MANILA, Philippines - Not too long ago, she was the president and he was held without bail in the same hospital for plunder.
Yesterday, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada set aside past conflicts with the woman who replaced him as president, visiting Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her detention room at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City to wish her a merry Christmas.
Arroyo laughed at Estrada’s jailbird jokes. They traded “thank yous,” talked about recent calamities, health, and a little politics when they met for an hour at Arroyo’s room along with some close friends starting at around 3 p.m.
Former President Fidel Ramos also met with Arroyo last month at the VMMC, said lawyer Ferdinand Topacio.
“I believe in justice but I also believe in compassion, especially that she’s a woman,” Estrada told reporters staked out at the main gate of the VMMC.
“After all the disasters happening around the country, this Christmas is about compassion. So I decided to also extend some compassion to GMA. I pity her,” he said.
Topacio, who arranged the meeting, said Estrada joked about the VMMC room where Arroyo was detained.
Estrada was incarcerated in the same room when Arroyo was president.
“I have memories here,” Topacio quoted Estrada as saying. “Everybody in the room laughed, it was all good-natured ribbing.”
“She’s (Arroyo) sickly and moved slowly but she tried very hard to be a gracious host and served merienda (snacks) because she has manners,” Topacio said.
Topacio said Estrada and Arroyo briefly talked about politics, particularly on the political scene ahead of the 2016 elections. “After all, they are also political leaders,” he said.
Topacio said he was not around when Ramos visited Arroyo.
A source, however, revealed Arroyo and Ramos, who have not been on speaking terms with each other in the past five years, mended fences during that meeting.
The source said Ramos, accompanied by former Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon, was sponsoring a golf tournament at the VMMC when they saw Arroyo outside the door of her room enjoying the sun.
After teeing off at hole no. 12, Ramos asked Esperon to see whether he could chat with Arroyo. When he got the nod, the former president walked over 150 meters to the door and shook hands with Arroyo.
“They talked for nearly an hour and talked about so many things,” the source said.
“Why are they (Aquino administration) keeping you here with your situation? They should let you go (on bail),” the source quoted Ramos as saying, referring to Arroyo’s degenerative bone disease afflicting her spine.
The source said Ramos and Arroyo even posed for a picture, making a thumbs-up sign.
“They have reconciled personally and politically,” the source said.
Estrada, for his part, visited Arroyo together with his daughter Jackie Ejercito-Lopez, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, and his staff Icasiano Gutierrez.
Also present during the visit was Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel, her sister Cielo Macapagal-Salgado, her chief of staff Raul Lambino, and The STAR columnist Alex Magno.
Topacio said he was with colleague Larry Gadon when they made the visit.
He said Arroyo congratulated Estrada for the good work he has been doing in Manila.
Estrada in turn told Arroyo that he supports her request to be allowed to spend Christmas with her family.
Estrada said he was disturbed upon seeing her losing so much weight since he last saw her a few years ago.
Arroyo is facing a non-bailable offense of plunder before the Sandiganbayan. Her lawyers criticized the restrictions imposed on her, including disallowing her husband Mike from making conjugal visits.
Her lawyers have petitioned more than once to allow the former president to post bail due to what they said was the weak evidence against her.
Estrada was ousted from office in 2001 in the second people power uprising that installed Arroyo. The event was described as a power grab by Estrada’s camp.
Estrada was convicted of plunder but was later given pardon by Arroyo.
When asked about Arroyo’s wearing an orange dress, which is Estrada’s signature color, he said, “Orange is a unity color. Cory has yellow, Marcos had red, when you combine them, you get orange.”
Estrada said he also took the opportunity to thank Arroyo for visiting him when he was still detained and granting his requests for knee surgery abroad and to visit his ailing mother.