MANILA - Just like those who betrayed him at the lowest moment of his abbreviated presidency, ousted President Joseph Estrada said he “has forgiven the Arroyo family” but warned he would seek justice for the late presidential bet Fernando Poe Jr. who was cheated in the 2004 race.
At the 2nd ANC Leadership Forum held Friday at the UP School of Economics, Estrada and three other presidential aspirants--Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Bayani Fernando, Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, and Senator Loren Legarda--were asked whether they would support an investigation and filing of corruption charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“I should learn how to forgive,” Estrada said, in response. Paraphrasing a quote by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, he added: “The weak cannot forgive; but forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
But he was quick to add that one “must seek justice for the people and of course, for a friend who was cheated in the "Hello Garci” scandal.
He was referring to the 2004 presidential race where the late Poe narrowly lost to Arroyo. Arroyo is believed to have cheated her way to the Palace by tapping election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to pad votes for her.
The four presidential wannabes parried questions ranging from their government platform to positions on the reproductive health bill, Charter change, Supreme Court appointment, questions on their wealth and personal assets, and basic qualifications in running the country.
Of the four, early survey frontrunner Estrada and Senator Legarda were tentative in their answers on whether they will contest the presidency, while Binay said he was willing to slide down to the vice-presidency “if the opposition picks Estrada.” Only Fernando was definite in declaring that he is aiming at the presidency.
Two other frontrunners, Vice-President Noli de Castro and Senator Manuel Villar, declined invitations to appear in the leadership forum held in UP Diliman.
The first ANC leadership forum was held at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was supposed to be part of the forum, announced in a taped segment that he was withdrawing from the presidential race.
The announcement almost upstaged Friday’s event.
Occupying the hot seat early on, Estrada played coy when asked directly by host Cheche Lazaro whether he is running. “Wala akong sinasabing ganun,” he said.
He added that he is trying his best “to unite the opposition,” and that the bitter lessons of the 2004 presidential race should be avoided this time.
It is believed that Poe would have won the 2004 presidential race had another opposition bet like Lacson backed out.
When confronted by Lazaro about a previous statement that his “30 years in politics is enough,” Estrada feigned ignorance.
“Sinabi ko ba yun?” he said, adding that “anybody can change his mind.”
Estrada tried to get out of the sticky situation by insisting that he has not categorically stated he is seeking another shot at the presidency. “Did I make categorical statement?”
Legarda, Binay plans
Legarda, while saying that she is ready to serve the country, was also vague on whether she is contesting the presidential race.
However, she said her governance would be anchored on four pillars: good governance; sustainable and equitable socio-economic development; environmental protection; and cultural renaissance.
Asked by host Ricky Carandang if she would be willing to step down to give way to an opposition bet who has better chances of winning, Legarda said she would, provided that that person “has the capability and [is one] who cares for the people.”
She said she will make a formal announcement about her political plans very soon.
Binay said he would slide down to being a vice-presidential bet “if that will be the decision of the (opposition) party.”
Binay is believed to be using the presidential post as leverage for a lower elective post, possibly vice-president, or a senatorial seat in the opposition ticket.
Not kiss of death
Fernando said he is actively lobbying to be the administration bet in the May 2010 polls, brushing aside suggestions that he has been left out in the running by the ruling party Lakas-Kampi.
“I do not feel left out,” Fernando said, referring to suggestions that the choice of the ruling party is a toss-up between de Castro and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.
Fernando also dismissed suggestions that running under the administration party would be a kiss of death.
He acknowledged that “good moves as well as wrong moves” have been undertaken by the Arroyo administration.
Asked what were the wrong moves, Fernando said it involved “wrong decisions, (but) not malicious.”
Unlike Estrada, whose context in going after President Arroyo’s misdeeds was to get justice for Poe, the three presidential wannabes said they would support moves to make Arroyo accountable for corruption.
Fernando said he will allow the courts to dispense justice, while Binay said “Arroyo will have to answer accusations on graft and corruption. "
Legarda said cases should be filed “since we’ve seen so many smoking guns.”
The wannabes also gave the audience a peek into how they are going to fuel the local economy.
Legarda said agricultural and rural development is the key while Binay said empowering the local governments with financial capability would do the trick.
Fernando said Filipinos should patronize local products to stimulate the economy.
Estrada, whose pro-poor program was deemed empty rhetoric during his shortened presidency from 1998 to January 2001, said agriculture, peace and order, and leveling the playing field would be the cornerstones of his economic plan.
On the question of support for the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill, only Fernando said he is in favor of only allowing natural means as a family planning method.
Legarda, Binay, and Estrada said they would pursue a policy of freedom of choice.
On Supreme Court appointments, the aspirants vowed to keep the integrity of the courts and its members intact.
Estrada claimed he never tried to use his position before to influence the courts and its members.
Fernando said he would seek the help of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in selecting the best for the judiciary while Legarda and Binay said they would appoint those with good work ethic.