GMA: My road to EDSA Dos

Too often, history has different versions. With many, both friends and foes, all too eager to give their own footnotes to her dramatic ascent to power, President Arroyo gives STAR associate editor Joanne Rae Ramirez a virtual blow-by-blow account of the crucial days that led to her oath-taking at the Our Lady of EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong City.

In her first detailed retelling of the days that led to her assumption of office, Mrs. Arroyo shares the hopes and fears, the heart-wrenching dilemmas and the quick decisions she had to make as she claimed her destiny.

Let me start with midnight of Jan. 18. I had two sets of visitors – Gen. (Hermogenes) Ebdane and Gen. (Leo) Alvez between 11:30 and 2 a.m. I wanted to be sure they were not going to arrive at the same time. Alvez arrived at 11:30 p.m. and stayed until 1 a.m. He was accompanied by Nani Braganza. He told me, I have a message from (AFP chief) Gen. Angie Reyes. He wants to know the mecha-nics of the timing. What’s this, I asked. Withdrawal of support? Baka junta. No, Reyes was for constitutio-nal succession, Alvez assured me.

This to me was the turning point.

I said to Alvez, the mechanics you know better than me. But the timing must be tomorrow (Jan. 19).

Why Jan. 19? Because I had been talking to five groups. One was going to move Saturday, one on Sunday. But those who were going to move were going to break the chain of command. Then Reyes would have been in a dilemma. Will he go with them or will he be duty-bound to stop them? But if it is the chain of command that moves, then the chain is united. If it is the timing, therefore, Reyes must be ahead of everybody else.

Alvez said, when is the best time to go to EDSA? When will the crowd thicken? Nani Braganza said about 3:30 p.m. So he said he would meet Reyes between 2 and 2:30 p.m.

I had a lunch date with Cardinal Sin and Cory. At the same time, I had a call from Bert Romulo and Rene de Villa. Urgent daw. They wanted to meet with me at Linden Suites very briefly. I was on my way to Linden when Nani Braganza said "I must see you now!"

At Linden, Rene, Bert and I had a debate about where I should be, whether at EDSA or Mendiola. They were urging me to go to Mendiola.

But I decided on EDSA because Gen. (Edgardo) Espinosa’s group was going to march out from Camp Aguinaldo.
‘It must be done’
While we were meeting, Nani sent me a message that Reyes was already at a safehouse at Corinthian with him. In the middle of the sentence of Rene de Villa, I stood up and said "You are talking about my exercising my leadership. Well, I am exercising it now. I am going to Corinthian to meet with General Reyes!"

I went with Nani to the house of Eddie Jose. When I arrived, Angie was at the dining room. You could see the pain in his face. He was not happy about the decision he was about to make.

Angie and I were classmates a long time ago when we were taking up our master’s in economics. He told me, what I am about to do is difficult but it must be done. And so let’s do it, he said.

Angie said, "I am not asking for anything for myself. I am only asking for good governance." And I promised him, "You will get that, Angie."

And then he talked about a dignified exit for Joseph Estrada. And that he wishes Erap would not be persecuted. I said I will try to make it as dignified as possible.

I remember we were at a rectangular table and he was seated to the right of the kabisera. We were a foot apart, to quote a line made popular by Clarissa Ocampo.

Angie told me he had advanced our meeting because he was already being called to the Palace. He did not know why. Maybe they had found out. He could be arrested. So he had to do it now.

But the crowd at EDSA at the time was only 7,000. We needed a bigger crowd. I needed the Cardinal and Tita Cory to go to EDSA and call for a crowd. Angie stood up and went to the garden to call Estrada. From the dining room, I could see him pacing up and down as he was talking on his cellular phone.
Estrada asks for 5-7 days
When his long conversation with Estrada was over, Angie went back to the dining room. Angie Reyes was very pained. Erap was asking for five to seven days before Angie makes the defection and that he (Erap) can fix it. I said, "I don’t think he can fix it Angie, it’s got to be done now."

At that point Angie broke out into a smile and said, "We’ve gone a long way since our masters in economics. Okay, let’s do it. Can I call my major service commanders?"

He called them. After a while they came. I left them first at the dining room. I could see them all debating. They said that if they were going to do it anyway, they should not wait five to seven days. They should do it now. They all decided to act together. They all talked to me individually. They will not split the Armed Forces. They were not expecting any special favors except good governance.

At this point, they had not started to call me Mrs. President yet.

And then we had a statement from Erap that he had fired Reyes and was putting Gen. Jose Calimlim as AFP chief. So Alvez was quite impatient. He said if Erap had fired Reyes and knew where we were, they could very well bomb us.

So we left in a convoy, and after a while Reyes was not anymore behind me. So I asked, what happened? It turned out Angie got left behind because he was talking to (Defense Secretary) Orly Mercado on the phone. At the same time, FVR was meeting our car. He got down and got inside my car. We went back and waited for Orly.

And then Orly arrived and then they went to this other room. They were taking soooo long and Alvez was so impatient already.

Someone said, Calimlim is coming. And we said "Oh my, God he’s going to arrest us!"

Alvez and Angie talked. You know they are very close because they were bunkmates at the Philippine Military Academy. You know bunkmates are closer than brothers. They even call themselves "wifey."

So we said, "Let’s go, let’s go!"

Then we went to EDSA.

The five to seven days would be similar to a transition of a president who just got elected and was just waiting for oathtaking, like the 60 days between election and oath-taking under normal circumstances, but cut down to five days during which I would already be the head of the AFP and the PNP.

Estrada would still stay in the Palace while I would form my Cabinet so by the end of the five days, it would be like the president was elected and ready to take the oath. Except that immediately the AFP would be under me from the first moment. But negotiations were really going back and forth and finally they came to a verbal agreement.

Ed Angara would write down their version and my side would write down their version of the agreement, sleep and then next day go back to compare the two versions and negotiate on that. I slept for a couple of hours. I was too exhausted to write an inaugural speech, besides I thought I had five days.
‘Don’t take Estrada’s offer’
And then the next day, Jan. 20, I had a meeting with Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory. But in the morning I was awakened by one of my lawyers about the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Art Panganiban. That Chief Justice Hilario Davide said that if Erap does not resign by noon, he will be constrained to administer my oath.

I thought, what about the five days? I thought it was an option so I said good, I can take my oath any time from noon. The five days is great, I was assured, I was telling myself.

I had meeting with Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory. FVR was supposed to be there but he couldn’t make it because apparently Erap was still trying to make some moves within the military to reverse the defection. FVR had to do his own countermoves.

Sin and Cory asked me: What are your plans? I said, Erap asked for five days. Cory said, "Take my advice, I’ve been there. Don’t accept the five days."

I said, "But there was some kind of agreement last night between the Estrada camp and my camp and I am not used to breaking agreements. "
‘I will take my oath at noon’
And then at that moment I got a call from Rene de Villa. He said I want to let you know our talks have broken down. Because Ed Angara reversed everything he said last night. And they even want you to write a letter praising Estrada. In short, the talks had broken down.

So I decided, I’ll take the Davide option. When I put down the phone, I turned to Tita Cory, and said "the Lord just answered my prayers and he is agreeing with you. I will take my oath today at noon time."

The Cardinal asked, "Where will you take your oath?" I said EDSA, of course. The justices were concerned that we should not announce anything until it actually happens. But by that time everybody was already announcing it. I went back to Linden. Bobby Romulo wanted to talk to me. I even consulted him about what I would wear and I decided on that gray suit. It was 11 a.m. and I had not yet begun to write my inaugural speech.

So as he was talking, I went to the computer, opened the file of the speech I gave when I resigned from the Estrada Cabinet and made some changes. And then I pressed, "Save as."

Soon, I was ready. In a few minutes, I was going to be president and I asked God to take care of my success.

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