September 22, 2009
Mr. President and my colleagues, I rise today on a matter of personal privilege. I do so as a Senator of the Republic who sought and obtained the people’s mandate in the Senatorial Elections in 2004 under the banner of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
Last week, I sat at that exalted seat of the Senate President and listened with deep pain, a heavy heart, and a troubled mind as I presided over the session when my friend and colleague, the Hon. Panfilo Lacson, delivered his searing privilege speech. He rendered his own personal account and portrayal of the person and character of Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the founder and leader of my Party, the PMP.
The next day, the Hon. Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, stood and took the Floor, and properly so, to defend the name and honor of his father.
I could not help but feel saddened about how an old friendship has come to such a bitter and rancorous end and to witness the ensuing acrimony that rages to this day.
Senator Lacson has expressed that it pained him to make his revelations which, he says, is aimed “to unmask” the “real President Joseph “ERAP” Estrada.” But I am sure that the heaviness he felt in his heart then could not compare with the pain that must have gripped the President’s own son, whose father was being subjected to such grave and serious accusations right in his presence and in the halls of this august Chamber.
I am not certain why and how things have come to this. And I am not alone with that uncertainty. There are many questions that have been boggling the minds of the public since this controversy started.
Mr. President, I do not stand today to attribute any ill-will or any ill motive to the Gentleman from Cavite who not only served under President Erap Estrada, but more than that, was also once known to have enjoyed the full trust and confidence of the former President.
I am sure that before Senator Lacson launched this serial attacks against President Estrada, he knew that his motives would be doubted, questioned, and made the subject of many speculations, both favorable and unsavory. Knowing Senator Lacson, I am also sure he is prepared to address these doubts and these questions.
Precisely, he prefaced his speech by explaining that he is doing this out of a sense of moral duty to the public and the nation. His call was for God to save this country from Joseph Ejercito Estrada. With that call, I believe it is fair and safe to conclude that Senator Lacson’s so-called “revelations” against his former President and Commander-in Chief was a serious and deliberate effort to dissuade the public from electing President Erap back to the highest position in the land.
I must give credit to Senator Lacson for being unequivocal about his intentions and for going straight to the point, his ultimate point, which is that Erap must not be allowed to lead this nation again.
But since Senator Lacson spoke about who he claims “the real Erap Estrada” is, I hope he and my colleagues will not begrudge me for feeling compelled to speak about the side of President Erap I have personally witnessed in our long years of association and friendship.
Ang sasabihin ko po ngayon ay yun lamang sariling karanasan at kaalaman ko ukol sa katauhan ng Dating Pangulong Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
Dalawa lamang kami ni Erap sa oposisyon na pinalad na mahirang na Senador noong 1987. Ang dalawampu’t dalawa pang Senador ay pawang mga kandidato ng yumaong Pangulong Corazon C. Aquino. Limang taon kaming magkatabi ng upuan noon sa Senado.
Sa buong panahong iyon, Si Erap ay hindi ko kailanman nakitang nag-mayabang o nagmarunong. Nagtatanong siya sa akin tungkol sa mga usapin at kalakaran sa Senado sapagka’t bago lang siya at walang karanasan bilang isang mambabatas.
Hindi man siya mahilig magtalumpati, at madalas nilalait ang kanyang pagsasalita ng Ingles, nakita ko ang kanyang pagiging isang totoong tao. Magalang, mapagkumbaba at hindi mapagkunwari.
Hindi matatawaran ang kanyang pagiging tunay na maka-tao at maka-mahirap. Pinagtatawanan siya noon sa kanyang isinulong na “Carabao Bill”. Ngayon, ang ating mga magsasaka at ang bansa ay nakikinabang ng husto sa “Carabao Center” sa Gitnang Luzon na naitatag sa pamamagitan ni Erap.
As a Senator, Joseph Estrada proved to be a true nationalist. He, along with eleven other Senators, myself included, voted for the abrogation of the U.S. Bases Agreement despite the strong lobby for its extension led by no less than President Aquino.
While we were praised by many as “The Magnificent Twelve,” we were also denounced and branded as “The Dirty Dozen” by those who wanted to maintain America’s military presence in the Philippines. In hindsight, if not for that bold and historic vote, we would not have seen the rise of Subic and Clark as living examples of what we can, on our own, achieve as a sovereign nation.
In 1990, when I was arrested for what the Supreme Court eventually declared to be a non-existent crime of “Rebellion Complexed with Murder” right on the Floor of the Old Senate, Erap was the only one among my colleagues who dared and offered to accompany me as I rode the van with the arresting officers led by then Director of the National Bureau of Investigation, former Gen. Alfredo Lim, on the way to the NBI compound where I was booked and temporarily detained.
Sinabi ni Erap sa akin: “Manong, sasama ho ako. Mahirap na baka may masamang mangyari sa inyo. Kababaril lang ho kay Pepe Oyson sa isang police van. Mabuti pa samahan ko kayo.”
And so he did ride with me in the van. Erap stayed long at the NBI, drove away the media who wanted to capture and feast on my image being fingerprinted and photographed as a criminal. He did not leave until he was sure I was safe.
I could never forget this most sincere gesture of concern and kindness which Erap readily extended to me during one of my darkest days, when many of my so-called friends chose to keep their distance from me.
I cannot claim to know everything about President Erap or to know him as keenly and intimately as perhaps, Senator Lacson does. While I have known him for a long time, I became intimately close to him only fairly recently.
This was around the time when many who he thought were his true friends either turned against him or abandoned him. On the other hand, those who despised him from the beginning, for he did not belong to the self-righteous elitist segments of this society, were relentless in their efforts to humiliate him and oust him from Malacanang fast and quick.
Joseph Ejercito Estrada is by no means a perfect man. He has his own flaws, just like all of us. To be honest, I believe some of his best traits may have been the very ones that eventually worked against him. For one, he was too trusting. It is good to trust but, perhaps, he trusted the wrong people. He was carefree in his ways, but this otherwise desirable trait did not serve him well because he occupied no less than the highest position in the land.
He was generous with his friends, but his generosity was exploited by those who were never really his friends in the first place. In many ways, he had a simplistic view of things and he did not grasp the complications and nuances of his conduct in relation to the sensitivity of his position as President of the land.
He was also very transparent, many times, to a fault. Against all well-meaning advice, he openly showed his anger and he answered questions from the media frankly and candidly. His show of indignation, whether righteous or out of his sensitive nature, earned him the ire of the powerful and influential media.
But that is Erap. What you see is what you get. He was unpretentious and spontaneous with his reactions. Being the colorful character that he is, he made good copy for the press, but he was, for the most part, harshly criticized and ridiculed.
President Erap and I have had our own differences in the past.
May mga panahon na alam kong nagdamdam siya sa akin. Ito ay nangyari noong nasa Kongreso ako at nagtalumpati laban sa nakita kong pagmamalabis ng Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) na noo’y pinamumunuan niya habang siya ay Pangalawang Pangulo.
Sumama ang loob niya dahil bilang kaibigan, inasahan niya na bago sana ako nagsalita at nag-akusa, sana ay binigyan ko muna siya ng pagkakataong magpaliwanag. Naunawaan ko ito. At nang ako ay humingi ng paumanhin, agad niya akong pinatawad.
When he won the Presidential elections in 1998, before he was formally proclaimed, Erap, with all magnanimity and humility, sought me out at the Intercontinental Hotel to shake my hand and even asked me for some advice.
I was deeply humbled by his gesture because I ran against him and I was one of those who publicly belittled his capacity to lead the country.
At one time during his presidency, I phoned President Erap to tell him that I was going to investigate what I believed were anomalies in connection with the bidding of LRT 2. He immediately said: “Ok lang sa akin yon Manong, ‘wag mo akong intindihin. Imbestigahan mo para malaman natin kung may kalokohan talaga dyan.”
Indeed, Erap never stopped Congress from investigating anomalies under his administration. In fact, he immediately and willingly told his own wife, the First Lady, Dra. Luisa Ejercito, to face a Senate investigation during his Presidency.
More than that, President Erap did not use the vast resources available to him as President to thwart his own impeachment by Congress in 2000. He readily submitted himself to the legal process of undergoing an impeachment trial. But his political enemies and leaders of the so-called “civil society” were in a hurry remove him from office, never mind his basic right to a fair and complete trial on the facts and the merits of the charges filed against him.
The humiliation that the former President and his family have suffered are unimaginable for any ordinary person to endure.
From the time his erstwhile so-called “friend,” Luis “Chavit” Singson accused him of taking bribes from “jueteng” operations, to the aborted impeachment trial which led to EDSA DOS, his illegal and forced ouster from the Presidency, and eventually, his arrest and detention, he and his family were publicly pilloried and shamed.
In EDSA DOS, Erap and we, the Senators who voted against the opening of the “second envelope” because the bank accounts were not included in the charges Congress elevated to the Senate, were subjected to a vicious hate campaign, derisively caricatured, publicly cursed, demonized, and called names: “mandarambong,” “political prostitutes”, mga bayaran,” “The Craven Eleven”, and many unprintable labels.
It did not help that the media, and sadly, the leadership of the Catholic Church were active parisans and participants in the effort to force Erap to resign.
Lahat ng pagmumura at pag-aalipusta na ibinato kay Pangulong Estrada at sa amin ay naganap at pinayagan ng mga pastor, mga madre at kaparian doon mismo sa paanan ng malaking imahe ng Birheng Maria sa EDSA.
I know that many people had advised President Erap to forcibly disperse the crowd in EDSA and not to allow it to swell, after all, they had no permit to occupy that road. But Erap refused. He said it was their right to protest for as long as the gathering remained peaceful, and he did not want anyone to get hurt.
President Erap pressed for the opening of the controversial “second envelope” after the prosecutors walked out of the impeachment trial. He asked his lawyers to withdraw their objection to its opening in order to vindicate him from speculations that he was hiding something there. But the prosecution refused to go back. They had another plan.
After he was already removed from office and when the envelope was finally opened by then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, together with the late Senator Renato Cayetano and in full view of the media, they found that the subject bank account was indeed owned by Mr. Jaime Dichavez.
But this was drowned in the midst of the euphoria over Erap’s forced removal from office. Much later, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, even testified at Erap’s trial for Plunder at the Sandiganbayan to attest to such findings.
Erap could have used the outrage of the throngs of his supporters among the masses who gathered and refused to leave EDSA to protest his arrest as an opportunity to force the administration to free him from jail. This huge gathering was, of course, ignored by the media and it received little coverage, if any at all.
But in a meeting that I, his wife Dra. Loi, and his leaders had at the Robinson’s Galleria Hotel on the eve of May 1, 2001, President Erap called and asked me and Dra. Loi to dissuade the agitated crowd from marching to Malacanang. He worried that the people would get hurt and lives may be lost because violence would surely erupt.
Despite Dra. Loi’s pleas and a taped voice message from President Erap played to the angry crowd asking them not to march, they still did. Scores of his supporters were seriously wounded and hurt, and I understand a number of them died as they were rightly met by anti-riot policemen and snipers in Malacanang. Indeed, Erap never wanted the lives of his loyal supporters to be placed in danger just for his sake.
On May 1, 2001, barely two weeks before the elections, I was arrested and accused of leading the assault against the Palace despite the fact that I was the first to discourage and caution the crowd about marching from EDSA. Again, the Supreme Court was my only refuge, and I was ordered released after 6 days of detention at Camp Crame. I lost the Senatorial race in 2001 which came on the heels of EDSA DOS, Erap’s ouster and arrest, and EDSA TRES.
Despite all the betrayal, the public humiliation, the most vicious and meanest attacks upon his person, name and honor, and the long years of confinement and restriction on his freedom, what I saw in Erap was an inexhaustible capacity for kindness and forgiveness.
Many times when I would visit him under detention, I would be surprised by the people who I found there in his company, enjoying his generosity, hospitality, and even seeking his help and support. I just quietly said to myself: “How can this man bring himself up to even feed these people who betrayed his trust and those who were instrumental in his painful and illegal ouster?”
For a man who they portrayed as a scoundrel who lacked “education”, he never ceased to amaze me with his genuine gentlemanly and respectful ways, his willingness to forgive, and his kind-heartedness. He chose not to nurture any ill-will. He may have been angry at these people at some point, and understandably so. But when they came to him, he received them not only with all due respect, but with an openness to embrace them back as friends. He set aside his bitterness, and he was not quick to judge nor condemn them.
When Secretary Angelo Reyes, who turned against him as his AFP Chief of Staff, was up for confirmation at the Commission on Appointments, I asked Erap how he would like me to vote. I was then in the CA representing the PMP. He said: “Manong, pumunta dito sa ‘kin, nakikiusap, kasama ho yung asawa niya. Siguro tulungan mo na lang.”
In fact, even those who impeached him and voted against him during the trial were welcomed by Erap as friends. Among them were Senator Manny Villar, Senator Nene Pimentel, Senator Serge Osmena, and Senator Loren Legarda.
More than that, I know that leaders of the so-called “civil society” who he knew were at EDSA DOS have turned to him and relied on his help and support for their protest actions against this present Administration. Today, I see these same faces parading themselves as leaders and supporters of the candidacy of my dear colleague, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, III. Evidently, they have no more use for Erap.
When I came to be labeled and regarded as an “Administration ally,” Erap told me that many of his friends were intriguing against me. But he said: “Manong, sa ‘kin wala lahat yon. Basta hindi tayo magkakahiwalay.”
In 2007, I resigned as Chairman of the PMP because I did not want to be a burden to him, having been labeled as “pro-Gloria”, and because I could not support some people who were in his Senatorial slate. I said, however, that I will not leave the Party and that I will just remain as a member. President Erap understood but said to me: “Basta Manong, magkasama pa rin tayo.”
I was surprised when one day, after the elections, he called my Chief of Staff to ask me to take over his position as Chairman Emeritus of the PMP. She reasoned with him saying that the position of Chairman Emeritus can only rightfully be occupied by him, being its founder. Add to that, there would surely be some negative reaction from his hardcore supporters.
But he insisted and proceeded to give this humble representation the distinct honor of being named Chairman Emeritus of no less than the party that draws its existence and strength from the persona of ERAP-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
Perhaps, our friendship has remained unshaken because of our mutual openness and candor. I never kept any secret from him about my association with President Arroyo’s administration and my support for her policies whenever in my judgment, such policies and actions were correct. But just like President Erap’s administration, I have openly criticized, questioned, and gone against some of President Arroyo’s economic and political policies and directions.
Only a few weeks after Mrs. Arroyo took over the presidency, a mutual friend arranged a brief meeting between us. I told her that I will help her if she needed my help for the sake of the country. But I said to her: “Huwag mo lang sana ako palayuin kay Erap. Mas kailangan niya ang kaibigan ngayon.”
To her credit, she said she was not asking that of me at all. In subsequent meetings with President Arroyo, where I would plead for more freedom and leniency for the detained former President, she would invariably say that when she was his Vice President, Erap was very kind and never did anything wrong to her.
Even the late President Cory Aquino who led those who asked for Erap to step down, must have seen something good in him, at least enough for her to later acknowledge that she was sorry. I believe she said: “Patawarin sana niya ako…lahat naman tayo ay may pagkakamali.”
Do I regret what I did and whatever I have suffered because of my support for President Erap? Am I ashamed of my association with this man?
Pinagsisisihan ko ba na ako ay sumama kay Erap sa kanyang laban para sa hustisya? Ikinahihiya ko ba siya, itatatwa, o iiwanan bilang isang kaibigan?
HINDING HINDI PO. Para sa akin, isang malaking karangalan na ako ay maituring niya bilang isang malapit na kaibigan. Si Erap ay naging isang tunay na kaibigan sa akin, sa hirap at ginhawa.
Mr. President, the Floor of this Chamber is always available for each one of us to freely express our thoughts and ideas, our beliefs, and our advocacies. It offers us the extraordinary privilege of parliamentary immunity, but that privilege carries with it the equally extraordinary duty for us to wield and exercise it with a sense of responsibly. I am sure Senator Lacson takes this privilege and responsibility very seriously.
The Gentleman from Cavite has thrown some very grave and serious accusations against former President Joseph Estrada. And I know he is not yet finished.
If his accusations should amount to the imputation of crimes for which Erap has not yet been charged nor tried, then I sincerely hope that the good Senator, sooner than later, will see to it that the proper case or even cases, will be immediately filed in our courts, where the former President can be given a fair, impartial, and equal opportunity to defend himself.
President Estrada has been charged, tried and convicted for the crime of Plunder. In his more than six years of detention, I am sure that he had much time to contemplate and reflect on his fate and the events that led to his rise and fall from power. I have seen him at his darkest moments, and I have witnessed his agony, his sad realizations, his resolve and tenacity to vindicate his name, his strong faith in God, and his resilience.
Very few people are blessed with the kind of trials and vindication Erap has been fortunate to have experienced in his own lifetime. As he now contemplates and discerns whether he should once again seek the presidency, he is in a rare and unique position to use the lessons he has learned the hard and painful way for the higher good of the nation and our people.
With full conviction, I have made a commitment to my dear friend, the former President, that should he decide to run for President despite the formidable legal and political obstacles that await him, I will be with him. Sasamahan ko siya. If, however, he should decide otherwise, I am very certain that Erap will remain as a major force in shaping the political life and history of our country.
Sa aking pagsama kay Pangulong Erap sa iba’t ibang sulok ng kapuluan, nakita ko ang tunay na pagmamahal at pagtangkilik sa kanya ng masang Pilipino. Hindi niya kailangang magbayad upang umakit ng atensiyon at paghanga. Sa wari ko, ito’y hindi dahil siya ay isang sikat na artista lamang. Sa katauhan ni Erap, nakikita ng maralitang Pilipino ang isang pinuno na nauunawaan ang kanilang kalagayan at tunay na kumakalinga sa kanila.
Nang umuwi sa bansa si Cesar Mancao, at si Senador Lacson ay simulang maharap sa pagbibintang na siya ay may kinalaman sa pagpatay kina Ginoong Salvador “Bubby” Dacer at kay Emmanuel Corbito, taos-puso kong ipinahiwatig sa kanya ang aking pagkabahala at pag-aalala sa kanyang hinaharap na suliranin at sa maari niyang sapitin.
Ngayon, si Erap naman ang idinidiin at itinuturo na siyang tunay na may kagagawan ng karumal-dumal na mga pagpaslang na ito.
Ipagpaumanhin sana ni Senador Lacson na sa aking pagkakakilala kay Erap, hindi ako handang kagyat lang maniwala na and Dating Pangulo ay isang mamamatay-tao. Maraming nang ipinukol na kasalanan at batikos sa kanya, subali’t mahirap at masakit sa akin ang isipin na siya ay isang pusakal. Sapagka’t kung tunay ngang wala siyang konsensiyang kumitil ng buhay, marami akong alam na mga taong higit na mabigat ang kasalanan sa kanya na siguro ay matagal nang nawala sa mundong ito.
Kung may ebidensiyang magpapatunay na si Pangulong Estrada ay nagkasala, at ito ay mapagtitibay sa ilalim ng batas at sa harap ng hukom, hindi ko siya kailanman pagtatakpan. Subali’t hindi ko siya iiwanan bilang kaibigan sa panibagong pagsubok na ito.
Sa kabila ng mga malubhang akusasyon na kanyang hinaharap ngayon, umaasa ako na maipagtatanggol ni Pangulong Erap ang kanyang sarili, ang kanyang pangalan at ang kanyang dangal, hindi lamang bilang isang tao, ngunit higit sa lahat, bilang isang pinuno na pinagkakatiwalaan, dinadakila at minamahal ng masang Pilipino.
Maraming salamat po.
(Source: Office of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile)