The tomb of Joseph Ejercito Estrada

CTALK - Cito Beltran -
He kept it for last.

No pun intended, but that’s exactly what President Joseph Estrada did.

I had gone to Tanay to join the birthday celebration of his eldest daughter Tetchie. It had been six months since we saw each other and considering he was one of the very few people who personally called to check why I dropped out from the face of Philippine TV, I owed it to him to visit and return a kind and descent gesture one does not expect from a former president.

I arrived an hour early not realizing how much the road to Tanay had improved in six months. I remember how 2 years ago the road was a typical provincial highway lacking hazard markers, goats acting as speed bumps, and a sprinkling of individuals carrying M-14 rifles to remind you that this is no longer a regular PNP coverage area.

Out here specially in the dark, your chances of being stopped by the Philippine Army vs the NPA could be nine out of ten. In any case the road had vastly improved with an over abundance of hazard and directional arrows.

I guess that’s what happens when Cabinet members past and present use the road regularly on their pilgrimages or picnics. Add a few patrol units and we could call it the third expressway.

With an hour to kill, I sat around what we call the multi-purpose hall. It’s a good sized lanai overlooking a lagoon full of Erap’s trustworthy feathered friends who haven’t flown away even when the weather turns bad.

Several pairs of black swans given by his friends, along with an assortment of ducks of all shapes and sizes, and pink flamingos, feathered and not plastic!

The pond is full of carps and tilapia that have multiplied to the point of a possible massive fish kill due to congestion. But that’s not enough excuse for Erap to sanction an ihaw-ihaw event or grill out. One of these days I’ll just bring a fishing rod and dispense with my version of population control.

Six months absence and no one to talk to brings back a flood of memories from a time when we regularly met for our Wednesday or Friday Bible class. They were very interesting times.

A group that ranged from ten to 20 would pile up on two Hi-Ace vans and would go drive an hour and a half up the hills of Tanay, an hour and a half of study and a quick dinner, then an hour and a half back to Pasig.

And in those sessions we dealt with topics such as God’s justice, forgiveness for your enemy, all of the Ten Commandments, yes we talked about adultery even. They were not easy moments, facing a president stripped not only of his office but of his honor, accused by people who had just as much skeletons and sins.

But it was not just about Erap’s spiritual concerns, we also dealt with the pain, the anger, the confusion of innocent family members and friends victimized by the politics and sins of those who claimed to be morally correct. For us who stood on EDSA the second time around, it was a time to exorcise our demons.

Sadly even the work of God is not sacred for people bent on political vendetta. To this day my blood boils at the faceless, nameless agents of hell who would block an activity that has brought more personal and political healing upon the Erap camp. They would insult God to punish a man.

So here I was back to square one. Wondering if we would ever get the Bible study started again. As if on cue Erap arrives on his golf kart not a symbol of affluence but a necessity in the hilly terrain of his retirement farm turned prison.

Nearing 70, plus a pair of below par knees and an above average waist, Erap would be crazy not to use a golf cart. I jump into the back seat and learn we were going for a tour of the section of the farm I haven’t seen before.

First stop the Erap "life" museum.

The mini museum is a two-story building reminiscent of California structures reflecting Erap’s fascination for President Ronald Reagan and his ranch. One enters and walks into a flow of murals, things, photos of different times, places and significant events in the life of Erap, including a replica of the president’s office.

Beginning from "family": a brief story of his parents and siblings, to "actor": drop out by choice, Erap tries his hand at about 140 movies, several Famas Awards, first into the hall of fame, and of course his twin like career with FPJ.

To "mayor": insulted and called as nothing but a two bit actor, being dropped by his political allies to winning and becoming the best mayor of San Juan and then forced out by the EDSA 1 victors.

To "senator": one of only two to survive the yellow massacre, moving on to become one of the "magnificent senators" to cause the removal of US bases.

To "crime fighting vice president": responsible for eliminating rogue cops, kidnap for ransom gangs, and sending even friends to jail.

To "president": beginning with the largest number of votes, refused to play ball with backers, subjected to the injustice of a failed impeachment, booted out again by EDSA victors.

"To accused, to prisoner"…

One assumes the story ends there. In a dark narrow "blackwalled" passage way with windows where backlit articles of allegations and accusations are framed as if screaming out the injustice Erap feels every passing day.

His love ones quickly tell you… its not finished yet. The second life to Erap has yet to start.

After spending a good 30 minutes giving me a personal tour of his "life museum", we take the elevator to the second floor where he shows me his modest youth training center designed to provide a place for eventual lessons in leadership training and governance. Something he learned on the job, not in class.

We then move on to his presidential library, where Erap suggests we cool off with some snacks and drinks. I never set foot in the presidential office, so I figured this would be the closest replica in the Philippines. It sure felt very presidential, with photos of every president encircling the top end of the room and just the right furniture.

After the break he led me to the outer court of the library to take in the view. It seemed like a mini version of places in Washington DC. Stone columns, flagstones, and a sandstone wall… two walls that formed a reverse "V" … joining at the base of the first tree on the property some 40 years ago.

And there off centered on the right wall, a black granite tomb. The tomb of Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

I turned to him and asked… "why?"

He answered… "why not?"

As a young man he challenged tradition and followed his heart. Later he would prove people wrong, he mocked the powers that be, and now here, in his prison of dreams, he smiles unbowed, unbroken to men, but surrendered to God.











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