MANILA - Twelve years after leaving Malacañang, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shared stories about her predecessor and successors, in her recently published memoir, “Deus Ex Machina.”
She opened up about her complicated but friendly relationship with former president Joseph Estrada, whom she replaced as chief executive in 2001.
Her once stratospheric popularity went downhill after she broke ranks with Estrada when the latter was being impeached after former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson exposed how the country’s 13th president supposedly benefitted from kickbacks.
Looking back on their tempestuous relationship, Arroyo only now has the kindest of words for the man she unseated from the Presidency.
Estrada, being a local film icon who became long time mayor of San Juan—where Arroyo lived in her younger years—before rising to senator, vice-president and then president—was wildly popular.
Though they won in 1998 from different tickets—she as the candidate of the outgoing Ramos Administration and he from the opposition, Estrada made her his Secretary of Social Welfare and Development.
After EDSA Dos, Estrada was arrested and eventually convicted for the charges raised by Singson.
Several years later, Arroyo would be arrested by her successor Noynoy Aquino for supposedly plundering state lottery funds.
In page 8, Arroyo narrates: “I can hardly imagine anything worse than what fate had in store for our political relationship. He took me into his Cabinet, but I unseated him in Edsa Dos. His supporters tried to unseat me in Edsa Tres. Then I had him in detention for nearly 7 years. Yet when it was my turn to be in detention he visited me on December 22, 2013.”
“President Erap said I should have supported him in the 2010 elections and he could have won if I got Iglesia ni Cristo to support him, then I would not have been suffering persecution and incarceration by the administration of President Noynoy Aquino," she said in page 9.
“Ever the genuinely friendly person that he is—tunay or true, as many who know him characterize him, we now enjoy a relationship where he can jovially tease me about my role in EDSA Dos as he did when we were together during a recent State of the Nation Address of President Duterte," she added.
The former president wrote in page 111 that Estrada even tried to stop her from resigning from his Cabinet after then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin issued a pastoral letter asking Estrada to resign.
“As child of the Church, and constitutional successor, that was my cue, I called President Estrada to inform him of my resignation. We had a conversation that was extremely difficult for me, because the president tried to dissuade me, and he had always been kind and considerate towards me.”
THE AQUINOS: THE RELATIONSHIP THAT NEVER RECOVERED
While her political relationship with Estrada ultimately had a happy ending, her relationship with Cory and Noynoy Aquino never recovered.
But it really had friendly roots. Cory even served as the confirmation sponsor of her son Dato.
In the run up to EDSA Dos, the country’s first woman president became a mentor to the country’s eventual second female president.
“Former President Cory together with Cardinal Sin became my twin pillars of strength. She was a true mentor, for she had gone through it all before. When Cardinal Sin called on President Estrada to resign, I advised her before parting ways with Erap," she said.
"She was with me all the way through thick and thin. She was with me at our low point... at our rally on Ayala avenue when our exhausted forces could only muster a few hundred hardy souls and all seemed lost. She always reassured me Gloria you will become president," Arroyo said.
Arroyo added that the democracy icon continued to be a mentor in the early part of her administration.
That came to a head at the height of the Hello Garci Scandal, when Cory visited Gloria in Malacañang to tell her that she would call on her to resign the next day.
In Page 74, Arroyo gives us her point of view of how it all came crashing down on July 7, 2005.
“Former President Cory Aquino accompanied by a handful of senior church officials visited me…. Cory Aquino spoke and gave notice that the next day she would deliver a speech asking me to make the supreme sacrifice," she wrote.
"I recalled she had used the same term to call for President Erap’s resignation. At least she had the delicadeza to come to tell me face to face rather than just stab me in the back," she added.
"Looking back at that meeting I now wonder what would have happened if Cardinal Sin were still alive, whether he would have consented to such a meeting.”
In several instances in her memoir, Arroyo recalled how she won all the 12 cases Noynoy’s administration filed against her, cases which she called political persecution by his subordinates.
“I knew that my prolonged detention was political persecution, perhaps misguided, as some of those persecuting me were now being accused of even more serious possible crimes, such as homicide related to Mamasapano, the presidential DAP, and Dengvaxia,” Arroyo wrote in Page 210
Arroyo recalled that when they saw each other during a National Security Council convened by President Rodrigo Duterte, Noynoy visibly avoided shaking her hand.
“Up to the time of his passing, I prayed that President Noynoy and I, who both had responsibilities to the nation as fellow former presidents, might in this spirit one day also rise above past differences,“ Arroyo wrote in page 211.
DIGONG AND SARA: GLORIA’S SECOND COMING
While her friendship with the Aquinos was never reclaimed, Arroyo’s political stock recovered under PNoy's successor—the culmination of a relationship that began several years prior.
Arroyo met a first-time Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte during her first stint in government at the Department of Trade and Industry.
When she became President, she tapped him to be her law and order adviser. When Duterte ran for the presidency in 2016, he said he would release her because the evidence against her was weak.
When she regained her freedom, she was already on her final congressional term, and she was gearing up to support Duterte’s legislative agenda.
But as history would show, Arroyo did not stay an ordinary congressman for long—thanks largely to another presidential scion—Duterte’s eldest daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
While Sara was widely credited for making Arroyo Speaker, it is only in her memoirs that Arroyo confirmed this publicly.
“Sara asked if I was willing to be Speaker of the House. I was surprised and remarked that the incumbent speaker enjoyed the trust and confidence of her father,“ Arroyo wrote in page 213.
“The night before the July 23, 2018 SONA day, Mayor Sara went to Medy’s house and decided to really call the congressmen so everything happened so fast," she said.
"But many congressmen said that the sentiment for change in the house leadership was long brewing. Only 2 of maybe a hundred were in favor of the status quo. Medy called me up to say that all they expected of me was not to say no," Arroyo wrote in page 214.
For Arroyo, becoming Speaker was her vindication.
"I am arguably the most maligned woman in our history, certainly in our contemporary times, where digital communications and social media have made opinion making and dissemination almost universal. Thus to someone like me, redemption is precious.”
Arroyo’s office is expected to announce soon how the public may avail of copies of her book which also chronicles her young life, her marriage to Mike Arroyo, and her musings and learnings from her years in the annals of Philippine political power.