Estrada’s last days | Inquirer Opinion

Estrada’s last days

Far from being the man of the hour, President Joseph Estrada’s agriculture secretary, Edgardo Angara, was appointed executive secretary to fill the power vacuum resulting from Estrada’s impeachment.

The turbulent events that surrounded Estrada’s fall in January 2001 are recalled by Angara in his new biography by Jose Dalisay Jr. The book describes Estrada’s last 14 days in Malacañang after his administration collapsed following the resignations in the Cabinet and that of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, as well as withdrawals of support from the military, bureaucracy and big business, which triggered a civil uprising in the streets.


The biography states that Estrada was toppled by a military-backed street coup (popularly called “people power” and sometimes also called “mob rule”), as recalled by Angara who played a key role in the negotiations for the then president’s resignation. Estrada had been impeached on charges of corruption.

Angara recalls that Edsa II began on Jan. 17, 2001, with a dramatic scene at the Senate impeachment trial—a hair-thin majority of senator-judges voting down a motion to open a mysterious envelope believed to contain “mortally damaging” evidence against Estrada. In the resultant furor, then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. resigned, and nine opposition senators and 11 prosecutors walked out of the trial.


By the second day, thousands of protesters had massed around the Edsa Shrine. On the third day, the heads of the military and the police announced their withdrawal of support from the president. That afternoon, Estrada appeared on TV to declare that he was not resigning, although after a few hours he came on TV again to call for a snap election in May, in which he would not run.

When Estrada plucked Angara from the Department of Agriculture to serve as executive secretary, the then president ceded sweeping powers to him to manage the crisis of transition. He made Angara the most powerful executive secretary since Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon named Jorge Vargas his alter ego, or “Little President.” Angara presided over the turbulent transfer of power from Estrada to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the then vice president.

Arroyo took her oath of office as president at noon of Jan. 20. Subsequently, Estrada released a statement expressing grave doubt over the legality and constitutionality of Arroyo’s action, but saying at the same time that he was leaving Malacañang “for the sake of national reconciliation.” Later that day, Angara left Malacañang separately.

He served as executive secretary for exactly 14 days.

Recalling the last days of the Estrada presidency, Angara says: “During the siege of Malacañang, [Raul] Roco and [Fidel] Ramos called me, as did Rene de Villa. There was hardly a national leader who didn’t call me—Gloria [Arroyo] and Cory [Aquino] were among those who didn’t. I just assured these callers that I would try to keep the transition peaceful. My immediate concern was that there be no outbreak of violence because people were massing outside the Palace gates, while inside, the tanks were ready, as was the Presidential Security Group.”

Macel Fernandez recalls: “[Angara] kept reminding me and Dondon Bagatsing to take notes, which he would put into his diary.”

Angara continues: “I stayed in the Palace those last four days, along with my immediate staff—Macel, Mike Romero, and Dondon Bagatsing, who was my legislative liaison. Sometimes Johnny Ponce Enrile would come to Malacañang with his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, in the evening. He was one of the few that Erap continued to meet with… Later I learned that Enrile was convincing Erap to fly to Mindanao to hold fort there.”


On Jan. 19, Friday, Angara met with members of Arroyo’s camp to negotiate a peaceful transition They met him in the Budget Office in Malacañang. Estrada was around, but he left it to Angara to talk with them. Rene de Villa was the opposite chief negotiator. “[He] … asked the President to step down,” Angara recalls. “I said yes, he could be convinced to do that, but you’d have to guarantee his safety and protection. I also said that we wanted a guarantee against persecution—but not prosecution. We wanted to be sure that he would not be mobbed, that his properties would not be ransacked, as what happened with Marcos. I insisted that we should do things according to the rule of law, and as a lawyer, that was the basis for asking these terms.”

Angara relayed to Estrada what the group had discussed and what his enemies had demanded, which was resignation. “I was able to talk with Erap, but all I got from him were monosyllabic replies. He was glued to the TV…. I never asked Erap pointblank if he was willing to step down … but I never suggested that to him. I knew Erap wasn’t scared, but felt that he might have been concerned about being shamed. The negotiations broke off for the night, to be resumed the next day. But by that day, at noon, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was on TV, taking her oath. Events on the street had overtaken the Palace talks, rendering the matter moot.”

And then Angara told Estrada about De Villa’s call. “That’s when I sensed that he was prepared to leave Malacañang,” Angara said. “He was no longer resisting the idea, although he wasn’t resigning from office. I felt that he wanted to avoid violence. I can’t recall his exact words, but he indicated he was ready to go to Bahay Pangarap on the other side. He had clearly prepared for this. His maids were ready with his bags and belongings, and the barge was waiting.”

Angara continues: “As soon as he said he was ready to cross we started preparing to leave ourselves. When I saw his party about to board the barge I left for home, using the front gate. … I don’t recall his last words to me, as everyone was scurrying and hurrying.”

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: biography, Edgardo Angara, Edsa II, Joseph Estrada
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Fearless views on the news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.