If convicted plunderer Joseph “Erap” Estrada succeeds in winning re-election to the presidency in the May 2010 elections, the Filipino people can blame President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former president Cory Aquino for this woeful occurrence, Arroyo for granting him an executive clemency on October 24, 2007 and Aquino for her public apology to him on December 22, 2008.
Estrada was convicted in September of 2007 for plunder after a six year trial which pitted career government prosecutors against a “Dream Team” of the best lawyers Estrada could hire. After extracting an oral promise from Estrada that he would never run for public office again, President Arroyo naively pardoned him one month before he was to begin serving a life sentence in Bilibid prison.
But of course, a public promise is not worth the paper it isn’t written on and Estrada was off campaigning for the 2010 presidency as soon as he was on his feet. The only barrier standing in his quest for the presidency was the effect his conviction would have on public opinion.
This barrier amy have evaporated this Christmas when People Power icon Cory Aquino, speaking after Estrada's turn at former House Speaker Jose de Venecia's book launching, said: "I am one of those who plead guilty for the 2001 [People Power uprising]. Lahat naman tayo nagkakamali. Patawarin mo na lang ako. [We all make mistakes. Please forgive me.]"
Estrada saw Cory’s apology as a “vindication” if not a blessing and as the “best Christmas gift” he had received. So what if he plundered the Philippine treasury of billions to take care of himself and his cabal of mistresses? So what if he is found to have ordered the hits on Bubby Dacer, Emmanuel Corbito and Edwin Bentain? We all make mistakes. St. Cory said so.
Cory’s apology to Erap was the banner headline of the Philippine newspapers and the Fil-Am media as well. The fallout for this apology was immediate. In its December 26 editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer described Cory’s apology as "a betrayal of the highest aspirations of the democracy she helped restore in 1986, and which she remains the famous icon of".
Cory’s spokesperson, Deedee Siytangco, sought to contain the damage to Cory’s reputation by clarifying that the remark was just said in jest. "But”, Sytangco added, “she's not taking it back." Hello?
Cory was not taking it back because she had made the same point before. In October 2005, after publicly calling on President Arroyo to resign because of election fraud, she said she regretted joining the people power protest against Estrada. "I thought GMA would be a better alternative to Estrada."
As the Inquirer editorial pointed out: “Well, so did we and millions of other Filipinos. But Edsa II was never about Arroyo. She was the main beneficiary because she had been elected to the vice presidency in 1998; in other words, she was the constitutional successor. But it was never about her.
Cory does have something to deeply regret, but that is not Edsa II,” Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros wrote, “Edsa II was righteous, Edsa II was resplendent, Edsa II had the moral backing of a people—which made it a true expression of People Power. The last having been made possible by the morality play or political telenovela that unfolded before their eyes, which was the impeachment trial. What Cory has to regret, and regret deeply and mournfully, is not the People Power of January 2001 but the elections of May 2004.
”Erap’s apologists were quick to defend Cory’s apology. “Her politics is something she cannot detach from her Christian morality”, wrote one. But Christian morality teaches forgiveness after contrition and penitence and Erap has neither been contrite nor penitent about any of the crim es he committed and was convicted for.
When Cory was elected president in 1986, I was ecstatic. I have been an active member of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) since its founding and I currently serve as its president. I even chaired the Presidential Banquet Committee in August of 1986 that hosted a gala banquet at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for Pres. Aquino which drew more than 4,500 guests.
My disillusionment with Cory began when we (NAM) sent the top FilAm leader of the farmworkers movement, Philip Vera-Cruz, to the Philippines to meet her in Malacanang in 1986. Philip had not been back in the Philippines since he left for the United States in 1928 and it was a big thrill for him to meet Cory.
When they met, Philip expressed his concern to Cory about the problem of toxic pesticides which are banned in the US but which are in widespread use in the Philippines endangering Filipino farmworkers. Cory listened, or at least appeared to, Philip later related to us, but took no notes and asked no questions. She was just humoring an old man, he sighed. After he was done, Cory shook his hand and appeared to him to be telling her aide “next” (referring to the next visitor waiting to see her). In one ear, out the other.
I also join the complaint of one who sent this email after reading about Cory’s apology: “At the start of her administration, most of those who fought against Marcos and (for the cause of EDSA 1 that catapulted her to the presidency) were among those her administration victimized through her surrogates who rewarded the Marcos loyalists in our government department with high positions and those who fought against Marcos were eased out. What kind of judgment is that?”
As William Esposo, one of her erstwhile supporters, asked in the title of his Philippine Star column, “Oh Cory, how could you?”