In Greek drama, masks were useful devices that allow the actor to play several different characters.
In the Philippine political drama, nothing much differs.
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues. Today, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege.
The great American writer Elbert Green Hubbard once wrote:
If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him…. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, resign your position, and when you are OUTSIDE, DAMN TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT, but as long as you are part of the institution do not condemn it. If you do that, you are loosening the tendrils that are holding you to that institution, and at the first high wind that comes along, you will be uprooted and blown away, and will probably never know the reason why.
I hope you will understand why it has taken me this long to unburden myself of the truth I carry.
Having once been a professional soldier trained in the tradition and practice of institutional and even personal loyalty, only the higher interest of nation and people, and the highest call of conscience, impel me to speak out.
Mr. President, you, more than any of us in this hall, understand what I mean.
When you went through the gut-wrenching crucible of mutiny against your commander-in-chief on February 22, 1986, you had to choose between loyalty to person against loyalty to the higher interest of nation and people.
Jose Ejercito, or Joseph Estrada, also known as Jose Velarde, former president of the Republic of the Philippines and the first and only head of state of this country to be impeached by Congress was elected in 1998 with the highest number of votes cast by the Filipino people ever.
He also won by the biggest margin ever, over his closest opponent, Jose de Venecia Jr.
His campaign slogan –Erap para sa Mahirap – was a masterpiece, almost a stroke of genius.
Before he ran for the presidency, I worked with him closely as head of an anti-crime task force of the defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission formed by then President Fidel Valdez Ramos to combat the kidnapping scourge that was gripping the country.
Foreign investors were avoiding us, while local businessmen, especially the ethnic Chinese, were transferring elsewhere.
It was one big security and even economic threat that faced the newly elected president in 1992.
I joined then Vice President Estrada on August 4, 1992, after a short-lived stint as provincial director of Laguna in the Southern Tagalog region.
I gladly accepted the offer to join PACC since I was not happy anyway with my Laguna assignment.
I was consistently at loggerheads with most of the local elective officials when I waged a no-nonsense, uncompromising battle against the illegal numbers game, jueteng, in that jurisdiction.
Needless to say, those officials who were on the take from jueteng operators hated my guts and wanted me out of the province at first opportunity.
At the PACC, and it is a matter of public record, we scored high in our anti-crime efforts. In less than a year, we brought down an alarmingly high incidence of kidnap-for-ransom cases to zero.
This was highlighted by the neutralization of the dreaded Red Scorpion Group on February 17, 1993.
Modesty aside, but without mental reservation, I can dare say our performance helped chart Mr. Estrada’s road to the presidency.
More than a couple of years before the May 1998 presidential elections, he was virtually a president-in-waiting.
Mr. Estrada impressed me with the way he handled his subordinates. He personally took care of our needs, always mindful of our safety and security.
He also managed to personally thank and commend all the operatives for a good day’s work, even giving incentives after big accomplishments
It was his personal recommendation to then President Ramos that earned me my first star rank in 1994, way ahead of my peers and even senior officers in the Philippine National Police.
During our private conversations, he would tell me:
“Alam mo Ping, kung matitigil lang ang katiwalian sa ating bansa, siguradong maiaangat natin mula sa kahirapan ang karamihan ng ating mga kababayan. Napakalaki kasi ang nawawala sa budget dahil sa ‘corruption’, kaya hindi tayo makaahon sa hirap.”
Having been born to poor parents myself, he struck me as the man our country needed to lead our people.
Needless to say, I was impressed.
I would tell my men and as many people I could reach, “Kung mahal natin ang ating bansa, si Erap ang dapat nating maging susunod na presidente at wala nang iba.”
I put those words into action during the presidential campaign in 1998.
Under pain of being accused of electioneering, I mustered all the men I had worked with in the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to mount an organized strategic effort to thwart election fraud as that could be the only way to prevent Mr. Estrada’s victory in the 1998 presidential election.
My men and I went around the whole country – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, talked to as many field commanders and chiefs of police, so that they would not allow themselves to be used as instruments to cheat Mr Estrada out of sure victory.
In one of our visits in Mindanao, I met with then Southcom Chief Lt. Gen. Joselin Nazareno.
I brought him to Vice President Estrada to make his personal commitment to guard the votes in Mindanao and made Mr Estrada promise to consider him as the next AFP Chief of Staff when he becomes president.
He did not just promise to consider. He committed the post to Gen. Nazareno.
So Erap became president, all right.
After his victory in May 1998, he started making announcements for possible appointments to key positions in his government.
One not-so-fine afternoon, he summoned me to his Polk St. Greenhills residence and asked if he could appoint another ranking general as AFP Chief of Staff, instead of Gen. Nazareno.
I told him, that was his prerogative as incoming commander-in-chief, but firmly reminded him that a promise was made to Gen. Nazareno.
His sudden amnesia got me to start thinking, “something could be wrong with the character of this man.”
This thought came again sometime in early June of 1998.
He called me to talk about what I thought would be my possible appointment as Chief, PNP.
Instead, he expressed his thoughts on jueteng and how he intended to deal with it during his presidency.
He said: “Ping, iniisip ko, pagbigyan na lang natin itong jueteng. Alam mo, ang mga governors at mayors, lalo na ‘yung mga tumulong sa akin sa eleksyon, wala sila ng katulad sa President’s social fund na galing sa Pagcor. Marami silang gastusin at sa jueteng lang nila pwedeng kunin ang pera.”
Shocked and surprised, I retorted, “Sir, ilegal ‘yan. Saka presidente na kayo. Dapat huwag na kayong makialam sa jueteng. Larong lupa pati iyan. Sasabog kayo diyan at masisira tayo pareho.
Visibly dismayed and irritated, he said, “Sige, saka na lang tayo mag-usap.”
He walked me to the main door of his house and used another tack: “Saka, Ping, ‘yung mga tao natin dati sa task force, gusto ko rin silang bigyan ng monthly allowance.”
To which I quickly replied: “Sir, ang mga tao natin, kami lahat, mababaw lang ang kaligayahan namin. Kahit additional subsistence allowance lang, happy na kami.”
Hiding his irritation, he gave me a quick and curt goodbye.
Finally on November 16, 1999, I was appointed Chief, PNP. But only after persistent second thoughts from the appointing authority.
On November 15 of the same year, I received a call from his cohort, Mr. Jaime Dichavez, who was, at that time, with Mr. Estrada in Tagaytay Highlands in Cavite.
Mr. Dichavez told me I was to be informed of my appointment as Chief, PNP.
It did not turn out to be that simple.
In the living room of the Tagaytay resthouse, he told me very seriously: “Ping, dapat pagbigyan natin ang operation ng jueteng. Maraming umaasa diyan.”
“Eto na naman kami,” I said to myself.
By that time, I had realized jueteng had always been the deal breaker in getting my impending appointment and must be the reason why I was not appointed in June of 1998.
Maintaining my immovable position that I cannot, as we must not, tolerate anything that is illegal, he asked, “Sino ba ang mas senior sa inyo ni Wycoco?” (referring to the late NBI director, Reynaldo Wycoco), to which I answered, “Kung seniority sir sa PMA (Philippine Military Academy), siya, dahil una siyang nag-graduate. Pero ngayon, pareho lang kaming 2-star general, sir.”
He did not appoint me right there, instead instructed me to follow his convoy back to Malacañang in Metro Manila.
It was in Malacañang, that same evening, that he finally informed me of my appointment to the position, but not without his “huling hirit sa jueteng.”
It was also during that conversation when I told him I was aware of the monthly P5 Million “S.O.P.” being given by Gov. Chavit Singson to the Chief, PNP as part of an organized payola, and that I was waiving it, therefore would not accept it.
Three or four months after my assumption of office, I learned that Mr. Estrada asked Gov. Singson to remit to him retroactively the monies intended for the Chief, PNP.
He told Gov. Singson: “Gov, baka akala mo, hindi ko alam na hindi kinukuha ng bagong Chief,PNP ang para sa kanya. Ibigay mo rin sa akin ‘yan.”
After all the internal reforms that I instituted in the PNP were in place, including my “no-take policy, anti-kotong campaign, 34-inch maximum waistline, strong anti-crime and anti-drugs campaign, proper allocation and downloading of funds, and logistics to front-line units, I started training my guns on the illegal numbers game – jueteng.
It was a no-nonsense, no-matter-who-gets-hurt kind of a campaign.
I thought if I was hard on lowly policemen who stopped mulcting P100 or P200 from vegetable dealers and hapless taxi cab and jeepney drivers out of deference to my no-take policy, I should be as hard, if not harder, against my regional and provincial directors who were raking in millions of pesos from gambling operators.
This was when my life started to become miserable.
The general public, even most of my distinguished colleagues in this hall, may not be aware of this, but it was common knowledge in Malacañang as well as in Camp Crame at that time, that for the most part of the second half of the year 2000, I was not welcome in the palace due to my differences with then President Estrada over the issue of jueteng.
Mr. Estrada had unofficially declared me persona non grata in the palace grounds.
I was practically in the doghouse for an unusually extended period of time. Mr. Estrada would not talk to me.
He was dealing directly with my subordinate officers, both at the PAOCTF and the PNP, which I both headed in concurrent capacity.
I could not even report to him about major incidents like the bombings in Mindanao because he was no longer answering my calls, which he used to do, and in earnest.
“Anak ng jueteng na buhay ito!” I would tell my close friends.
Jueteng became a sore point between me and Mr. Estrada. I made it clear that I would stick to my “no-take policy” and I continued to issue stern warnings to my regional and provincial directors that if they tolerate jueteng operations in their areas of responsibility, they would be removed and subjected to harsh disciplinary action.
At least one regional director who had direct and strong connections with Mr Estrada was defiant.
When I confronted him, he said, “Napagalitan ako ni presidente nang simulan ko ang kampanya laban sa jueteng dito. Sino ba ang susundin ko, Chief, PNP o ang Commander-in-Chief?”
I was successful in instituting reforms in the PNP because Mr. Estrada gave me full authority which I asked in the first place when I got appointed to the post.
But because of jueteng, Mr Estrada, issued a written memorandum to then Secretary of Interior and Local Government Alfredo Lim, effectively taking away from me the authority to appoint and remove police officials down to provincial director level.
“Hindi nga talaga mahina ang ulo ng presidenteng ito,” I told myself. By removing that authority, I could no longer discipline my officers, I would fail in my anti-gambling operations and worse, I would definitely fail in my mission.
Resigning my position crossed my mind then. I spent many sleepless nights agonizing over my situation.
In one of our Cluster E Cabinet meetings held in the office of the DFA, then AFP Chief of Staff Gen Angelo Reyes took pity on me and gave his advice, “Pare, Commander-in-Chief natin ‘yan. Pagbigyan mo na muna ngayon at saka ninyo na lang pag-usapan ang problema ninyo ni Presidente.”
I answered him, “Sir, question de prinsipyo ito. Ako ang nasa tama sa labang ito. Tanggalin na lang n’ya ako, pero hindi ako bibigay dito.”
I found out later that indeed Mr. Estrada had started gathering legal basis to justify my relief.
On hindsight, people close to Mr. Estrada and this representation would say as an afterthought – EDSA 2 could not have happened had Mr Estrada listened to General Lacson’s consistent advice on jueteng. Simple.
But on the other hand, EDSA 2 would not have happened if I went along with Mr. Estrada and Gov. Singson and altogether tolerated jueteng operations.
Bingo 2-Ball would not have been conceived to legalize jueteng.
We all know that it was during its implementation that there was a misunderstanding and falling out between Mr. Estrada and Chavit Singson.
Mr. Estrada realized that I would not waver on my stand against jueteng and thought that by legalizing it, I would not have any more reason to conduct raids and operations.
Jueteng is just one illustrative insight into the character of Mr. Estrada as a government official, and as President of the country. There were other sinister behavioral patterns that must be told to the Filipino people.
Sa likod ng isang maka-mahirap na Joseph Estrada na mahal na mahal ng masa, ay maraming transaksyon na may kasamang pang-aabuso, gamit ang kapangyarihang kaagapay ng pagiging pangulo ng bansa, upang magkamal ng maraming salapi para sa sariling kapakanan.
In August 1998, in the early part of Mr. Estrada’s abbreviated presidency, Mr. Alfonso Yuchengco was pressured to sign conveyance of his 7.75% PTIC (Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corporation) holdings, equivalent to 18,720 shares to Metro Pacific, represented by Manuel V. Pangilinan.
These PTIC holdings correspond to 2,017,650 PLDT common shares.
Mr. Yuchengco, I also learned later, was pressed to sign a waiver of his right of first refusal over the PTIC shares of the Cojuangco-Meer group.
It was only after the passage of many years that I was to learn that Mr. Estrada, barely two months in office then, used the PNP to harass Mr. Yuchengco’s son, Tito, with threat of arrest on some trumped-up drug charges to force his father, Mr. Yuchengco to sell.
This harassment of the young man was accomplished through deliberate and obvious physical surveillance.
“Napag-alaman ko na matagal tagal ding may kimkim na galit daw sa akin ang pamilyang Yuchengco sa dahilang ang pagkaalam nila ay sa akin iniutos ni Mr Estrada ang panggigipit sa kanila upang mapwersang magbenta ng kanilang pag-aaring shares of stocks ng PLDT.
Sa inyo, Ginoong Pangulo ng Senado, mga pinagpipitaganan kong kasamahan at sampu ng pamilya Yuchengco — wala po akong kamalay-malay sa pangyayaring iyan.
At kung halimbawa mang sa akin iniutos ni Mr Estrada ang gawaing iyon, ay siguradong hindi ko po susundin.”
The bigger and more important question remains – “What was the deal in pesos and centavos between Mr Estrada and Mr Pangilinan, if any?”
Or, should we rather ask, “How much was involved?”
Sa larangan naman ng smuggling sa Customs at sa iba pang lugar ay hindi rin masusukat ang kakayahan ni Mr. Estrada.
When Mr. Estrada transferred the mission of going after smugglers from the late Lt Gen. Jose Calimlim’s unit in PSG to the PAOCTF, he gave me the mandate to go hammer and tongs against smugglers.
Yet one morning, I received a call from Mr. Estrada. “May mga tao ka raw na nangha-harass sa Customs,” he said with a low tone.
After checking with my officers, I replied, “Wala sila sir sa loob ng Customs zone kaya imposibleng makapang-harass sila doon. Nandun sila sa labas, malapit sa Manila Hotel at may inaabangan na ilulusot na shipments ng dressed chicken parts from China and the US.”
He bellowed, “Basta i-pull out mo!”
A few days later in a light conversation on the topic of smuggling, inside his office in Malacañang, I told Mr. Estrada, “Alam mo sir, dalawampung 40-foot containers sana ng dressed chickens ang nahuli natin kung hindi mo iniutos i-pull out ang mga tao natin.”
With a mocking voice, he said, “Sana hindi kayo nag-pull out.”
Akala ko, nang bigyan ako ng kautusang lipulin ang mga smugglers sa pier, totoong-totoo at seryoso. Ako namang si gago, trabaho lang ng trabaho. ‘Yun pala, moro-moro.
May dalawang mukha nga ba ang sining? O, sa likod ng putting tabing ay ibang itsura ng mukha ang nakatago?
Pagkatapos ng manok na galing sa Tsina at Amerika, dumako naman tayo sa bigas na tanim ng Vietcong.
Sometime in August 2000, when Mr. Estrada was hardly talking to me, on account of my hard-headedness on the issue of jueteng, he was giving a direct order to one of my subordinate officers in PAOCTF to release a shipload of smuggled rice that was apprehended somewhere in the Cebu-Bohol area.
The PAOCTF officer was with me in Cebu during that time, and he was relaying to me the President’s order.
I did not bother to find out anymore if the officer complied or not with Mr. Estrada’s order.
I thought I should not interfere with a direct order coming from the President to a subordinate officer because in doing so I felt that it would add insult to injury upon myself.
Sadly, because we never punish smugglers, the same people who sabotaged our economy during the Estrada regime are the same saboteurs in bed with the present dispensation.
Walang nagbago, lalo lang lumaki ang komisyon at lagayan.
In an effort to defend himself from accusations that he may have been involved in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case, he has consistently asserted that he never dealt with officials other than the heads of agencies.
Yet, on so many occasions, and I have personal knowledge on this, during his presidency, he was giving direct orders and instructions deep into the layers of the entire government bureaucracy, the PNP and the PAOCTF included.
And those who have worked with him in Malacañang know whereof I speak.
Mr. Estrada had the temerity to issue a press statement that I was the one who knew and in fact supervised what former police officer Cezar Mancao had testified in court as “Operation or Oplan Delta”, allegedly a special operations plan designed to neutralize Salvador “Bubby” Dacer.
Mabuti pa si Mr. Estrada, alam niyang may “Oplan Delta.” Ako, sa mga pahayagan at kamakailan ko lamang narinig at nalaman na mayroon palang “Oplan Delta.”
Sa halip na i-depensa na lang niya ang sarili niya, bakit siya kailangang magturo ng iba?
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, maraming bagay-bagay na sa abot ng aking natuklasan, matapos ang aking sariling pagsasaliksik at pag-iimbestiga hindi lamang sa usaping ito kundi pati ibang kasong maaring kinasangkutan ni Ginoong Estrada ang nais kong ibahagi sa kapulungang ito.
Marami din akong gustong itanong kay Mr. Estrada:
1. Sino ang inutusan mo para i-harass at gipitin ang pamilya ni Al Yuchengco?
2. Sino ang tumawag sa iyo para utusan ako na i-pull out ang mga tao kong nakaabang na hulihin ang smuggled chicken parts?
3. Kaninong shipment ng smuggled rice ang ipina-release mo sa Cebu?
4. At higit sa lahat, anu-ano pa ang mga iniutos mo sa ating mga dating tauhan sa PAOCTF na lingid sa aking kaalaman?
But for now and today, I will limit the subject of my privilege speech to the issues I mentioned.
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, with your indulgence, please allow me to take the floor once again on Monday next week.
For former President Joseph Ejercito-Estrada, there is no corruption if it does not involve government funds.
Therefore, following his flawed logic, it is not corruption to accept bribes – from jueteng and some shady deals that involve using the power and influence of the presidency.
He has not heard of ‘conflict of interest’ nor taking advantage of one’s position to amass wealth.
He has not changed that loose definition of corruption.
In media interviews and in his conversations with friends and associates, he maintains that he had not done anything wrong since all his transactions while he was president did not involve government funds.
Now he is presenting himself again to the Filipino people, for one more chance at the presidency.
At this juncture of our history, after suffering eight years of unmitigated corruption under the regime which succeeded the Estrada presidency, I would be remiss in my sworn duties as an elected member of the Senate, as a nationally elected official of the land, if I did not unburden myself of my insights into the character of Mr. Estrada.
Marahil may mga magsasabi na sa mga binigkas ko ngayon ay hindi ako marunong tumanaw ng utang na loob, lalo na sa pangulong siyang naghirang sa akin.
Ngunit hindi naman din matatawaran ang naibahagi kong tulong, sampu ng aking mga tauhan, sa kanyang katanyagan nung siya ay nanunungkulang bise-presidente at bilang Chairman ng Presidential Anti-Crime Commission.
Ang mas mahalaga ay pairalin ang marapat at matuwid.
At lalong mahalaga na gawing kataas-taasang adhikain ang kapakanan at kinabukasan ng mamamayang Pilipino.
God save the Philippines from Joseph Ejercito alias Joseph Estrada.