(Photos by Tita C. Valderama, Video by Justine Espina Letargo)
by Tita C. Valderama
FORMER senator Ernesto Maceda called it a “people’s convention” but by all indications, it was a virtual proclamation rally for the Joseph Estrada – Jejomar Binay tandem in the May 2010 elections replete with all the hints of history repeating itself like a farce.
The emcees had to correct themselves a couple of times that the event was a ‘declaration,’ not a proclamation, rally for the candidacies of the president who was ousted for plunder and perjury, and the outgoing mayor of Makati City.
Thousands of people came to witness the event. Most of them wore color-coded shirts: orange, green, blue, and black. Some shirts had prints of names unfamiliar even to those wearing them.
While we were asking three women about the name printed on their blue shirt, a man butted in to say that those wearing the shirt were promised P200. The women gave him a look that could kill and the man fled in a jiffy.
Other shirts proclaimed other slogans: Erap Pa Rin, Erap-Binay, BINAY is our only VICE, Binay Pambansang Mayor, Erap-Binay Tapat sa Mahirap Samahang Matibay.
On the side streets near the church, the buses wore streamers indicating the places where the rallyists had come from.
After the rally, two women were overheard expressing thanks to a local leader for providing a vehicle to send them back home to a resettlement site in Bulacan. Hmm… indications of a ‘hakot’ crowd?
In front of a fast-food outlet near the plaza, people assembled according to the color of their shirts. One group was seen taking turns looking for their names on a sheet of paper, while another group waited for its ‘leader.’
A few vans parked a few meters away from the plaza with the Erap-Binay tarpaulin had food packs for those who cared to line up.
On stage, some entertainment personalities mostly past their prime lent celebrity pull. Lorna Tolentino, Nonoy Zuniga, Marco Sison, Rico J. Puno, Tiya Pusit, Bayani Agbayani, Marissa Sanchez and Dulce kept the crowd in the cramped venue with song numbers, and invariably urged support for the Estrada-Binay tandem.
The old, familiar faces came not just from showbiz but also from politics. They included those seemingly desperate to egg their way into the Erap-Binay ticket at the local level, as well as those on the other side of the political fence when Estrada was ousted and detained.
The big guns supposedly on the Erap-Binay senatorial slate were sorely missed, however: Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., and Agusan Rep. Rodolfo Plaza.
Instead, those who showed up were the other lesser candidates for senator, notably Erap’s son, incumbent Senate president pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose de Venecia III, and Koko Pimentel. Curiously, Pimentel has yet to make up his mind if he should just pursue his electoral protest in the 2007 senatorial elections or seek a new mandate.
De Venecia, who spoke in broken Tagalog, said he comes from posh Makati City and has not experienced being poor but that he felt more comfortable speaking before the impoverished mass of Tondo. If it was any measure of his comfort in the company of the poor, De Venecia kept his eyes closed mostly while he spoke, and at one point even referred to Binay as president.
Also on the ticket’s senatorial sate is Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, former Army Scout Rangers commander who is remains in detention for being one of the leaders of the botched Manila Peninsula siege in 2007.
Weeks earlier, Binay had declared that he was foregoing his bid for the presidency in reaction to the decision of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, only son of the late President Corazon Aquino, to run for president under the Liberal Party.
A long-time ally of the Aquinos, Binay began his family’s rule of the financial district of Makati in 1986 when then President Aquino designated him as the city’s officer in charge. In subsequent elections, Binay ran and won three consecutive terms as city mayor. After nine years in power, He was succeeded as mayor by his wife Elenita, and after three years, Binay ran, won and ruled Makati again. The Binays have a daughter who is serving as congressman and a son who is a city councilor in Makati.
On May 10, 2010, Binay said he would run as vice president under the PDP-Laban and serve as Estrada’s running mate.
Estrada is running under the Pwersa ng Masa, a political party he put up the first time he ran for president in 1998. His decision to join the race has been seen as a test to the Constitutional provision prohibiting a president from seeking a second term.
To be sure, the ousted president remains popular in most parts of the country, particularly in poor and rural communities. His movie image as a defender of the masses has endured, despite his own admission and a bounty of reports by the PCIJ and other journalists that he leads a lavish lifestyle, keeps multiple partners, and is given to drink and gambling.
At the Tondo event, Estrada showed he could work the crowd still. On and off, he diverted from a prepared speech flashed on a teleprompter and peppered his delivery with punchy retorts that though retold multiple times already still drew laughter from the crowd. For instance, he referred to Dr. Luisa Ejercito as his “one and only wife.”
Again, he said the Arroyo administration serve him shabby treatment but that despite the experience, he could look straight into the eye of these people. And as if on cue, he removed his eyeglasses, looked at the people below the stage and remarked how he looks good to this day.
His son Jinggoy has risen to the post of Senate president pro tempore, a post Estrada said he had not assumed while serving as senator. Nonetheless, he said Jinggoy has not surpassed him in looks.
Yet other than the jokes, Estrada’s speech was littered with assertions that are sure to raise brows. Not least of these is his promise to bring back hope and trust in the government.
Although he was granted presidential pardon, Estrada holds the record as the only Philippine president to be convicted by the anti-graft court for plunder. Pardon did not erase the crime for which he was detained for six years and six months. It only released him from detention.
At one point, Estrada likened himself to a flood victim, adding that he was inundated by false accusations and lies, and had to evacuate from Malacanang Palace.
He sought empathy by portraying himself as a victim of injustice, detained and isolated from his family, friends and supporters. That he lived a life of misery was not quite the picture, in truth.
Estrada was detained at the presidential suite of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, and at an officer’s house in an Army camp in Tanay, Rizal, until he was moved to his private resort across the military camp. The resort has a three-storey Mediterranean-style house with amenities not available to ordinary folk. There is a swimming pool and a man-made lagoon with swans in the sprawling compound. While he was ‘detained’ there, he had built a mansion-like home that also housed his memorabilia.
A political strategist who once worked for Estrada called the Tondo “declaration” rally a complete “cinematic production number.” It came to a close with Maceda introducing Dulce supposedly to sing “Bayan Ko,” the national anthem of sorts in many a protest rally. Instead, Dulce came out with a reverberating rendition of her signature song “Ako Ang Nagwagi!”