MANILA - Sen. Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III said he met with former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada over dinner Sunday night to discuss opposition unity, but admitted there was no agreement on who should give way.
Aquino declined to go into details, saying he had an agreement with Estrada that they would issue a joint statement.
He added that if he does issue his own statement, he might “inadvertently cause apprehension, misgivings…at lalong hindi maabot ang unity.”
“Ako I was very, very pleased and I think he was also pleased to have had that meeting,” said Aquino.
He said the meeting was held in Metro Manila, in a “neutral ground,” but he refused to disclose the location.
Others present at the meeting were Estrada's son Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, three of Aquino's sisters and two of his brother-in-laws. Aquino’s sister Viel was not present.
Aquino said the host was also present, but he did not name the person.
Among the topics discussed with the former president were "minor irritations," the possibility of having common candidates, as well as concerns about the automation of the 2010 elections.
“Maraming topics, very light ang atmosphere, Para sa akin, very productive,” said Aquino.
He said the meeting took 3 hours although this included dinner. The actual discussion took an hour.
“Maganda ang resulta ng pag-uusap namin kagabi, not on a personal basis but as far as the country is concerned,” he added.
Ondoy also discussed
He also said they discussed the current tragedy and the devastation caused by tropical storm “Ondoy”.
“Kahapon, ang focus iyong mga tutulungan dito sa pagsalanta ng Ondoy, at may palitan din kung saan na ba kayo,” said Aquino.
Both the Aquino and Estrada camps have launched their respective drives to provide relief assistance to the victims of the current tragedy.
The meeting was held upon the invitation of Estrada, who has previously said he would try to get presidential aspirants of the opposition to unite behind one candidate. Estrada has also said he would run if the opposition fails to unite behind one candidate.
Estrada had earlier talked with Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II before the latter withdrew his presidential bid in favor of Aquino.
Aquino said he accepted Estrada’s invitation so that he can personally listen to and discuss issues with the former president.
“Number 1, matagal-tagal na kaming hindi nakapag-usap. Ito iyong talagang first time na masinsinan iyong usapan. Iba na rin na marinig mo sa kabilang panig iyong kanyang pananaw. E di ang liwa-liwanag ng mga posisyon niyo sa bawat issue at meron kayong base ng pagkakasunduan. In that sense, para sa akin na-achieve lahat iyon,” said Aquino.
Committed to stay with opposition
Aquino said that he and Estrada reiterated their commitment to remain in the opposition camp.
“Ang pinagkasunduan, iyong reaffirmation muna that we are both solidly in the opposition camp, that we are against the current governance, the need to change that governance,” said Aquino.
He said that the meeting actually strengthened the opposition.
"Sa akin, maliwanag nagkakaisa sa landas na dapat patungunguhan, sa kilos na dapat gawin ngayon. At this point in time, doon sa courses of action parang me unity, me division of labor, me division of responsibility,” he said.
He also rejected the idea that ranks of the opposition would continue to split up. “I don't think so. That is just the wishful thinking of the administration,” said the senator.
“Nadadagdagan ang unity ng opposition. Ang issue na lang diyan, kung complete o partial,” he said.
Common candidates discussed
When asked who would run as the opposition’s standard-bearer or who would withdraw, Aquino sid this was not even discussed.
Aquino said they did not discuss ground rules for their unity talks. “Na-discuss ba iyon? Parang wala namang nag-iisip ng below the belt sa aming dalawa. I don't recall na kinailangan pang pag-usapan iyon."
He said they started talks on possible common candidates and even a common slate.
“Paano iyong ibang pwesto, senatorial [bets] for instance…May initial dialogue on that kagabi. Konti lang sinabi ko sa kanya, ang sinabi niya isa na ‘welcome ba sa grupo niyo? Sino iyon?,” he said.
Aquino said that there was a long discussion on issues concerning the automation of the 2010 polls.
He said both of them have apprehensions on the process of voting come election time should the automation of polls be implemented.
“'Andoon iyong idea na gaano kabilis ba makakaboto ang isang tao…Yung mga brining-up: teachers, ilan na ang na-train or hindi pa nasimulang i-train; [tapos] sila magte-train ng mga botante pag nasa Board of Election Inspector sila. Gaano karami pa ba ang time para lahat ng botante maturuan ng proseso…Paano mo titignan ang proseso kung hindi maliwanag ang proseso,” Aquino said.
He also said they exchanged information and ideas on the issue of the possibility of a “failure of elections.”
The senator said “minor irritations” between both their camps were also raised.
When asked what these were, he replied: “‘Iyong mga comments from other people who don't want us to come to terms, we worked on that also.”
“Nailabas iyong minor irritants instead na mag-fester,” added Aquino, without disclosing details.
More meetings to follow
Aquino said the meeting with the former president was "open-ended" and would most likely be followed by other sessions.
“Walang fixed date pero may usapan kami na magkakaroon ng next meeting or even ‘yung authorized representatives,” he added.
Aquino said the meeting generated positive results..
“There are a lot of scenarios pero para sa akin, instead of drawing apart, we drew closer and hopefully the process will continue,” he said. “At this point in time, padikit.” With a report from Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News