Former President Joseph Estrada holds the distinction of being the first Filipino president to be impeached and successfully ousted from office – not by the impeachment court but by People Power. Erap was one of the guests at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. The others were Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the spokesmen of the prosecution and defense panels at the Corona impeachment trial: lawyers Aristotle Banuan for the prosecution, and Tranquil Salvador for the defense, and Harry Roque as a neutral observer.
I will start with what Erap said and move to the other guests speaking their minds on the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in a succeeding column.
Erap was asked to compare his experiences during his impeachment trial and later as a prisoner and what is happening now to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and impeached Chief Justice Corona.
“They are both fortunate. They are both being given due process. I was not. GMA is detained in a presidential suite of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. I was later confined in the same room, but in the beginning I was confined with other prisoners in a cell at Camp Crame. I was fingerprinted and mug shots were taken in the glare of media cameras. My pictures and television footage of me being fingerprinted like an ordinary criminal were shown and printed in media. GMA was spared all that humiliation.
“Later, I was transferred to a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and still later, to another military camp in Tanay, Rizal.
“In the case of Corona, he is being given all his rights to due process by the Senate impeachment court, has an army of the best lawyers in the country defending him.
“I was not given due process. My impeachment trial was cut short when the prosecutors walked out after the senators voted not to open the second envelope which they suspected to contain incriminating evidence against me. Presiding Officer Hilario Davide should have ordered them to return and finish the trial or he should have dismissed the case against me for failure to prosecute. He did no such thing. When the second envelope was opened later, it did not contain any evidence against me at all.
“I was ousted from Malacañang not by the impeachment court but by a mob.”
Why did you leave Malacañang? Why did you not fight back? Erap was asked.
“There would have been bloodshed. And the people who would have died would have been the masses, not the elite of society who conspired against me,” he replied.
The former President believes the elite of civil society, who could not accept that an actor like him, not a member of the elite like them, was president. “So they ganged up on me,” he said.
Asked who these “elite” were, he named them as Jaime Cardinal Sin and the Church, the businessmen “who were rebuffed when they asked for favors” from him, and “the rich and perfumed members of high society.”
Asked to name names, Erap started with the Lopez family, then owners of Meralco. “During my term, I did not allow any increase in electric rates. They took that against me, but I was only looking after the welfare of the people. Now look at Meralco, it increases rates so often, we cannot keep track of them.”
“The Ayalas,” Erap shot back. “They were one of the water concessionaires. They asked me to be more liberal with the rules on them. I refused for the sake of the people. Look what happened to me.”
What about Cardinal Sin?
“He sent the students and nuns out to the streets to demonstrate against me. They were the vanguard of People Power II.
“But if you read the comments of the foreign press and world leaders, People Power II was not the same as People Power I. The latter ousted a dictator, Marcos, but the former ousted a democratically elected president with the biggest majority ever in the history of the Philippines, me. That’s what foreign observers said, not me.”
“They could not find any constitutional justification to remove me,” Erap continued. “Under the Constitution, a president can be removed only by death, disability, sickness, impeachment, or resignation. I was very much alive, I was not disabled, I was not sick, my impeachment trial was not completed, and I had not resigned. So they tried to bribe me into leaving the country, to any country of my choice. No charges would be filed against me, provided I resigned in writing.
“Then Justice Secretary Hernani Perez made the offer to me twice, but I refused. ‘I will not leave my country,’ I said. ‘Kulungin nyo ko kung gusto nyo. Aba, kinulong nga ako. (You can imprison me if you like. Aba, they did imprison me.)
“Not having any written resignation from me, the Supreme Court under Davide then invented the term ‘constructive resignation’ against me, which means that although I had no written resignation, I was considered resigned.
“How did they get to that conclusion? From a diary of a third person which was not even presented in court. The justices got that from a newspaper story. In the diary, I was supposed to have said that I wanted to resign. The diary was not even written by the person to whom I supposedly said that, so that was hearsay.”
Did your lawyers not protest?
“No more chance. People Power II was already there,” Erap replied.
When GMA was sworn into office at Edsa, Davide said it was only as “acting president,” but when GMA took her oath of office, she said “as president.” “Nawala ang ‘acting’,” Erap snickered.
Davide didn’t make any correction. He was later rewarded with an appointment as ambassador to the United Nations, a position reserved for career diplomats.
The ponente of the Supreme Court decision that invented the “constructive resignation” term, Justice Reynato Puno, was himself rewarded with an appointment as chief justice by GMA.