float job for Estrada

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am

Pardoned ex-president could be poverty tsar

Former Philippine leader Joseph Estrada could be offered a key role in the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, officials said over the weekend - days after her controversial decision to pardon him after a court jailed him for life for plunder.

Cerge Remonde, who holds a cabinet-level position as director general of the presidential management staff, said he 'did not see why that is not possible' when asked in a radio interview if Mr Estrada might be put in charge of the government's high-profile anti-poverty programmes.

Mr Estrada said after his release on Friday that he would dedicate himself to anti-poverty efforts in the Philippines.

Asked yesterday on government-run radio whether it was true the administration was about to offer Mr Estrada a job, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye would not confirm or deny it, but said Mr Estrada's help 'would be a major boost'. The specifics of any role had not been finalised, he added.

Of the government's anti-poverty drive, Mr Bunye said: 'If, say, we're running at 50km/h, we can go as fast as 75km/h [with Mr Estrada's help].

'Estrada's offer to help us in our anti-poverty programmes is definitely a very welcome statement.'

Rejoining the government in a prominent role would represent a stunning turnaround for Mr Estrada, who had faced spending the rest of his life behind bars when he was found guilty seven weeks ago of plundering billions of pesos in public funds and taking bribes.

Critics of his release saw it as a move by Mrs Arroyo to win over Mr Estrada's supporters in Congress, where she is facing calls for her impeachment or resignation.

Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who brokered Mr Estrada's release, said reconciliation between the two former political enemies would strengthen the Arroyo camp.

'Our unity will be the answer to all these problems,' Mr Puno said.

There was no immediate word from Mr Estrada on whether he was keen to join the government of Mrs Arroyo, his vice-president before taking his job when he was deposed in 2001 in a military-backed revolt.

Jose Alcuaz, one of the former president's closest allies, said Mr Estrada was aware the government had floated the idea, but would not comment yet.

Many in his camp remain deeply suspicious of Mrs Arroyo and her motives in courting him.

Mr Estrada's wife, former senator Loi Ejercito, said her husband should reject any government offer to head its anti-poverty programme. 'He should not accept it. Any position would be too much of a demotion. He should just work on his own.'

The former president's family and political allies had advised the 70-year-old ex-movie star to take a long rest and assess the political situation before committing to anything, Mr Alcuaz said yesterday.

Mr Alcuaz said he would advise Mr Estrada not to accept a government post because this would narrow his options 'when events are moving so fast' - a reference to former president Fidel Ramos' comment that Mrs Arroyo's days as president would be numbered if she granted a pardon.

Mr Estrada's acceptance of the pardon from a political arch-enemy had left supporters in a quandary, Mr Alcuaz said. He said he had warned Mr Estrada when a pardon was first floated that 'we might be neutralised or immobilised'. Mr Estrada did not reply, he said.