Day Three -Nov. 25, (Wednesday)

830AM, I visited a funeral parlor in Marbel. Some bodies not identified yet. I then directed DSWD 12 to attend to the immediate needs of the families, and that DOH 12 and OCD 12 were to assist. I motored to Tacurong at 601stbrigade and met the NBI team that just arrived from Manila. I reconvened the crisis committee and mapped up moves on how to fast track work . A team of PNP investigators were sent to the residence of Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu to get statements but they were told that affidavits of their witnesses would be submitted instead perhaps the following day. I was already aware that the outrage over the killings mounted. And government was being criticized for slow action.

12 NOON –Over lunch at the brigade, I consulted with the crisis committee on my plan: it was time to contact the Ampatuans and call in Datu Unsay to voluntarily surrender. As they committed to me yesterday.

I was also quietly informed that an operational plan was underway to forcibly take custody of him.

2:00PM – On my way to Marbel to dialogue with all the families of the victims, I made several calls. First with ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. I told him it was time to bring in Datu Unsay. He told me he would consult the father, Gov. Andal. I said I had only until 5 pm that day to work on this plan. After 5pm, the scenario would no longer be the same, I told him.

4:00PM – While meeting the families of victims in downtown Marbel, I got a call from the father, Gov Andal telling me that he would turnover to me Datu Unsay but requested that the deadline be moved from 5pm today to 10 AM, the following day. I immediately told him I could not guarantee things if the deadline was moved. He said the Ampatuan clan would meet that evening and discuss things and bid goodbye to Datu Unsay. I told him I would get back to him by phone. I made calls and informed some of my colleagues (with whom I had been consulting from the beginning) of the request.

There were objections. Understandable reservations: what if the extension was a ruse to escape that evening? What were the guarantees that he would voluntarily surrender during the new deadline? People were becoming outraged not only on the crime but on the perceived slowness of government, so why waste more time? The forces were ready to strike, so why delay?

But I also reasoned back: How sure are we that we would get Datu Unsay in the operations? (From yesterday’s visit to the Ampatuans, I was certain that he was not there in the immediate vicinity but came from somewhere far.) An assault would surely cost lives knowing the armaments, the culture and the situation. People were crying for swift action but I would not agree to precipitate action. I also said I believed Gov Andal was sincere when he told me he would bring out his son when needed. To wrap up my point, I said: I would take full responsibility for whatever outcome.

My new timeline was adopted. I moved the deadline to 10:00 AM the following day.

That night, we reviewed the “pickup” scenario several times and mapped out contingencies just in case things would not go as planned. In the meantime, government troops moved according to operational plans. That evening, I got a call from Atty. Cynthia getting an assurance from me that nothing would be launched that evening until the 10 AM pickup time the following day. I told her if there were troop movements, these were in support of the 10 AM “pickup”.

Later in the night, another complication suddenly arose. Gen Serapio and Col Geslani informed me that they got information that Toto Mangudadatu would motor with his followers to file his certificate of candidacy the following morning in Shariff Aguak. I immediately called Gov. Teng Mangudadatu. I told him that there was something afoot the following morning and that without disclosing what it was all about, I requested if he could convince Toto to move his filing to another day. A few minutes later, Gov Teng called and said the clan agreed.

Nov 25, (- Wednesday) – 830 AM. I visited a funeral parlor in Marbel. Some bodies were not identified yet. I talked with the relatives, many parlor-hopping, visiting every funeral parlor and looking at mangled bodies hoping to identify missing loved ones.

I motored back to the 601st Army brigade headquarters. We were frantic for some sworn statements so the legal process could start. It was the third day and there were no arrests yet and the public was getting angry – although I had no first hand information on this as I was not reading any of the newspapers and not even watching the TV during the whole period. I was just getting text messages. I knew from experience that a crisis manager could be affected one way or the other by external public pressure coming from those who were not on the ground, far from the venue of action and usually unaware of the many facts and nuances of certain developing events. I preferred to stay focused on my game plan.

I reconvened the crisis committee and tasked the PNP team to go and visit the Mangudadatus in Buluan and take the affidavits of the witnesses they could immediately present. The PNP team returned empty handed. They were told to come back the following day as everyone was engrossed with the search and retrieval operations. Also, the Mangudadatu lawyers would handle the documentation. We understood. I knew parallel investigation and documentation work was also ongoing in several areas. But again, no single document was at hand. Anxious and desperate in having some “paper” in my hands to get Unsay in the event he would not surrender as earlier agreed, I suggested to the NBI team which came from Manila to issue a summons of sorts. Even the NBI team at that moment said they had no basis yet to issue summons. As a lawyer, I understood perfectly. But how about the public that was already crying for blood? The PNP said it could issue an invitation but I bucked. Knowing the public sentiment already building up, people would surely mock and say: you ONLY “invite” those criminals?, etc).

12 NOON -Over lunch at the brigade, I consulted with the crisis committee on my plan, which also coincided with the suggestion of Col Geslani that it was time to contact the Ampatuans and call in Datu Unsay to voluntarily surrender as they committed to me the previous day. Without any document in my hands, I thought diplomacy or negotiations would fill in the gap for the moment. I was also confident that Bapa Andal would be true to his commitment to give Unsay to me.

While this was on my mind, I was already getting a briefing on the operational plans that would be launched to forcibly take Unsay in custody. There was need for time for the augmentation forces to arrive from other parts of Mindanao and even as far as Samar. Disarming the well-armed Ampatuan forces was necessary before any operation was to be launched to minimize resistance and casualties.

2:00PM – I motored back to Marbel to dialogue with all the families of the victims and brief the media on latest updates. My handling of previous crisis situations taught me that as equally important in dealing with criminal elements was properly dealing with families or those affected by the incident. Dealing with the media and providing transparent information flow was also very important. Although there were operational matters that could not be made public in the meantime, explaining this to media and the public would be received favorably through frequent briefings.

I made several calls while en route to the family dialogue. I first called ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. I told him it was time to bring in Datu Unsay. He told me he would consult the father, Gov. Andal. I said I had only until 5 pm that day to work on this plan. After 5pm, the scenario would no longer be the same, I told him. I sent a soft and veiled warning that if Datu Unsay would not surrender, things would be out of my hands. The military formula would be applied and it would unnecessarily result to lose of lives. I knew Gov Zaldy (Datu Puti to others) was a mild-mannered man and would understand my plan.

While on my way to downtown Marbel, I got a call from the father, Gov Andal telling me that he would turn over to me Datu Unsay but requested that the deadline be moved from 5pm that day to 10 AM, the following day. I immediately told him I could not guarantee things if the deadline were moved. He said the Ampatuan clan would meet that evening and discuss things and bid goodbye to Datu Unsay. I told him I would get back to him by phone.

Up to this time, the Palace was periodically informed of actual developments on the ground. I then made a call to palace officials with whom I had been consulting and informed them of Bapa Andal’s proposal that he would give to us Unsay the following day instead of that afternoon.
There were objections. And understandable reservations. What if the extension was a ruse to give opportunity to Unsay to escape that evening? What were the guarantees that he would voluntarily surrender during the new deadline? People were becoming outraged not only on the crime but on the perceived slowness of government, so why waste more time? The forces were ready to strike, so why delay? One palace official said he would agree to move the deadline to surrender the following day but Unsay must be in my personal custody and spending the night with me in the same room. Their concern was understandable. They were getting the public pressure to act swiftly. But I stayed the course.

I also reasoned back: How sure are we that we would get Datu Unsay in the operations? From yesterday’s visit to the Ampatuans, I was certain that he was not there in the immediate vicinity but came from somewhere far and surely physically secured considering that it took him almost 1 hour to arrive after he was called by the father. I wanted as much as possible a bloodless event. There was too much blood spilled already. An assault would surely cost lives knowing the armaments and the culture. And there was no guarantee we could take Datu Unsay that way. I also said I believed Gov Andal was sincere when he told me he would bring out his son when needed. To wrap up my point, I said: I would take full responsibility for whatever outcome.

My new timeline was adopted. I called Bapa Andal. Everything was set: 10 a.m. Nov 26 at the Maguindanao capital grounds in Shariff Aguak, the handover would take place.

That night, we reviewed the “pickup” scenario several times and mapped out contingencies just in case things would not go as planned. In the meantime, government troops moved according to operation plans. That evening, I got a call from Atty. Cynthia getting an assurance from me that nothing would be launched that evening until the 10 AM pickup time the following day. I told her that I had full control of the scenario for as long as the Ampatuans would be true to the agreement. Any troop movement they must have noticed was to ensure that the handover the following day would proceed without incident. I knew the troops were prepositioned and in place to ensure our safety if things went wrong, ready to hit if the pickup failed. That same evening, as planned, the troops were moving to neutralize early any resistance. The Ampatuans must have noticed. Or were tipped off.

Later in the night, another complication suddenly arose. Gen Serapio and Col Geslani informed me that they got information that Toto Mangudadatu, as a show of defiance and determination to continue his fight, would motor with his followers to file his certificate of candidacy the following morning in Shariff Aguak. That would endanger the smooth flow of our “pickup” operations in the same venue: Shariff Aguak. I immediately called Gov. Teng Mangudadatu. I told him that there was something afoot the following morning and that, without disclosing what it was all about, I requested if he could convince Toto to move his filing to another day. It was close to midnight and the ground operations were underway. A defiant caravan would mess things up. A few minutes later, Gov Teng called and said the clan agreed. There would be no movements on the Mangudadatu side the following day, except Gov Teng’s going to Buluan to join the rest of the clan there.

I did not get some good sleep that night.

Day Two – Nov 24 (Tuesday)

Bert and I took the earliest flight to Gen Santos City. At the 601stbrigade in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, briefings were held. Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! Next we met with the Mangudadatus, many of them my personal friends.

They were tense and angry. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately. They demanded justice, immediately. The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu said they will cooperate. No retaliatory action but government must give justice.

12 NOON – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called security meeting. We were getting specific instructions from her. So did Bert, PNP Chief Jess Versoza and AFP Vice CS Maclang who arrived with us. Her voice had that sense of urgency. Inputs from the other cabinet members were also relayed.

1:00 PM – The crisis management committee was activated. Assisting me were Eastmincom Gen Ferrer and PNP 12 Director Serapio.

2:00 PM – Bert left to fly back to Manila. Col Geslani, brigade commander assisted in setting up the command center. It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan I quietly formulated in my mind. It was a simple plan drawing lessons from past experiences.

3:00PM – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. With my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer, Col Macario as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan residence.

3:45PM —I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. With him seated in a “ bahay kubo” on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere.

After informing Gov. Andal that my purpose in coming was because of the incident and that his son, Mayor Datu Unsay Ampatuan, Jr. was implicated , I told “Bapa” Andal that it would be best that the Ampatuans also “cooperate”. I said that Datu Unsay should submit to an investigation. He immediately said: “ OK. Kausapin mo sya. Ipatawag ko si Datu Unsay. Basta kayo secretary walang problema”. I told him I wanted to see Datu Unsay as I got reports that he was missing or had escaped. Bapa said: “Hindi yan totoo. Darating si Datu Unsay. Magpakita sya sayo secretary”. Bapa Andal as usual, was a man of few words. We then went inside the house to wait for the son’s arrival. In the meantime, ARMM Gov Zaldy Ampatuan and Cong. Digs Dilangalen arrived from the airport. Usec Zam Ampatuan, Atty Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, among others were there too. I felt a bit tense and uncomfortable. I did not want to start talking about the incident until Unsay would arrive. We were chatting for about an hour trying to divert the issue and loosen up. A lively conversation centered on how many children some of their relatives had. One relative had 70 children. Of course from several mothers. Etc.

4:30PM – We waited. I noticed that Atty. Cynthia was using her cellphone and taking pictures while we were chatting. Unsay arrived and got seated on my left. We continued a bit about our light banter until Unsay settled down. (GMA7 later that same evening showed some pictures on TV. My wife Beth texted me and called my attention immediately when she saw it: “Bakit ka smile kasama mga Ampatuan. Not proper.” I agreed. But I was puzzled where the pictures came from and who sent them. There were no media people around. I surmised Cynthia did it.)

5:00PM. – I was becoming worried that darkness would overtake my return trip to Sultan Kudarat. Many armed and uniformed men on the highway. One could not tell what group or unit. So when Unsay got seated, I immediately told him that I came because of the serious incident and that initial reports mentioned his name as involved. I told him my purpose in coming was only to be assured that he would cooperate and submit himself to any investigation. He looked at the direction of Gov Andal who spoke first: “ Gaya ng sinabi ko sayo kanina, magcooperate kami, secretary”. Then Unsay himself echoed saying: “Mag cooperate po kami secretary”. I then stood up and said I would contact them again soon.

We arrived in Marbel already dark and stayed there for the night.

2nd of a 4-part series

Nov 24 (Tuesday)

At the break of dawn, Sec Bert Gonzales and I took the earliest flight to Gen Santos City. The medical checkup can wait, both I and Beth agreed. She’s been used to this kind of “sudden take off” schedules since my work as newsman in the 70’s and worsened by being in the presidential beck and call since President Ramos up to President Arroyo.

We motored from Gensan to Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. It’s less than an hour drive. At the 601st Army brigade headquarters in Tacurong, a noisy crowd was milling within the barbed wire premises. Hordes of media persons whom I personally knew were there at the gate. I told the guards to let everybody in.

10 AM –Briefings were held. Also present were PNP Chief Jess Versoza, EASTMINCOM Commanding General Ding Ferrer, Deputy AFP Chief of Staff Maclang, PNP Regional Chief Serapio. Brigade commander Col Geslani was our host. Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! At that time, only a few bodies were retrieved from the backhoed area. Sec Bert told the crowd that we were personally dispatched by the president to attend to the situation. The Mangudadatus were there seated across the long conference table: Toto Mangudadatu, his brothers Jong and Mayor Dong of Pandag, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Teng Mangudadatu, Toto’s cousin and others.

They were tense and angry but otherwise trying hard to suppress and control their anger and anguish. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately. They demanded justice, immediately. The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu spoke and related the events, how he spoke to his wife on the phone before she was murdered, identifying Datu Unsay Ampatuan as the lead perpetrator. But he ended by saying that, in the meantime, he had appealed to his relatives and followers to refrain from committing any retaliatory action and would leave the matter to the authorities to handle.

12 NOON – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called cabinet security cluster meeting. They aborted the planned cabinet meeting in Boracay. This had been trademark President Arroyo. She personally would monitor crisis situations with her cabinet members providing inputs. Although I was “crisis manager”, she was always there through texts and calls. She was giving specific instructions to me, Sec Bert, PNP Chief Jess and AFP Vice CS Maclang. Suggestions from the other cabinet members came. The main task was to do a swift investigation, bring in Datu Unsay and the perpetrators, attend to the victims and assist their families, and do preemptive steps to prevent all-out fighting from erupting among the contending parties.

1:00 PM – The crisis management committee was activated. Assisting me were Eastmincom Gen Ferrer, PNP 12 Director Serapio. DOJ Usec Ric Blancaflor’s name was in the box to handle investigation through the NBI.

2:00 PM – Bert left to fly back to Manila. I set up base camp at the brigade HQ. A conference room (functional but hot), a small room with a bed to sleep in, etc were provided by Col Geslani, the commander. Anticipating that I might be in for a long haul, we bought 2 aircon units so the staff would stand the heat.

It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan which I initially formulated that evening for the crisis. It was an old-fashioned plan from past experiences.

3:00PM – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. Some quiet arrangements were made for my visit. Only with my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan enclave in Shariff Aguak. The media group which earlier wanted to join me did not follow my vehicle. I was relieved as I would not be able to help them in case something bad would happen along to way. I was not even sure of our own safety due to the tense situation with so many armed elements along the whole route.

3:45PM –I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. It was my first visit to that house which was a bit interior in location unlike the big palatial house along the main highway in the center of town. With him seated in a native kiosk on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere in full battle gear with armored personnel carriers parked in strategic areas.

As I got seated and with some brief pleasantries, I told Gov. Andal that my purpose in coming was because of the incident and that his son, Datu Unsay Mayor Ampatuan, Jr. was implicated. I said that while the Mangudadatus had given me their assurance that they would leave the matter to the authorities to solve, I told “Bapa” Andal that it would be best that the Ampatuans also “cooperate” and bring him in (Unsay) for an investigation. He immediately said: ” OK. Kausapin mo sya. Basta kayo secretary walang problema.”. I then asked for the whereabouts of the son and he said he would call for him to join us. I told him I wanted to see Datu Unsay as I got reports that he was missing or had escaped. Bapa said: “Hindi yan totoo. Darating si Datu Unsay. Magpakita sya sayo secretary”. Bapa Andal as usual, was a man of few words.

The last time I saw Mayor Unsay was several years ago when I personally went to his Datu Unsay town (evidently named after him) and led in the distribution of relief goods to evacuees due to intermittent fighting with MILF elements.

We waited at the kiosk but Unsay did not come. We then went inside the house to wait for his arrival. In the meantime, ARMM Gov Zaldy Ampatuan and Cong. Digs Dilangalen arrived from the airport. Energy Usec Sam Ampatuan, Atty Cynthia Guani Sayadi, ARMM attorney general and relative of the Ampatuans among others were there too. I felt a bit tense and uncomfortable. But I did not want to start talking about the incident until Unsay would arrive. We were chatting for about an hour trying to divert the issue and loosen up. A lively conversation centered on how many children some of their relatives sired. One relative had 70 children, etc. While we were chatting about other subjects, I sensed that we all shared some discomfort and unease.

4:30PM – We waited. I noticed that Atty. Cynthia , an aunt of Unsay was using her cellphone and taking pictures while we were chatting about that relative who had 70 children “but of course from several mothers”. We would laugh although traces of tension were evident. It was while we were bantering when Unsay arrived and got seated to my left.

(GMA7 that same evening showed some still pictures on TV, me with the Ampatuans smiling. That was taken by Atty. Cynthia when we were bantering about that prolific Ampatuan relative. My wife Beth whom I suddenly had to leave behind in Manila and had since glued herself to the TV, texted me and called my attention immediately when she saw it: ” That picture on TV makes you look insensitive.” I agreed. That was not the end of it. The following morning, the president herself forwarded a text of similar tenor, some viewers criticizing my smiling photo. I did not respond anymore. (I shared President Noynoy’s discomfort when he got the same treatment with his famous smile inspecting the hijacked tourist bus recently, remember?)

5:00PM. – I was becoming worried that darkness would overtake my return trip to Sultan Kudarat. I noted many armed and uniformed men on the highway. One could not tell from what group or unit. Mayor Unsay arrived a little past 5:00 p.m. It was about an hour since the father Bapa Andal talked to him on the phone asking him to come to the house where I was. He arrived sweating and his pants dirtied. He first went inside to freshen up. I knew then that he came from afar and not just within the vicinity. (This observation was material in my insistence later that I should exhaust all means to convince him to peacefully turn himself in. A premature assault without being sure that he was around and within range would be futile.)

When Unsay got seated, I immediately told him that I came because of the serious incident and that initial reports mentioned his name as involved. I told him my purpose in coming was only to be assured that he would cooperate and submit himself to an investigation. He looked at the direction of Gov Andal, evidently seeking guidance how to respond. But the father immediately said: ” Walang problema, magcooperate kami, secretary”. Then taking that cue, Unsay himself echoed saying: “Mag cooperate po kami”. Forthwith, I then stood up and said I would contact them again soon. I also told them that they could get in touch with me anytime as I was staying in the area and not returning to Davao for the night. I gave my cellphone number.

On the way out, it was like “shooting the rapids”. We motored back as if we were running scared. We arrived in Marbel already dark and stayed there for the night.

For all those hours that day, four PNP officers were subjected to restrictive custody and slated for investigation, 46 bodies were already retrieved, and a series of confidential action points were underway. PNP operatives were fielded to start documenting evidences etc. but none had been submitted as yet. Media briefings were conducted. Then I got a text message that the president issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency in the area. She was becoming impatient at the slow progress of things.

In the meantime, the outrage over the incident had peaked as more bodies were recovered and a clearer picture emerged about the macabre mass murder. People were already getting angry and asking government why there were no arrests yet. I was nonchalant. Some even asked later: “why did you not arrest Unsay right there when he came to talk to you?” Funny thought but I was not even sure I could get back to Marbel safe and sound that night. (To be continued)

Day One —Nov 23 (Monday)

– I was monitoring closely reports about a missing convoy in Maguindanao with media friends. Later in the day, reports of mass murder of the Mangudadatus were confirmed. Allegedly by Datu Unsay Ampatuan Jr. et al. My instincts told me this could very well be a very explosive situation. . When media called, I said I would recommend proclaiming a state of emergency. At 8 p.m. SND Bert Gonzales and I met. He told me the President had directed that I act as “crisis manager”.

(Note: Right after the Maguindanao incident, Dureza, then presidential adviser for Mindanao, wrote a personal account as “crisis manager” which was published and carried by media. Now back in the private sector and actively managing Advocacy MindaNow Foundation, he is writing his “recollections” with additional annotations on a day-to-day account recalling the four critical days of the incident. This will be a 4- part series starting today).

DAY ONE — Nov 23 (Monday) It’s one year ago, to the day. I was in Davao City that day and was finalizing arrangements for me and wife Beth to fly to Manila in the late afternoon flight for her usual medical check up. By noon, I was getting text messages from several sources about the missing convoy. I started inquiring.

General Santos City Inquirer Correspondent Aquiles Zonio told me over the phone that he was supposed to be with the convoy from Buluan to Shariff Aguak on board the Mitsubishi Lancer of Mindanao Bulletin Editor Joseph Jubelag, who was driving. But Joseph decided to peel off from the convoy and proceeded to the pension house in Tacurong where they stayed the previous night to pick up some belongings. They did not try to catch up with the convoy anymore.

At 9:30 a.m., Joseph said he called by phone Bulletin Correspondent Bong Reblando who was ahead in a rented van with the convoy en route to Shariff Aguak. He told Bong that they decided not to proceed anymore as they were delayed in Tacurong but would catch up with the group when they return to Buluan from Shariff Aguak for the scheduled press conference after the planned filing of the certificate of candidacy of (Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael) Toto Mangudadatu. That was to be the last phone call with Bong.

Bong was a close friend and a kumpadre, being ninong to one of his sons. I found close kinship with Bong because both of us had similar beginnings. I was Bulletin correspondent, too, during my early days as a journalist. He was always supportive of my work in Mindanao, in the peace process, as press secretary, etc. I recall Bong’s naughty practice of calling me by phone and telling me that his article about my latest statement was published in the Manila Bulletin issue that day. When I asked what it was all about since I had not issued any new statement, he would simply say: “Just confirm it, Kumpadre. It’s about moving the peace talks forward”. He knew me so well that press statements I issued a long time ago he would be able to recycle and spin aligned with current events. I would always caution him though: “Pakiusap lang kumpadre. Please always tell me ahead what statements I had supposedly issued to you before you report. It may trigger a war!” And we would laugh together.

From all accounts, the Mangudadatus knew of the dangers they were facing in opposing the Ampatuans. They were political allies before. The filing of the certificates of candidacy was a declaration of war. The media delegation to be part of the convoy was a security cordon. Most of them were from General Santos City.

Joseph later related to me that on November 22, he stayed overnight with some mediamen, together with Bong, Aquiles, etc. at a pension house in Tacurong in preparation for the activity organized by the Mangudadatus. The following day, at 6:30 a.m. Monday, he drove his vehicle to Buluan where the convoy was supposed to assemble before the jump off.

Joseph said there was some discussion, before the convoy left Buluan about the security concern as they learned that there was no security escort provided by the authorities. Joseph said they contacted by phone Maj. Gen. Alfredo S. Cayton, then 6th Division commander based in Awang, Maguindanao just outside Cotabato City who said that while there were no security escorts, there should be no concern. Joseph, however, got worried. That’s when he decided to just let the convoy go ahead and instead drove to the Tacurong pension house to first pick up his belongings. On board his vehicle were media friends Aquiles and Paul Bernardo. His close buddy, Bong, rode in a van and went ahead with the group. There were 6 vehicles in the caravan. Joseph’s Lancer would have been vehicle No. 7.

Aquiles remembered that while they were at the hotel lobby, and while Joseph went up to the room for his belongings, one of the waiters approached him. The waiter was nervous. He told Aquiles that when they left the hotel early that same morning, some unidentified and suspicious-looking men arrived and asked about the identities of those who joined. Aquiles suspected something was wrong and got nervous. He recalled that they were not able to catch up with the convoy as Joseph stayed in the comfort room for a long time. “Thank god for that bad stomach, I survived,” Aquiles in hindsight told me. Unknown to Aquiles, Joseph had already decided not to proceed to Shariff Aguak and his upset stomach was due to tension and fear. Being an old hand in the area, he trusted his instincts. He decided not to go. That’s when they called Bong at 9:30 a.m. and told him about the decision that they would not be able to catch up and join. The next call at 10:30 a.m. to Bong’s cellphone and all the frantic calls that ensued were no longer answered, except for one call to another mediaman’s phone and someone with a Moro accent answered briefly then cut the line.

Later that day, the gruesome massacre of the Mangudadatu convoy, including the media contingent, was confirmed. At first it was a feeling of denial. Almost all of the mediamen in the group were my close friends. Every time I made trips to GenSan or Cotabato before that, many of them would always be there covering my events. To some of them who joined the Mangudadatu delegation, perhaps, it was another opportunity to do a job. And I can tell you, media work especially in the provincial press, although exciting at times, is a hard, dangerous grind. For one, it does not pay well. But many stick to it for what I call “psychic income” – not the cash rewards, but of course it also counts, but more for the adventure and the excitement of getting a good story out. That’s why they are a special breed – and for all of their faults too. That was the reason why when I was press secretary, to the discomfort of some sectors in Manila, I was giving priority to the provincial press. I recall changing the format of presidential coverage’s. Where the usual practice was the accompanying Manila press took the front seats and got the first shot of asking the first questions with the provincial media at times sidelined or even excluded from the event, I revised this, giving the locals priority even in the physical arrangements. For a change, Malacañang hosted Christmas parties on a regional basis for the provincial press while I was there. I knew how it was as I was once one of them.

By the way, the tragedy befalling our media victims could not be sufficiently vindicated, even if all the perpetrators were sent to jail. For some sectors to even say or suggest that I received bribe money from the Ampatuans to help quash the cases is mercifully wrong. Even my visit at the military hospital as part of my work as in charge of Mindanao affairs to check on reports that Bapa Ampatuan was reportedly getting VIP treatment was dramatized as another telltale evidence that there was bribery. I was fortunate that the emissary of the Ampatuans who was always sent to me during the whole period came out and gave his full story of how I even declined to lift a hand on the case, knowing that many lives of my friends were lost aside from the fact that it was ridiculous – if not dangerous – for me to get a payoff to quash a case totally outside of my control. I asked for a separate investigation but nothing happened up to now. But I guess that’s par for the course for public officials like me. Too bad for me. So you will all understand why being back now in the private sector is so liberating! But it’s another story altogether.

That fateful day was a media tragedy unmatched anywhere in the world. The unfolding of the gruesome event continued later in the day. And being in charge of Mindanao for the Palace, I braced myself.

I was trying to piece together the events of the day as more reports came in. When media called for a statement, I said I would recommend proclaiming a state of emergency. Late afternoon, as I was boarding my flight to Manila with my wife Beth, Defense Secretary Bert Gonzales called by phone. “Do you know what’s happening?” he asked. I simply said: “It’s unbelievable!” He told me to proceed to the lobby of Edsa Shangrila hotel in Ortigas immediately upon landing. At 8 o’clock that night Bert told me that the President directed us to go to Maguindanao immediately. I was designated “crisis manager”. (To be continued)

9:20 A.M., September 11, 2001

Fear, the rush of adrenaline, mounting hysteria. I open my door to an eerie sight: hundreds of people are standing in the middle of Washington Street, looking worried and lost. My neighbors, my friends, the maintenance workers who take care of my building, total strangers—all staring at the huge, ugly black clouds engulfing what once was the World Trade Center. There are those poised with their camcorders and cameras, ever ready to document any catastrophic event. I, too, stare at the smoke and flames, mesmerized by the awesome beauty of destruction. The sky is a hard, brilliant blue. It is the end of the world, yet the sun is blazing and it is a crisp, gorgeous morning. We are very much alive. All around me, eyewitness accounts are repeated like some gruesome mantra: Not one plane, but two. Not two, but four. Not accidentally, but on purpose. I saw the whole thing go down, bodies falling from the sky.

Jan. 20, 2001

12:20 a.m.- Rene de Villa[1] 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).”[2] I answer that Vice President Gloria MacapagalArroyo[3] exercise her leadership over these groups.[4] 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

‘He is down’

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[5] 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.

3 crucial points

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.

Erap: ‘It Hurts’

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 thisit’s too painful. I am tired of the red tape, the bureaucracy, the intrigue.)”[6]

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).”

Remulla’s letter

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.

‘Sign of bad faith’

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 put, 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.

Hug from Johnny

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.

Opposition’s deal

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.”

Our Deal

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.”

Without our Knowledge

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. (To be concluded tomorrow)

(Last of three parts)[7]

Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of “The Final Days of Joseph Ejercito Estrada,” a narrative from the diary of former Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara, made exclusively available to the INQUIRER. Angara says that his personal account of the events from Jan. 19 and 20 is “as faithful to the truth as possible” and that “perhaps it is time that we begin the healing process with the truth.” The INQUIRER is publishing the narrative as an insider’s version of what happened during those two remarkable days.

THIS[8] 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.[9]

“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.” [10]

Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001

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.

Agreement

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 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.”

Commendation

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]

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.

Last act

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.[12] 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 rule that Chief Justice Davide will administer the oath to Gloria at 12 noon.

The President is too stunned for words.

Final Meal[13]

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.

“ May the Almighty bless our country and our beloved people. MABUHAY!”[14]

The end

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.

[1] Renato De Villa, Fidel V. Ramos’ former Defense secretary.

[2] De Villa was probably referring to Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, who had threatened then Secretary of Finance Jose Pardo “If by six o’clock this morning you haven’t given us the resignation letter, we will storm the gates of Malacañang!” Evidently, while Rene de Villa was handling the main negotiations with Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara, Mike Arroyo had also been doing his own negotiations with Jose Pardo.  For more information, refer to “Credit should go to Mike Arroyo” Malaya, January 16 2002, accessible via  http://web.archive.org/web/20020206231755/http://malaya.com.ph/jan16/edtorde.htm

[3] Page terminates here, says “DURING/ A6”

[4] Unfortunately, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not have full control over these events. As stated in the previous footnote, Mike Arroyo was also doing his own back-channel negotiations with Jose Pardo. Furthermore, Mike Arroyo has said that “I wasn’t telling Gloria everything: I didn’t want her alarmed…” Refer to “Credit should go to Mike Arroyo”

[5] This is most likely Alberto Romulo, Aquino’s first Secretary of Foreign Affairs. “In the topsy-turvy hours before Joseph Estrada was drummed out of the Philippine presidency on Jan. 20, Alberto Romulo waited anxiously at the Edsa shrine. Famous as the rallying place for the revolt that overthrew Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986, Edsa was again a locus of ‘people power.’” Refer to Landler, Mark. “In Philippines, The Economy As Casualty; The President Ousted, a Credibility Repair Job” The New York Times (09 February 2009) Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/09/business/philippines-economy-casualty-president-ousted-credibility-repair-job.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[6] The President says. “Pagod na pagod na ako.  Ayoko na masyado nang masakit.  Pagod na ako sa red tape, bureaucracy, intriga.  (I am very tired.  I don’t want any more of this – it’s too painful.  I’m tired of the red tape, the bureaucracy, the intrigue.)I just want to clear my name, then I will go.”Again, this is high grade evidence that the petitioner has resigned.  The intent to resign is clear when he said “Ayoko na masyado nang masakit.” “Ayoko na” are words of resignation. See Estrada vs. Desierto [G.R. Nos. 146710-15.  March 2, 2001] and Estrada vs. Arroyo [G.R. No. 146738.  March 2, 2001] http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2001/mar2001/146710_15.htm

[7] As pointed out in the succeeding footnote, the headline of this edition of the Inquirer was “The resignation that never was”- which is ironic, given that certain parts of the Angara Diary was used to establish that Estrada had indeed resigned (See Estrada vs. Desierto [G.R. Nos. 146710-15.  March 2, 2001] and Estrada vs. Arroyo [G.R. No. 146738.  March 2, 2001] http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2001/mar2001/146710_15.htm)

[8] (Last of three parts) Philippine Daily Inquirer Feb 05 2001. Retrieved from http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=83UE6yvegO4C&dat=20010206&printsec=frontpage&hl=en Headline: “Erap’s final hours- The resignation that never was”

[9] Page ends here. Note says “THE RESIGNATION/ A12”

[10] Estrada’s claim to be the ‘President of the Masa’ is most explicitly and clearly stated in his inaugural address: “The light is fading, the day is almost over, and yet this late afternoon is the morning of a new day. The day of the Filipino masses. One of their own is finally leading them… One hundred years after Kawit, fifty years after independence, twelve years after Edsa, and seven years after the rejection of foreign bases, it is now the turn of the masses to experience liberation.” Inaugural Address of President Estrada (English Translation), June 30, 1998. Retrieved from http://www.gov.ph/1998/06/30/inaugural-address-of-president-estrada-official-english-translation-june-30-1998/

[11] Gloria Macapagal Arroyo explains that the negotiations broke down at this point:

“But in the morning I was awakened by one of my lawyers about the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Art Panganiban. That Chief Justice Hilario Davide said that if Erap does not resign by noon, he will be constrained to administer my oath… And then at that moment I got a call from Rene de Villa. He said I want to let you know our talks have broken down. Because Ed Angara reversed everything he said last night. And they even want you to write a letter praising Estrada. In short, the talks had broken down… So I decided, I’ll take the Davide option. When I put down the phone, I turned to Tita Cory, and said “the Lord just answered my prayers and he is agreeing with you. I will take my oath today at noon time.” (Refer to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, “My road to EDSA Dos”, Printed in the March 14 2001edition of the Philippine Star. Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/90034/gma-my-road-edsa-dos)

[12] Indeed, it appears that there was no double cross. As seen in GMA’s account, Chief Justice Hilario Davide had decided on his own that he would administer the Oath. Unless proven otherwise, we can assume that Chief Justice Davide made that decision without influence from either the Arroyo or Estrada camps. This, I think, was the crucial point of EDSA 2. Could it be that Chief Justice Davide, like General Reyes, made his decision because it was “…the only constitutional option left to avert a colossal disaster for the nation… to be true to my mandate, true to the Constitution?”  See General Angelo Reyes, “The 11th Hour Decision” Philippine Daily Inquirer March 2001 Retrieved from http://www.supr.aim.edu/EDSA/EDSA_the11thour.htm

[13] This part of the diary, until the statement by President Estrada, is archived in http://philippinediaryproject.wordpress.com/category/diary-of-edgardo-j-angara/

[14] The part of the Angara Diary archived in the Philippine Diary Project ends here.

Friday, Jan. 19, 2001

Meeting with Senators

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.”

Critical

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).”[1] 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.[2]

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]

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.”

(Tomorrow: Negotiations with Macapagal men begin)[4]

(Second of three parts)

Editor’s note: This is the continuation of “The Final Days of Joseph Ejercito Estrada” a narrative of former Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara. It is an insider’s account of Estrada’s last two days in office, during which a defeated president tells the author, “I am very tired. I don’t want any more of this- it’s too painful.”

Friday, Jan. 19, 2001.[5]

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

[1] Refer to Angelo Reyes’ account, “The 11th Hour Decision” Philippine Daily Inquirer March 2001  Retrieved from http://www.supr.aim.edu/EDSA/EDSA_the11thour.htm

[2] “The proposal for a snap election for president in May where he would not be a candidate is an indicium that petitioner had intended to give up the presidency even at that time.” See Estrada vs. Desierto [G.R. Nos. 146710-15.  March 2, 2001] and Estrada vs. Arroyo [G.R. No. 146738.  March 2, 2001] http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2001/mar2001/146710_15.htm

[3] “According to Secretary Angara, he asked Senator Pimentel to advise petitioner to consider the option of “dignified exit or resignation.”[81] Petitioner did nor disagree but listened intently… Significantly, the petitioner expressed no objection to the suggestion for a graceful and dignified exit but said he would never leave the country. At 10:00 p.m., petitioner revealed to Secretary Angara, “Ed, Angie (Reyes) guaranteed that I would have five days to a week in the palace.”[85] This is proof that petitioner had reconciled himself to the reality that he had to resign.  His mind was already concerned with the five-day grace period he could stay in the palace.  See Estrada vs. Desierto [G.R. Nos. 146710-15.  March 2, 2001] and Estrada vs. Arroyo [G.R. No. 146738.  March 2, 2001] http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2001/mar2001/146710_15.htm

[4] Part 1 of Angara’s diary ends here.

[5] (Second of three parts) Philippine Daily Inquirer February 05, 2001. Retrieved from http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=83UE6yvegO4C&dat=20010205&printsec=frontpage&hl=en Headline: “Erap’s final hours- During talks, 2 sides acted in bad faith”

 

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2001

At nine in the morning of Thursday, Jan. 18, I received the officers and board members of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce in my office at Mabini Hall, headed by their president emeritus Jimmy Tang. We discussed how the federation could assist in employment creation especially in the countryside.

Briefing on NDF, MILF

Immediately after Gen. Edgardo Batenga and Gen. Victor Mayo, deputy national security adviser, gave me a briefing on the MILF negotiations. A week ago, the President gave me the go ahead to resume negotiations with both the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The NDF had given a positive response and I had the initial batch of political prisoners processed for release.

I was voted by Senate President Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel to go to the Senate and attend a lunch testimonial for two policemen who had died trying to defuse the Dec. 30 bomb in Makati.

Early that morning, I had received requests for interviews from the New York Times, Time Magazine and Newsweek. The foreign press must smell something, I thought.

At around 7 p.m of Jan. 18, Finance Secretary Jose ‘Titoy’ Pardo asked me to join him in asking his five undersecretaries to hold back their resignations for a few days. I explained to him that although we understood their feelings, it would not be an opportune time to resign. Believing Titoy and I had persuaded them to defer their resignation, I left and went to Malacañang.

At around 8 p.m., the president was talking to his defense lawyers.He was consulting them on the opening of the second envelope. The President had seen the reaction of the people to the suppression of the second envelope. Feeling he had nothing to hide, President Estrada asked his lawyers to request that the second envelope be opened, despite the fact that he had already won the legal battle over that technical issue.

January 18, 2001

At nine in the morning of Thursday, Jan. 18, I received the officers and board members of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce in my office at Mabini Hall, headed by their president emeritus Jimmy Tang. We discussed how the federation could assist in employment creation especially in the countryside.

Immediately after Gen. Edgardo Batenga and Gen. Victor Mayo, deputy national security adviser, gave me a briefing on the MILF negotiations. A week ago, the President gave me the go ahead to resume negotiations with both the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The NDF had given a positive response and I had the initial batch of political prisoners processed for release.

I was voted by Senate President Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel to go to the Senate and attend a lunch testimonial for two policemen who had died trying to defuse the Dec. 30 bomb in Makati.

Early that morning, I had received requests for interviews from the New York Times, Time Magazine and Newsweek. The foreign press must smell something, I thought.

At around 7 p.m of Jan. 18, Finance Secretary Jose ‘Titoy’ Pardo asked me to join him in asking his five undersecretaries to hold back their resignations for a few days. I explained to him that although we understood their feelings, it would not be an opportune time to resign. Believing Titoy and I had persuaded them to defer their resignation, I left and went to Malacañang.

At around 8 p.m., the president was talking to his defense lawyers.He was consulting them on the opening of the second envelope. The President had seen the reaction of the people to the suppression of the second envelope. Feeling he had nothing to hide, President Estrada asked his lawyers to request that the second envelope be opened, despite the fact that he had already won the legal battle over that technical issue.

Jan. 6-17, 2001

The Last Days of Joseph Ejercito Estrada[1]

By Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara

Printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 04-06 2001

Editor’s Note: This is the inside story of the “The Final Days of Joseph Ejercito Estrada”which is the title of the diary of former Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara.

Angara made the diaries exclusively available to the INQUIRER. His narrative contains a detailed account of events inside Malacañang during Estrada’s last two days in office. It is an insider’s account of how and why the negotiations for the resignation collapsed, leaving a constitutional ambiguity which is now the basis for a legal challenge, staged by Estrada’s supporters, against the legal legitimacy of the Macapagal government.

Angara’s account is incorporated in a book the Inquirer is publishing on the fall of the Estrada government. The book, whose principal author is Amando Doronila, contains a comprehensive assessment of the reasons behind the collapse of the government and inside stories of the events during the five days of People Power II.

 

IT WAS 9:30 in the morning, Jan. 20, 2001.[2]

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[3] that carried me through those final days, those final hours, and gave me the opportunity to witness history unfolding.

[1] Page breaks indicate when the part published has concluded. Italicized ‘Editor’s Notes’ are part of the texts themselves. Footnotes are my comments.

[2](First of three parts) Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 04 2001. Retrieved from

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2479&dat=20010204&id=EX42AAAAIBAJ&sjid=hCUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3222,16524427 Headline: Erap’s final hours told. Drophead: At 1:20 pm., Jan 20, Estrada says, ‘This is serious, Reyes has defected’. This was revised in the February 05, 2001 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer as ‘At At 1:20 pm., Jan 19, Estrada says, ‘This is serious, Reyes has defected.’

[3] Page break, marked as ‘ERAP’S/A16