IT’S TRUE -- the Council on Philippine Affairs (COPA), which I was a member of and chaired until November 2003, hosted a dinner to celebrate EDSA People Power II at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in February 2001. It is also true that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was a speaker at that affair and narrated her several meetings with military and police officers to encourage them to withdraw support for the Estrada regime. It is for this that former president Joseph Estrada now cites her for conspiracy to oust him.
But it is not true that COPA members had been allies to Madame Arroyo in the crusade against corruption and the departure of Joseph Estrada from office. Yes, COPA worked for the resignation of Joseph Estrada but COPA did not work for Arroyo to take over the presidency. COPA was aligned with those other players of EDSA II who felt that there would be no reform if Arroyo replaced Estrada as president.
Because of our previous working relationship with Arroyo, we in COPA felt that a different leadership would ensure meaningful reforms. Most of us in COPA worked with Arroyo in 1996 and 1997, when she threw her hat into the 1998 presidential race. The Arroyo we had hoped would derail Estrada’s presidential bid proved to be a big disappointment, prompting most of us to leave her camp in 1997 after we realized that she did not embody the ideals of EDSA People Power. History, of course, has proved us right.
COPA-Gloria make-or-break meeting
Ten days before she assumed the presidency, we in COPA met with Arroyo --at her request -- on Jan. 11, 2001. Things were coming to a head and Arroyo was bothered by the “Resign all” clamor of most of the players of EDSA People Power II. The civil society group that was willing to accept Arroyo as the beneficiary of EDSA II was the noisy but marginal Kompil II
Kompil II was quite adept in generating publicity mileage but it was the Labor groups, notably the late Popoy Lagman’s Sanlakas union members, who really provided the warm bodies in our rallies. Kompil II became the convenient pro-Gloria civil society group to counter the majority of EDSA II players who do not harbor any illusions about Arroyo’s promise of reform. It was not surprising therefore to see Kompil II members riding high in choice positions in the Arroyo regime. In fact, a good number of them found themselves involved in the CODE-NGO brouhaha.
Gloria asked for that Jan. 11, 2001 meeting to try to mend fences and win over the “Resign all” advocates. Since it was COPA that welded the forces from the Left and the Right, it seemed logical for her to try to reach them through us. Gloria was accompanied to the meeting by her brother Buboy Macapagal, someone COPA could be comfortable with, and her best friend (and also my wife’s cousin) Cynthia Carrion.
Being COPA chairman, I was asked to speak for our group -- to verbalize our continued position to pursue “Resign all.” If COPA members were salivating to fill up government positions, as some pro-Gloria quarters were suggesting, that would have been the time and place to ask for it. That’s IF we wanted it.
But we did not want positions in government. What we wanted was to really see a new dawn for our country and people. EDSA People Power I was not able to fulfill its promise, not because of a lack of commitment on Cory Aquino’s part, but largely due to the let-down that resulted from succeeding administrations.
While Fidel V. Ramos effected improvement in the economy, he also opened the doors for a full comeback of traditional politics led by Joe de Venecia and his rainbow coalition. To many folks, this coalition was also a grouping made up of opportunists. Joseph Estrada, on the other hand, completed the return of the Marcos gang. When Estrada took over, Lucio Tan, the Marcoses and Danding Cojuangco again felt at home and cozy in the new environment.
After the usual pleasantries, I lost no time putting across to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the COPA position. She was seated across the table from me, in the middle of a long table. Eyeball to eyeball, I told her that we could not take it in our hearts to support her. I cited three reasons we could not support her, as follows:
1. We were only too familiar with her style of management and we didn’t think her management was what the country needed.
We know only too well that Gloria does not operate on the basis of principles that she believes in but according to the dictates of what is expedient.
2. We could not trust her character.
As Joseph Estrada and George W. Bush have experienced for themselves, a Gloria commitment is as good as a pact written with vanishing ink.
Riding with Estrada when the going was good, Gloria jumped ship when she saw the presidency was hers for the taking. Going with Bush in the Iraq War, she reversed position when Angelo de la Cruz was taken hostage and the nation demanded that she bring him back alive.
3. Neither did trust her husband Mike, with whom some of us in COPA, before we became COPA in 1998, had problems. Many of those who left Gloria’s camp in 1997 did so because of distrust surrounding Mike Arroyo’s suspicions of disloyalty against one of their prominent members. I left Gloria’s camp earlier than they did because I felt I had better things to do than promote someone who I did not think deserves to be president.
To make a long story short, the only agreements reached that night were that we would go our separate ways insofar as who would lead the country after Estrada and that we in COPA would continue to clamor for Estrada to resign.
Gloria eventually became president because of two people -- Cory Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin -- who opted to follow the constitutional line of succession.
The late Cardinal was the Sponsor, Spiritual Guide and Honorary Chairman of COPA. COPA was formally launched in Cardinal Sin’s Palace. We had no choice but to subordinate ourselves to his decision.
Had Cory and the Cardinal not opted for constitutional succession, the police and military would not have agreed to it, either. The representatives of the military and the police who liaised with us during the making of EDSA II also aspired for meaningful reforms. This aspiration carries over to this day, as evidenced by the many incidents that have threatened the Arroyo regime.
Nothing best proves the character of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo than what she is now doing to Cory Aquino.
Actually, Arroyo’s greater motivation for touting her involvement in those meetings with military and police officers that led to their withdrawal of support for the Estrada regime was to eclipse the role that COPA played in all these. She knew we were not with her so she wanted to send the signal to all those who participated from the ranks of the police and the military that COPA is not in her good graces.
But more than that -- she wanted to marginalize the role of COPA after EDSA II. In those heady days after Arroyo became president, many thought that COPA was the primus inter pares group in the new regime.
Many who cooperated with us were passing themselves off as COPA members. Little did they realize that by passing themselves off as COPA members, they were killing their own chances of getting a post in the Arroyo regime!
By March 2001, after this reality dawned on the minds of the wannabe COPA members, only true-blue COPA members would hence admit to being one. The COPA poseurs were also the same people who provided Malacañang the convenient excuse that we were sour grapes because of positions in her government that we were not given.
The fact is that those who were asking for positions were not really COPA members. Those of us who were really COPA members never wanted any job in Gloria’s regime. How can we even think of applying for one after that meeting of Jan. 11, 2001?
You may email William M. Esposo at email@example.com.