Cory to Erap: Sorry, EDSA II a mistake

- Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano -

Former President Corazon Aquino yesterday apologized to former President Joseph Estrada for helping civil society oust him in January 2001, at the height of the so-called EDSA II, even if the former actor had been convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan.

“I am surprised, you really are a good speaker, Erap. I feel guilty,” she told the crowd during the launching of the “Global Filipino” book of former Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr., an authorized biography written by US journalist Brett Decker, at The Podium in Mandaluyong City.

“All of us make mistakes. Just forgive me,” she said.

Some of those who participated in people power II were dismayed by the apology.

Aquino, the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, a majority of Estrada’s Cabinet members who deserted him, and civil society were instrumental in his ouster.

During his speech, Estrada recalled the time when he was “unceremoniously unseated” as president, saying a group of elite businessmen and several “power-hungry” politicians succeeded in toppling him.

Estrada was placed under house arrest in June 2001, when charges were filed at the anti-graft court. He was kept under detention at his 15-hectare resort in Tanay, Rizal.

In September 2007, the special division of the Sandiganbayan – of which two female justices have been promoted to the Supreme Court – found Estrada guilty of plunder, a conviction that was largely based on bank documents and the testimony of his estranged friend, former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson.

A month later, however, President Arroyo granted him pardon.

Estrada and Aquino, who had been critical of him during his incumbency, are now good friends, borne out of their common disgust of President Arroyo, who they want ousted for alleged large-scale corruption.

For his part, Estrada said that Aquino has vindicated him and her apology was the greatest Christmas gift that he received this year.

“That was the best Christmas gift that I received this year, coming from the most trusted President of the country. I feel vindicated,” Estrada said.

Why apologize?

Philippine STAR columnist Billy Esposo, in a text message to Mrs. Aquino’s son Sen. Noynoy Aquino, asked, “Other Coryistas and I who took part in EDSA 1 were stunned at Cory’s apology to Erap. What brought this about? GMA’s sins do not absolve Erap’s. We feel betrayed.”

Three former Presidents – Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Estrada – dropped by yesterday’s launching of the “Global Filipino” book of De Venecia, which was also attended by bigwigs of politics and showbiz.

Unlike Estrada, the country’s first woman President made it clear, however, that she had no intention of attending were it not for the former Speaker’s wife Gina.

Aquino said the Pangasinan congressman was “very lucky” to have a wife like Gina.  

“I’m here principally because of my good friend Gina. How could I say no to Gina? You’re very lucky, Joe. I think there are many of us here because of Gina. You are very lucky to have a better half like her,” she said.

Nevertheless, Aquino told the jampacked crowd that she made herself available to thank De Venecia for finally seeing the light, for severing his ties with President Arroyo, whom the former House leader is now accusing of corruption.

“I am here because I want to show Joe my gratitude for joining us now,” she added. “Thank you Joe for coming out at last. So, I say it’s better late than never. I hope all of us would unite.”

Estrada, meantime, thanked De Venecia, who was booted out of office last February after his son Joey exposed the $329-million ZTE anomaly, for being “gentleman and statesman” enough to concede defeat in the 1998 presidential polls.

Reading the P995 book of De Venecia was a headache for Estrada.

“The title of the book itself is already very long. I had a headache reading it. But I suspect Malacañang had a bigger headache,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

“I would say that JDV is a man of conviction just like me. The only difference is that I was convicted (of plunder). So my advice to him is wait for your turn, if he wants to be a man of certified conviction,” Estrada said, chuckling.

The actor-turned-president likewise drew parallelisms between his and De Venecia’s checkered political careers, citing as example his ouster from power in January 2001 and De Venecia’s ouster seven years later as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“My political career is connected with JDV, whether he likes it or not. I’m impressed with his amazing journey as a politician,” Estrada said. He also cited as examples their feats during the 1972 martial law and “today’s martial law.”

Estrada again made everybody laugh when he said De Venecia’s loss in the 1998 presidential polls was a “blessing in disguise” for him. “Had he won, he might have been the one impeached!”

“Today, I give JDV my full and absolute pardon. This is my exercise of executive privilege,” he said, urging the former Speaker to write maybe a second or third book. “I hope you will not hold back so that you can be called a man of conviction.”

Among the other VIPs who dropped by were former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and former Senate Presidents Ernesto Maceda and Franklin Drilon.

No offer made

Estrada denied yesterday that he had asked Sen. Loren Legarda to be his running mate in the 2010 presidential elections.

Estrada was reacting to a statement of Legarda that she is rejecting an Erap-Loren tandem for 2010.

“I have not even declared that I will run for president, how can I say that I will run with Loren as my running mate?” Estrada said.

Another paper had quoted Estrada as saying during the Christmas party hosted by his son, Sen. Jose Jinggoy Estrada, that he would pick Legarda as his running mate should he decide to run for president.

Estrada clarified that he only said that Legarda would make a good vice president, but he did not say that she would be his running mate.

“There is no doubt that Sen. Legarda has the qualifications to be not only a good vice president but even a good president. Who knows, if she tops the surveys and if she maintains her performance as a top senator, I might even endorse her for president in 2010. But I never said she would be my running mate,” Estrada said. – With Jose Rodel Clapano

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