Today, I make a debut of sorts as I begin an adventure as a column writer for the Iloilo City-based The News Today (TNT). In case you’re wondering what’s the connection, the newspaper’s publisher, Rommel Ynion, and the editor-in-chief and general manager, Junep Ocampo, were my former colleagues back in the day at The Philippine Star. My thanks go to them for giving me this opportunity. I write Mondays and my column runs under the name scīre licet, which is latin for “it is permitted to know.” Here’s my first piece as a columnist:
By Romel Regalado Bagares
I BARELY KNEW who he was then, but I saw him arrive at the Edsa Shrine a few hours before his principal – Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – did; it was one or two days away from Erap’s departure from Malacanang as a result of People Power II and I was then a junior law student in the evening program of the UP College of Law who also worked as a reporter for The Philippine Star.
A colleague of mine, who covered the Malacañang beat, instantly recognized him and approached him for an interview. It was from her that I learned that the guy in the suit who arrived with a business-like mien was the lawyer Renato C. Corona, chief of staff for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, then Vice President and ostensibly, Erap’s constitutional successor.
I joined the huddle to hear what he had to say.
In the interview, Corona told of an alleged plot by two leading politicians to set up a civilian-military junta in case Erap stepped down from power. These two politicians, he claimed, were fronting as Erap’s supporters. Obviously, the lawyer wasn’t for the plan either, because it would mean his principal would be upstaged in the resulting scheme of things.
But among my activist-friends gathered at the Serviam Hall above the Shrine, there had been a buzz of excitement. They were calling for a march of one million people to Malacañang (it wasn’t obvious then that they were exaggerating their power to rally citizens behind them).
More importantly, they talked of the declaration of a revolutionary government, a new beginning with a clean political slate. Even the law student in me – who had his fair share of law school readings of Supreme Court decisions on constitutional controversies occasioned by People Power I – was for it.
As I now look back to that historical moment nearly 11 years ago I tell myself I should have perhaps realized right away that Corona’s presence at the shrine signaled that the politicians were taking over.
True enough, before long the motley collection of civil society groups who led the call for Estrada’s ouster called a press conference, joined by politicians. At the head of the presser was the late senator Raul Roco, a man I greatly admired and whose botched candidacy for the presidency in 2004 I supported.
His announcement was met with disbelief by not a few faces at the Serviam Hall: no, we weren’t going to declare a revolutionary government; instead, we’re following the constitutional rule on succession.
That of course, meant that Erap would be replaced by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
How I could tell you that many civil society groups my reportage followed as they pressed for Erap’s resignation had no love lost for his constitutional successor either.
To them, her brand of politics was suspect (as one of them would say: someone who associated with Norberto Gonzales early on in her political career will always be suspect).
They weren’t sure she was any better than Erap.
And how they resented the idea that with Erap’s removal from power and the politicians’ successful maneuver towards constitutional succession, it’s as if they themselves were responsible for handing over to her the reins of political power!
No, it certainly wasn’t their intention. All that time, they took pains to distinguish between removing Erap from power and installing Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo in his stead.
Of course, Roco was eventually rewarded the education portfolio under the Arroyo administration. While he did well as education secretary, I’d like to think the announcement he made on the penultimate day of People Power II was something he regretted later on because four years after EDSA Dos, he would join calls for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation. That historic press conference certainly wasn’t his proudest moment.
But I didn’t see Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo or her favored chief of staff at Roco’s press conference.
But the next day, January 21, 2001, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo –a former President’s daughter – was sworn into office as the 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines.
I was standing only a few meters away when Chief Justice Hilario Davide administered her oath of office at the historic shrine.
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo promised a mouthful that day while the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Corazon Aquino looked on: a successful fight against poverty within the decade, the return of high moral standards in government and society, a shift from personality-driven to program-based politics, and a leadership by example.
In other words, exactly the kind of exalted things her nine-year hold on power went against.
“I feel God put me in this point of our history and there is hard work.. There is much to be done and the President’s job is one where one must work hard,” Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo said at one point in her inaugural speech.
The next day I shared by-lines with a colleague in our paper’s banner story: “A time to heal, a time to build.”
It certainly didn’t feel that way to me.
But I’m now pretty sure it did that day 11 years ago for a man named Renato C. Corona.
Here’s a link to the column as it appeared on TNT’s website.
(Disclosure: A former journalist and now a lawyer by profession, Mr. Bagares is part of a team of private lawyers tapped by the House of Representatives to assist its members tasked as prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.)