12:20 a.m.- Rene de Villa arrives in Mabini Hall, accompanied by now Finance Secretary Alberto “Bert” Romulo and now Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez. The first round of negotiations begins.
Rene gives me a draft resignation letter for the President, with the demand that the letter be signed and the President leave the office by 6 a.m.
“Otherwise,” he tells me, “we cannot control the hotheads in our group. Lulusubin nila ang Malacañang (They will attack Malacañang).” I answer that Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exercise her leadership over these groups. I tell the negotiators, “I am sincere in getting the problem out of the way to normalize the situation as soon as possible.” We want no violence, just a peaceful transition, and I will exert all efforts to prevent any violence from taking place. The President has accepted that he will leave the Palace, I explain, but insists on the five-day transition period.
Rene wants to know why the President needs five days. “Why can’t he leave by 6 a.m.?” he asks. I answer: “I can only surmise that it is because (Armed Forces Chief of Staff) General (Angelo) Reyes has promised the President a five-day transition period. He would turn over the Presidency on the 24th. I was not privy to their conversation, but I can guess that the five days would be just enough time for the President to advise his family, friends and supporters of his decision to go.” The President did, after all, have a good number of supporters. I explain to the panel that he cannot be pushed to leave the Palace earlier, since he has General Reyes’ assurance.
I tell them that the President is quite certain of the five-day transition and will not easily change his mind into accepting a 6 a.m. deadline. Rene immediately raises a concern: “What if the President organizes a counter-attack in the five days?” “Let us be realistic,” I counter. “The President does not have the capability to counter-attack. He does not have the AFP or the Philippine National Police on his side. He is not only in a corner –he is also down.”
Bert Romulo chimes in, speaking at the top of his voice. “My mandate is for you to leave by 6 a.m. Otherwise, if that is not accomplished, I cannot come back here anymore,” he tells me. For the sake of reaching an agreement, I ask all not to take a hardline stance. I explain that it takes time to convince the President, who needs time to accept things. I explain that “the President just wants to vindicate his name. The envelope (containing information on bank accounts allegedly owned by Estrada) is, after all, the spark that ignited his conflagration.” Rene answers that “vindication is not always on the day itself.” “But we have the occasion to vindicate ourselves now,” I reply. “Let us take this opportunity.” I explain that after the envelope is opened at the impeachment trial, the President can leave already –even before the five-day period is over.
I stress the three points most important to the President. One he will hand in his resignation, but to take affect five days later. The five-day transition period is crucial. If Reyes never made that assurance, he should call the President to explain that he did not assure him of the transition period. Two, there must be a guarantee of safety of the President and his family. And three, there must be an agreement to open the second envelope. I tell them that I am “sincere in getting the problem out of the way to normalize the situation as soon as possible.”
Rene says that we should meet again at 3 a.m. I answer that we should meet at 7 a.m. since we all need some rest. But Rene tells me, “7 a.m. may be too late, since lulusubin ang Malacañang (Malacañang will be attacked) by 6 a.m.” We agree to hold a second round of negotiations by 6 a.m. The first round of negotiations ends at 2:20 a.m.
2:30 a.m- I return to the Presidential palace and enter t he small conference room where the President is waiting. With him are Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and his chief of staff Gigi Reyes, Lito Banayo, Ronnie Puno, Dondon Bagatsing and Boying Remulla. I explain what happened in the first round of negotiations. The President immediately stresses that he just wants the five-day period promised by Reyes, as well as to open the second envelope to clear his name. If the envelope is opened by Monday, he says, he will leave by Monday. The President says: “Pagod na pagod na ako- masyado nang masakit. Pagod na ako sa red tape, bureaucracy, intriga. (I am very tired. I don’t want any of this —it’s too painful. I am tired of the red tape, the bureaucracy, the intrigue.)”
I had been advising the President nonstop since the day before. The President pauses and tells me, “Mula umpisa pa lang ng kampanya, Ed, ikaw na lang pinakinggan ko. At hanggan sa huli, ikaw pa rin (Since the start of the campaign, Ed, you have been the only one I’ve listened to. And now, at the end, you still are).”
Boying Remulla pulls out a letter he has prepared for the President to sign. It reads:
By virtue of the provisions of Section 11 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, I am hereby transmitting to this Office this written declaration that I am unable to discharge the powers and duties of my Office. By operation of law and the Constitution, the Vice President shall be Acting President of the President of the Philippines.
Boying explains that with this position, the President will still enjoy the benefits of Presidential immunity and can resume his Presidency when he decides to do so. Ronnie Puno supports Boying. But I oppose the signing of the letter. It would only prolong the crisis, I say, since it would not solve the political problems that are taking place.
A discussion ensues, with Lito Banayo supporting my stand. I explain that this letter is not practical under the circumstances since it would be construed as a shallow attempt to hang on. This would be particularly bad since negotiations have centered on the President’s turnover of the administration to Gloria, and this letter would be clearly construed as a sign of bad faith on our part.
Senator Enrile is silent throughout the discussion.
I step out, upset at what Boying is trying to do. I feel that this is an ill-advised and bad move, and I hope that the President will not listen to Boying. Lito Banayo follows me, “Hindi maganda yung sulat na iyon (This isn’t a good letter),” I point out to him.
Macel stays on in the room. Later, she tells me, that she noticed that Boying approached the President and Senator Enrile several times when I was away, trying to convince them about the letter. She adds, however, that she thinks that the President will not listen to Boying.
4 a.m.- Senator Enrile says goodbye to the President, and hugs him tightly.
I am constantly on the phone with General Reyes, Titoy Pardo and Rene de Villa. Rene de Villa proposes two additional points for negotiations –that during the five-day transition period:
- The AFP and PNP would function under the Vice President as national military and Police authorities.
- The transition process would begin immediately, and persons would begin immediately, and persons designated by the Vice President to government positions would be immediately briefed by their counterpart.
I write down the five points of negotiation.
4:30 a.m.- After having explained them to the President, it is now time for the First Lady and for the President’s children who are present –Jinggoy, JV Ejercito, Jackie and Techie– to hear about the points of negotiation.
We start preparing the draft for discussion at the 6 a.m. meeting. Five points are hammered out based on repeated phone calls between myself, De Villa, General Reyes, Titoy Pardo, who have been relaying to me feedback from the Cory Aquino and the Ramos group.
7:30 a.m- Rene arrives with Bert Romulo and (Ms Macapagal’s spokesperson) Rene Corona. For this round, I am accompanied by Dondon Bagatsing and Macel. Rene pulls out a document titled “Negotiating Points.” It reads:
1. The President shall sign a resignation document within the day, 20 January 2001, thjat will be effective on Wednesday, 24 January 2001, on which day the Vice President will assume the Presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.
2. Beginning today, 20 January 2001, the transition process for the assumption of the new administration shall commence, and persons designated by the Various President to various positions and offices of the government shall start their orientation activities in coordination with the incumbent officials concerned.
3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, shall function under the President as national military and police authority effective immediately.
4. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, through its chief of staff, shall guarantee the security of the President and his family as approved by the national military and police authority (Vice President).
5. It is to be noted that the Senate will open the second envelope in connection with the alleged savings account of the President in the Equitable PCI Bank in accordance with the rules of the Senate, pursuant to the request to the Senate President.
We bring out, too, our discussion draft which reads:
The undersigned parties, for and in behalf of their respective Principals, agree and undertake as follows:
1. A transition will occur, and take place on Wednesday, 24 January 2001, at which time President Joseph Ejercito Estrada will turn over the Presidency to Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
2. In return, President Estrada and his families are guaranteed safety and security of their person and property throughout their natural lifetimes. Likewise, President Estrada and his families are guaranteed freedom from persecution or retaliation from government and the private sector throughout their natural lifetimes.
This commitment shall be guaranteed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (‘AFP’) through the Chief of Staff, as approved by the national military and police authories- Vice President (Macapagal)
3. Both parties shall endeavour to ensure that the Senate sitting as an impeachment court will authorize the opening of the second envelope in the impeachment trial as proof that the subject savings account does not belong to President Estrada.
4. During the five-day transition period between 20 January 2001 and 24 January 2001 (the “Transition Period”), the incoming Cabinet members shall receive an appropriate briefing from the outgoing Cabinet officials as part of the orientation program.
During the transition period, the AFP and the Philippine National Police (‘PNP’) shall function under Vice President (Macapagal) as national and police authorities.
Both parties hereto agree that the AFP chief of staff and PNP director general shall obtain all the necessary signatures as affixed to this agreement and insure faithful implementation and observance thereof
Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shall issue a public statement in the form of tenor provided for in ‘Annex A’ heretofore attached to this agreement.
Rene Corona stresses that the envelope can only be operated by the Senate President, and not the Senate sitting as an impeachment court, “since there is no going back to the trial.”
The emissaries also insist that the resignation should be signed today, Jan. 20.
Corona says that a separate resignation letter is a deal breaker, the absolute minimum, or the whole deal collapses. Macel mentions that the turnover should be sufficient since by the acts of the President, one can see that there is an intention to relinquish his position. Rene Corona answers: “You are a bar topnotcher. You should know that a resignation has to be an unequivocal act and should be in a letter.”
The second round of negotiations ends at around 9:30 a.m.
But without our knowledge, the President has apparently signed the Remulla letter, which is transmitted to speaker (Arnulfo) Fuentebella at 8:30 a.m today, Jan. 20. A copy is transmitted to Pimentel and received Monday, Jan. 22. We are not informed of this until Sunday afternoon, when I received a faxed, signed and transmitted copy of the letter.
This is the letter of resignation of Joseph Estrada, a letter that Palace negotiators were supposed to give to the United Opposition but never did:
I hereby tender my resignation as President of the Republic of the Philippines effective January 24 2001 in the name of national unity and in order to effect a peaceful transition of power amidst divisive political unrest.
In my sincere desire to improve the lives of our people, I have been privileged to have served our countrymen from the highest office in government. I had discharged my duties to the best of my abilities and with full faith in our people. And it had been my badge of honor to be a President of the masa, the common man –for indeed, I am one of them.
Though I leave the position as President of our beloved country, I only hope that our people shall always see me as the President of the masa. And I hope that history shall judge me kindly.
I was inside the Presidential Residence, tired and weary from a night of negotiations for Joseph Ejercito Estrada. The residence looked cool and tranquil, as it had been for many months that I had been its visitor. Very few people were moving around the first floor of the residence.
My senior Deputy Executive Secretary, Ramon ‘Dondon’ Bagatsing, was seated at one of the round tables. The head of the Presidential Management Staff, Ma. Celia ‘Macel’ Fernandez, was busy at the computer.
Only 13 days ago, I took my oath as executive secretary on Jan 6, 2001 to work with the 13th President of the Philippines. And the 13th day lasted two days. When I made the difficult decision to accept the position of executive secretary, only two things were clear in my mind and heart. One, I would serve our country with all my energy, ensuring that government would always be there for our countrymen. But more importantly, I knew that this was a job that I would perform to the best of my capacities –till the end.
Certainly, it was this disposition that carried me through those final days, those final hours, and gave me the opportunity to witness history unfolding.
9:30 a.m.- After meeting with the emissaries of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I return to the Presidential Residence with Dondong Bagatsing and Macel Fernandez of the Presidential Management Staff. Immediately, in a series of phone calls, Gen. Angelo Reyes and I agree on the wording of two sticky issues: the provisions on the President’s resignation and a request to open the controversial second envelope in the impeachment trial. I also clear the final wording with Senate President Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel.
9:45 a.m- (Former) Secretaries Jun Rivera (transportation), Mario Tiaoqui (energy), VG Vigilar (public works), Tony Cerilles (environment), Benny Laguesma (labor) , Quasi Romualdez (health) and Ronnie Puno (interior) arrive at the residence. The President’s friend Melo Santiago is also there.
11:00 a.m- Between General Reyes and myself, there is a firm agreement on the five points to effect a peaceful transition. I can hear the general clearing all these points with a group he is with. I hear voices in the background.
The agreement starts
1. The president shall resign today, 20 January 2001, which resignation shall be effective on 24 January 2001, on which day the Vice President will assume the presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.
Annexed is a copy of the President’s resignation letter. The rest of the President’s letter reads as follows:
2. The transition process for the assumption of the new administration shall commence on 20 January, 2001, wherein persons designated by the Vice President to various government positions shall start orientation activities with incumbent officials.
3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines through its Chief of Staff, shall guarantee the safety and security of the President and his families throughout their natural lifetimes as approved by the national military and police authority- Vice President
4. The AFP and the Philippine National Police (‘PNP’) shall function under the Vice President as national military and police authorities.
5. Both parties request the impeachment court to open the second envelope in the impeachment trial, the contents of which shall be offered as proof that the subject savings account does not belong to the President.
The Vice President shall issue a public statement in the form and tenor provided for in Annex ‘B’ heretofore attached to this agreement.
Former political adviser Lito Banayo had prepared the statement in Annex B:
I take this singular opportunity to commend His Excellency, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, for his rare display of statesmanship in effecting a peaceful transition of power amidst divisive political conflict that has beset our beloved country.
Throughout this crisis, President Estrada has shown steadfast adherence to the Constitution and its processes, with the highest consideration for the national interest.
As he leaves the highest office in the land within the gift of our sovereign people, the Filipino nation and I salute him and wish that the true patriot who brought peace to our country in this transition find peace for himself.
11:00 a.m.- Radio commentators report that Chief Supt. Romeo Maganto has allowed the anti-Erap demonstrators to proceed to Mendiola. This prompts the Presidential Security Group to arm civilians in the Palace. Sensing that this will lead to bloodshed, I immediately call Gen. Reyes to order a stop to Maganto’s supposed order.
11:05 a.m.- Loi, the First Lady, and her daughter Jackie Lopez visit the Palace chapel. After praying for fifteen minutes, they exit the Palace. It turns out to be the last act of the Estrada family at the Palace. The PSG guards immediately lock the doors of Malacañang after they leave.
11:30 a.m.- I am all set to fax General Reyes and Nene Pimentel our agreement, signed by our side and awaiting the signature of the United Opposition.
And then it happens. General Reyes calls me to say that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is President and will be sworn in at 12 noon.
“Bakit hindi naman kayo makahintay? Paano na ang agreement? (Why couldn’t you wait?) Reyes answered: “Wala na, sir (It’s over, sir).” I ask him, “Di yung transition period, moot and academic na?” And General Reyes answers, “Oo nga, i-delete na natin, sir (Yes, we’re deleting that part).”
Contrary to subsequent reports, I do not react and say that there was a double cross. But I immediately instruct Macel to delete the first provision on resignation since this matter is already moot and academic. Within moments, Macel erases the first provision and faxes the documents, which have been signed by myself, Dondon and Macel, to Nene Pimentel and General Reyes. I direct Demaree Raval to rush the original document to General Reyes for the signatures of the other side, as it is important that the provisions on security, at least, should be respected. I then advise the President that the Supreme Court has ruled that Chief Justice Davide will administer the oath to Gloria at 12 noon.
The President is too stunned for words.
12 noon- Gloria takes her oath as President of the Republic of the Philippines.
12:20 p.m.–The PSG distributes firearms to some people inside the compound.
The President is having his final meal at the Presidential Residence with the few friends and Cabinet members who have gathered. By this time, demonstrators have already broken down the first line of defense at Mendiola. Only the PSG is there to protect the Palace, since the police and military have already withdrawn their support for the President.
1 p.m. – The President’s personal staff is rushing to pack as many of the Estrada family’s personal possessions as they can.
During lunch, Ronie Puno mentions that the President needs to release a final statement before leaving Malacañang. The statement reads:
At twelve o’clock noon today, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took her oath as President of the Republic of the Philippines. While along with many other legal minds of our country, I have strong and serious doubts about the legality and constitutionality of her proclamation as president, I do not wish to be a factor that will prevent the restoration of unity and order in our civil society.
It is for this reason that I now leave Malacañang Palace, the seat of the presidency of this country, for the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of our nation. I leave the Palace of our people with gratitude for the opportunities given to me for service to our people. I will not shrik from any future challenges that may come ahead in the same service of our country.
I call on all my supporters and followers to join me in the promotion of a constructive national spirit of reconciliation and solidarity.
As we are seated at the lunch table, the President received a call from General Reyes, who assures him that he can still stay at the Palace for another five days. But later, when the President asks me, “Ed, kailangan ko na bang umalis (Do I have to leave now)?” I immediately tell him: “Yes, Mr. President, for your safety and your family’s.”
1:30 p.m.- The sentry gate is locked.
1:50 p.m- General Diaz of the PSG calls on all detailed PSG personnel to gather in front of the residence for the send-off of the President. The President says goodbye to the people who have stayed with him until the end at the presidential residence, then turns around and leaves the staircase. I leave around this time, exhausted from the previous days’ events.
2:30 p.m.- The President leaves Malacañang and boards a barge for San Juan.