By 8 a.m of Jan. 19, along with Press Secretary Dong Puno, I met at the New World Hotel Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gringo Honasan, and the President’s defense lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, to sound them out on the proposal to open the second envelope. “If this is the President’s decision,” said the senators, “we cannot do anything.”
Sensing the situation was becoming critical, I called Macel Fernandez from the hotel to draft an Executive Order creating an ad hoc committee to monitor and manage the fast-swelling crowds in order to safeguard human rights and prevent violence.
At 10:22 a.m., I arrived at the Presidential Residence. Secretary Robert Aventajado, Lito Banayo and Dong Puno were already having breakfast. Only Mercado was wearing black. He was seated beside Macel. DILG Secretary Alfredo Lim was also there.
The President’s legal team, Estelito Mendoza, Andres Narvasa, Raul Daza and Cleofe Verzola, arrived soon after I did. Together with the President, Lito Banayo, Dong, Orly, Fred Lim and I went inside the small conference room of the residence to discuss two important points –the opening of the second envelope and the ad hoc committee to handle the demonstrations. A consensus was arrived at that the President would issue a public statement calling for the opening of the second envelope. The president also quickly agreed to constitute the ad hoc committee, with the executive secretary sitting as chair and the secretary of interior and local government as vice chair. Members would include the secretaries of Justice, national defence, finance, the press secretary, the director general of the PNP and the chief of staff of the Armed Force of the Philippines.
I had the committee members called earlier for our first meeting. All of them were present, except the AFP chief of staff, Gen. Angelo Reyes, and Secretary Pardo. The Nica, Isafp, PNP Intelligence Group and NBI head also came as support staff to the ad hoc committee.
Discussions on the state of security followed. “The military is 100% secure,” reassured Orly. I did not know that moments earlier, he had told Macel that government had to act fast, because in the last few days the Military would move. I also did not know that Orly’s vehicle that day contained at least 20 high-powered firearms.
At 1 p.m., Orly left the palace. He said he was just going to the office.
1:20 p.m.- The President calls me into his small office at the Presidential Residence (PR) and says in a somber tone, “Ed, seryoso na ito. Kumalas na si Angelo (Reyes) (Ed, this serious, Angelo has defected).” General Calimlim is beside him. On the couch sits Ping Lacson, talking on his cell phone.
The President could not understand why Reyes would defect, after he had consistently improved the soldier’s pay and welfare benefits. And he could not understand why Reyes, whose appointment had been extended by the President until 2002 just a few days earlier, would abandon him at the time he was most needed.
2:00 p.m- The President prepares to tape the previously prepared statement regarding the second envelope.
While the President is dressing up for his taping, Sen. Raul Roco calls me on the cellular phone. “Partner,” he says, “it’s time to take a decision. Perhaps you should convince the President to resign.” While I am talking to Roco, Secretary Alredo Lim is hovering around me and asking, “Who are you talking to?” “Raul Roco,” I answer. Lim immediately says, “Aalis na muna ako. Immobilize ko lang si Maganto.” (I have to leave, I will immobilize Maganto),” said Lim. “Hintayin mo muna si Presidente, nagbibihis lang,” I told Fred. He answered, “Hindi na, mauna na ako.”(Angara tells him to wait for the President who was dressing up. But Lim said he had to go.)
Chief Supt. Romeo Maganto, head of a task force at the interior department, reportedly allowed the protestors in Mendiola to get closer to the Palace gates.
2:30 p.m.- Secretary Lim leaves the Palace. The President, in a last minute effort to diffuse the situation and hold back the demonstrators, decided to hold a snap elections, and that he would not himself run in that elections.
I asked Senator Roco what he thought of the snap elections. Roco answered that snap elections might be very difficult considering there is no vacancy for the vice presidency.
2:45 p.m.- I invited Senate President Pimentel and Speaker Noli Fuentebella to come to Malacañang to ask for their opinion on the snap elections. They arrived at the PR and met with the President and myself. “There would be technical difficulties on the snap elections,” Nene said, “since the position of Vice President is not vacant.” Noli did not volunteer any comments. Nonetheless they asked the President to send them a written request.
3:00 p.m.- General Reyes announces his decision. I see on television that General Reyes is accompanied by Orly Mercado, wearing black. Orly had been one of the most trusted and favoured Cabinet members of Estrada and was president of Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino.
Considering that the President’s options at the time are limited to snap elections and still fighting it out, I pull aside Nene Pimentel and ask him if he could advise the president not to exclude other options. “A dignified exit or resignation might be the best way for him,” I said. The President listens intently to Pimentel, who volunteers to put the idea to Cory Aquino and get a feedback.
3:45 p.m.- I see on television that General Calimlim has joined General Reyes in withdrawing support for the President. He had been in the PR just hours before. It was now more crucial than ever that the PNP remain loyal to the presidency. Ping Lacson immediately said he would check with the PNP directors who were waiting in his office.
4:00 p.m.- Ping Lacson leaves the Presidential Palace.
5:30 p.m.- The President tapes a statement at the main conference room of the Palace calling for snap elections and stating categorically that he would not run. Friends and supporters rallied around him for support.
Ping Lacson called me to say that the PNP has decided to withdraw support for the President. He asked to talk to the President but I said the President was taping a message in the main conference hall. I promised Ping that I would call him back as soon as the President was free. I then crossed over from the residence to the Palace and waited for the President to finish taping to relay to him Ping’s message.
I have Ping called and the President and he talk over the phone.
6:00 p.m.- Ping Lacson announced on television that the PNP was withdrawing its support to the President. Ping said it was the most difficult decision of his life.
8:00 p.m.- I leave briefly to meet with several senators at my apartment to update them on developments. I arrive at the same time as Tessie Aquino-Oreta. Sen. Jonny Ponce Enrile arrives soon after.
9:00 p.m.- Before other senators arrive and as I start briefing Tessie and Johnny on the developments, I receive a call from Nene Pimentel asking me to join him in the Palace to meet the President. I immediately rush back to Malacañang. The senators met without me, with Senators John Osmeña, Tito Sotto and Gringo Honasan arriving after I had left.
9:30 p.m.- I arrived in the Presidential Residence to meet Nene and the President. Nene is already with the President inside the latter’s small office. They are JV Ejercito.
The President, Nene, JV and I meet in the President’s office. Nene repeats to the President the need to make a grateful and dignified exit, saying that he would be allowed to go abroad with enough funds to support him and his family. The President said he will never leave the country. The President also reiterates his desire that the second letter be opened. A letter is immediately drafted, where the President asks the Senate sitting as an impeachment court to open the second envelope.
Later, an aide says Cardinal Vidal has arrived and the three of us join the Cardinal in the main sala.
10:00 p.m.- After the meeting, the President tells me, “Ed, Angie (Reyes) guaranteed that I would have to a week in the Palace.”
11 p.m.- Rene de Villa, one of the opposition’s emissaries and now Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s executive secretary, calls to ask that we meet in negotiation.
I receive a call from former President Fidel V. Ramos.
“Ed,” Ramos says, “magtulungan tayo para magkaroon ng (Let’s cooperate to ensure a) peaceful and orderly transfer of power. It is important that there will be no violence.” I answer: “Of course, Mr. President, it is also in our interest that no violence will break out.”
We set the first round of negotiations in the Office of the Executive Secretary at Malacañang’s Mabini Hall. Political advisor Lito Banayo, Assistant Secretary Boying Remulla of the Presidential Management Group, my aide Dondon Bagatsing and PMS head Macel Fernandez are with me.