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Rising from personal hurts

A few hours earlier last Wednesday night before he went to greet the Manila Mayor on his 80th birthday, President Rodrigo Duterte poked a naughty joke to ex-president Joseph Estrada before the latter’s former colleagues in the showbiz industry gathered at the grand launch of Cine Lokal at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

Adept at making voice impersonations, President Duterte told his audience of actors, film makers, government officials, and media: "Si Erap naghihintay na ang buang, birthday niya ngayon eh. Sabi niya punta ka na ha. Tapos sabi, 'Wala 'yan, si Duterte, wala 'yan, low class.” (Erap, that crazy man who celebrates his birthday today – told me I would attend (his birthday party). But before, he said ‘Duterte is nothing but low class.’” Making up a retort to Erap, President Duterte wisecracked: “Ano ha? Balik kita sa kulungan! (What now? I'll send you back to jail!)” Naturally, it drew loud guffaws from his audience.

He was, of course, referring to Estrada’s detention for almost six years and subsequent conviction in 2007 on plunder charges by the Sandiganbayan. But Estrada was later granted executive pardon by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Actually, the two former Mayors who subsequently became president have forged deeper friendship. This, especially after Mayor Estrada became godfather to President Duterte’s latest grandson, Stonefish Carpio, last March. The President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sarah Duterte-Carpio got Mayor Estrada as one of the godparents of her son’s baptism held in Davao City.

President Duterte much earlier also attended the birthday bash of Mrs. Arroyo at her house in La Vista, Quezon City last April 5. It was the first time since 2012 that Mrs. Arroyo was able to celebrate her birthday after her release from hospital detention. While Mrs. Arroyo was president for nine years, the former Mayor of Davao City was one of her very close advisers.

Just last Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld with finality its ruling last year that found her innocent on plunder charges for the alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds filed against her by the succeeding administration of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III. During the presidential campaign period, then candidate Davao City Mayor declared the evidence against Mrs. Arroyo was weak as far as he sees it based from his long years of being a state prosecutor.

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Past hurts forgotten and forgiven, President Duterte joined Mayor Estrada during his birthday reception.

He sat with Mayor Estrada along with the latter’s wife, former First Lady and later as Senator, Loi Ejercito at the oversized presidential round table in the Fiesta Pavillion of the Manila Hotel. The powerhouse guests also included Mrs. Arroyo with her husband, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former vice president Jejomar Binay, and former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada who was granted six-hour furlough by the Sandiganbayan to attend his father’s birthday.

Also in attendance were Senators Manny Pacquiao, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Miguel Zubiri, and Richard Gordon.

No show at the grand celebration were former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and P-Noy who both sent “regrets” to official invitations delivered by Manila City Hall. Although it was the  administration of P-Noy that sent his son Jinggoy to PNP-CIDG detention on alleged mis-use of pork-barrel funds, Mayor Estrada obviously does not hold any grudge also against P-Noy.

Estrada has publicly forgiven all those behind the EDSA-2 forces, including FVR who supported his ouster from the presidency in January, 2001 when then Vice President Arroyo took over from him.

Estrada ran but lost for president again in the May, 2010 election. He placed a close second behind then Senator Aquino during the country’s first-ever automated elections that used the precint count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Thus, Erap once called P-Noy as “hocus-PCOS” president amid allegations of rigged machines.

Several of P-Noy’s former Cabinet members though attended Estrada’s birthday reception, namely, ex-Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, ex-Public Works Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson, ex-MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino, and ex-presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas.  

Actually, it was President Duterte who first pulled the feat of bringing together FVR, Arroyo, Estrada, and P-Noy seated in one room together in an official meeting at Malacanang Palace. This was during the first ever meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) held on July 28 last year. As former presidents of the country, the four state leaders are ex officio members of the NSC, the highest policy-making body on national security matters.

Although the four past presidents have been politically at odds with one another, President Duterte gathered them all to discuss the country’s territorial dispute with China. At that time, the Philippines had just secured the favorable ruling by the international arbitral body over our country’s maritime territorial boundary in the disputed South China Sea against Beijing’s nine-dash-line claims.

At the end of the NSC meeting, the four of them stood behind President Duterte’s decision not to press for the time being the ruling of the arbitral body in favor of the Philippines.

It was the administration of P-Noy who initiated the Philippine move to elevate the South China Sea dispute before the international arbitral body. This fact was casually mentioned yesterday by Mrs.Arroyo when she joined to help launch her former lawyer Estelito Mendoza’s Primer – The Ocean Space or the Maritime Area of the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo believes the artificial islands that China built as its military zone in the West Philippine Sea can only be the consequence of P-Noy’s having earned Beijing’s wrath for bringing in third parties to the dispute. Mrs. Arroyo repeatedly told reporters and capped her remarks with naughty smile: “Built during the previous administration!”

As far as President Duterte’s handling the West Philippine Sea problems he inherited from his immediate predecessor, Mrs. Arroyo refused to be drawn into giving unsolicited advice. “He (Duterte) knows what he’s doing,” she pointed out.

Hopefully, this national security concern would become a unifying worry for all of the four past presidents than their personal hurts to rally behind President Duterte in pushing the Philippine interest.

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