One year ago, former President Estrada walked a free man after six and a half-years under house arrest. Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak met with Estrada in his residence Wednesday. Aries Rufo and Purple Romero talked to him about his past and his future.
It’s been year since you've been pardoned.
I’m happy that I can be with our people again. I missed them for 6 and ½ years. My life has always been with the people: as a movie actor, a public official, mayor, senator, vice president, president, always with the people. All of a sudden I was arrested, I was confined all alone, all my cellphones were confiscated, and I was not allowed to talk to the media, or to friends. I was only allowed to talk with my close relatives. So it was really a relief when I was released.
Before you were granted pardon, you said, “I would not accept presidential pardon.”
There was a series of negotiations by Sec. Ronnie Puno. They insisted that I write it down, so that I get pardoned. And I would not.
So what happened?
So there was a compromise. My lawyer would write the letter. I know that if I file a motion for reconsideration, I would still lose. If I elevate it to the Supreme Court, I will lose. There was no way out for me. The Chief justice, he penned the decision.... (The SC ruled that Estrada had constructively resigned).
What made you finally decide to accept the presidential pardon?
First, my mother is seriously ill, she’s now living on life support. So I want to be at her bedside. And of course I miss the people. I could do more outside, than if I’m inside.
The condition that you shouldn’t run for any public office, is it binding?
No, no. It says "restoring my civil and political rights." The most important is “restoring”
What is your reservation in running for president (in 2010)? Is it legal, constitutional?
I consulted my legal staff, legal luminaries, two former chief justices, it’s constitutional (for me to run).
Who are your closest advisers right now?
My lawyers, Chief Justice (Andres) Narvasa, Estelito Mendoza, some political advisers.
So why the hesitation?
Maybe if I could see somebody who could really put into work what I had in mind, service to the masses, why not give it to him?
But if you become president again, got voted by the people again, you might get your full vindication.
By supporting the candidate in the elections, that could be total vindication.
Are you more comfortable as kingmaker or as the king?
Well, of course I would be more comfortable if I’m doing it. But you know, in presidency, I believe in destiny. Nobody believed that a college dropout could be president.
You said if the opposition, cannot unite, you might run.
Definitely, if they cannot unite, I’ll consider running.
Are you referring to Villar, Lacson, Legarda. Is Roxas part of them?
Yes, he’s still in the opposition. Including Chiz Escudero, including Mayor (Jejomar) Binay.
The poor have showed their support for you four times. When they elected you as president, when they protested in EDSA, when they voted for Loi (former senator Luisa Ejercito) and when they voted for Jinggoy. Do you still need a re-affirmation?
If possible, I want total vindication.
And how would that be?
That, I don’t know. It’s destiny. I’m praying hard.
You don’t feel you’ve gotten total vindication?
In the twilight of my life, I want to leave a legacy that I championed the cause of the masses. And I have not done that yet because my term was short-lived, 2 ½ years.
But do you see an opportunity?
Hopefully. Right now I’ve lived my life to the fullest. I’ve been a movie actor, a superstar, a mayor, one of the ten outstanding mayors, a senator, I was also voted as vice-president, president.
In 1986, during EDSA I, after being mayor for 17 years, I was removed. Then I was able to return as a senator.
2010 is just around the corner. That could be an opportunity.
I could not predict. I’m praying very hard to the Holy Spirit to guide me.
You’ve been removed twice. But the first time, you came back. Do you see yourself repeating history?
Only God only knows where my future lies.
Jinggoy has been following in your footsteps. Is the vice presidency the next agenda?
I don’t think so, I told him it’s not yet the right time. He will run against heavyweights. You don’t know if Chiz Escudero or Loren would step down.
Would you say Filipino voters right now are more intelligent, more discerning?
Yes. (He mentioned the election losses of actors Richard Gomez and Cesar Montano).
But Vilma Santos won.
That’s only local.
On betrayal and lessons learned
In those six years (under house arrest), you had time to reflect.
During the first six months, I had terrible feelings, why suddenly…there were people who betrayed me, who were telling all lies. They made me look like a criminal. So you know when you are alone, you feel so depressed.
What have you realized?
The voice of the people is the voice of God. The people express their voice through the ballots. And in the history of our presidential elections, I got the biggest margin of votes against my opponent.
Can you talk about betrayal and forgiveness?
When I was incarcerated, two years, three years, I did that. I prayed. And then I studied. I came across a book by Mahatma Gandhi. There’s a saying there – “The weak couldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
You realized there is salvation?
That’s right. All of a sudden, so many wanted to see me. Like for example, Mayor Lim, he was my secretary of the local government. He just asked permission to leave for a while to meet the police. He didn’t do that. He went straight to EDSA 2- and when he arrived Cory told him – “You’re too late.”
He went to me and asked forgiveness. I forgave him. After that he asked me if he could possibly be included in the Senate lineup of FPJ, which I did. I did not only forgive, I even helped him become senator.
You’ve been betrayed before.
I can see now who’s with me or not.
You can discern?
I’m gifted now.
Personally, what lesson did you learn (about EDSA 2)?
Well, sometimes, I want to blame myself. Maybe I should be more careful. For example, those people who were traitors to me. They were not close to me. When you become president, there are people who have agenda for themselves. Like Chavit. He’s not that close to me.
You were given the chance to leave the country but you chose to stay.
I was offered twice to leave the country. First, we met at the residence of Mrs. Chito Madrigal-Collantes at Forbes Park. The offer was I can live in the country of my choice, there will be no charges filed against me, and I can bring anything. On the condition that in writing, I will sign, I will write, that I resign as the president of the Republic of the Philippines. That was the condition. Twice I was offered. Twice I rejected it.
Was it your sole decision or were you advised by lawyers?
It was my sole decision. Nobody can advise me on that kind of issue. I told Sec. Nani Perez, I am innocent of all these charges. Second, I cannot leave the millions of Filipino people, especially the masses that voted and trusted me. I was born here, I grew up here, and I will die here. You can do anything you want. I will not leave this country. Those are my exact words.
After less than a month, I was arrested here. Over 3,000 policemen surrounded.... They made me look like an ordinary criminal. I was finger-printed, they got my mug shot.
What's the lesson of EDSA 2?
Not to be overconfident. Even in the impeachment, I still had a positive approval rating. I didn’t know that the civil society and the Church were already conspiring.
But my mind is still concentrated on how I can help the poor. So I put up this Rebolusyon Kontra Gutom, I got some donations from Taiwan.
Did you have time to write a book (while in Tanay)?
I’ve been reading the book of Reagan. I memorized Reagan’s inaugural speech: “The government is not the solution because the government is the problem. If the people make a peaceful revolution possible, they could make a violent revolution inevitable."
What book are you reading right now?
I must confess I don’t have time to read books right now. (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)