Sunday, February 4, 2007

Letter to UNO

15 January 2007

President Joseph Ejercito Estrada
Chairman Emeritus
United Opposition

Dear Mr. President:

I write to make of record my position on certain issues related to the May 2007 senatorial elections. My only concern is the honor of our party and wellbeing of our people.

I shall start by recalling our UNO meeting on Polk Street on New Year’s day (morning). Joining the President then were Mayor Jojo Binay, Ernie Maceda, Tito Sotto, Chiz Escudero, Boy Morales, and myself. Fred Lim and Baby Asistio joined later.

The meeting followed no set agenda or structure. Tito Sotto had much to say about his group which he believed should be on the UNO ticket. This included:

1. Tessie Aquino Oreta, who did not seek reelection after her first term ended in 2001;

2. Sonny Osmena, who ran unsuccessfully on the administration ticket in 2004;

3. Greg Honasan, who is now under detention on charges of rebellion following his highly publicized capture in Quezon City;

4. Loren Legarda, who wants to go back to the Senate at the cost of her vice presidential protest against Noli de Castro; and

5. Tito Sotto himself, who is back on entertainment tv in preparation for the campaign.

It was the first time I heard of this group earnestly wanting to run under the Opposition. Last year, they sent Johnny Rojas to represent them in our UNO meetings. From him we learned that they had been preparing to run, but that they would rather stay “somewhere in the middle,” than identify themselves openly with the Opposition. Many of us (notably Jojo Binay) were particularly anxious about that statement. So I listened to Tito with undivided attention.

Tito and Chiz Escudero provided most of the conversation, with Ernie Maceda occasionally interjecting. Mention was made of:

1. Ping Lacson, who has abandoned his earlier decision to run for Mayor of Manila and decided instead to seek reelection;

2. Ed Angara, who was reported to be putting up a "unity ticket," but in whose behalf Loren Legarda had reportedly telephoned the President for possible inclusion in the opposition lineup;

3. Manny Villar and his group, which includes Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto, and Kiko Pangilinan;

4. Drilon’s Liberal Party, which was reported to be pushing for Noynoy Aquino’s inclusion in the UNO slate.

No one opposed Lacson’s reentry, but no one pushed for Angara’s inclusion. There was not much information about Villar’s group---not even Jojo Binay could say whether or not his friend Joker was running again. The President said he expected to meet shortly with Villar. Upon mention of Noynoy Aquino’s name, Tito Sotto promptly cut in to say that between Nonoy and his auntie, Tessie Aquino Oreta, the latter would have better chances of winning. Fred Lim disagreed, saying that if Noynoy ran, his sister Kris Aquino, who is a tv host, would certainly ensure his winning.

I made two short interventions.

1) I proposed that UNO set some criteria or standards before admitting anyone who wants to ride the opposition bandwagon. Some of these people had junked the President without ceremony to support Mrs. Arroyo in 2001 and 2004; now they want UNO to give them a ride because it seems no longer profitable to be identified with Mrs. Arroyo, although they have not openly abandoned her. They want to collect on every throw of the dice even after they’ve lost the game. And we seem so eager to provide the revolving door for their crass opportunism. Has it never occurred to us that UNO, rather than Ed Angara whom UNO has excluded from its lineup, could end up putting together the “unity ticket” that combines the best and the worst administration and opposition personalities?

2) With great pain, I expressed some reservations about drafting Koko Pimentel, Alan Peter Cayetano and J.V. Ejercito as UNO candidates while Koko’s father -- Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel, Alan Peter’s sister --Sen. Pia Cayetano, and J. V. Ejercito’s half-brother --- Sen. Jinggoy Estrada are sitting in the Senate until 2010. I just could not accept the idea of such bright young men doing what the “trapo to end all trapos” would probably not do, and for the Senate, with all its absurdities, to end up as a mad and shallow “Family Ball.” Where Malacanang failed, UNO just might succeed ---we would abolish the Senate’s reason for being.

I would have been proud to campaign for these young men if this one impediment did not exist, or if their next of kin gave up their Senate seats right now. But under the circumstances, the Titanic would sink if the three wonders came on board. I would rather encourage J. V. Ejercito to go for a third term as Mayor of San Juan; Koko Pimentel to try his luck a second time in Cagayan de Oro, where he lost his mayoralty bid when his father was Senate President; and Alan Peter to do something exciting in Taguig in the meantime. They have all the time in the world to wait; they can wait; they should wait.

I had to die in that meeting to be able to say the first line of a long sentence. I had already lost too many friends because of politics, and I did not want to lose any more than I already have. But the truth needed to be said, and nobody else seemed willing to say it. I had to take the risk. The ancients said it so well: Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas –“Plato is dear to me, Socrates is dear, but the truth is dearer still.”

This was not a question of the Constitution or the law, but simply of ethics -- of-what is right and proper.. Article II, Sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” No enabling law has been enacted, but we have a serious moral duty to live by the spirit of the Constitution, and not to make the problem of dynasties any more messy than it already is.

Political dynasties are either appreciated or hated, tolerated or feared. But even in the worst of cases, dynastic family members try simultaneosly to occupy as many different offices as possible, or else they alternate or rotate in holding on to a particular office that allows them to exercise power.. Never do they sit together in the same office at the same time. This is precisely what the three young men’s senatorial bid threatens to alter.

The obvious assumption is that the voters are so pissed off with GMA that they will eat any kind of dung we give them. This is false. We cannot have such a very poor opinion of our people. In the end, they will prove us wrong, whatever the paid pollsters tell us. But should error and madness prevail, three families would be holding six Senate seats---one-fourth of the Senate---after May 2007, Thereafter, twelve or eight or six families could end up controlling all 24 seats. Husbands and wives, together with their sons and daughters, and uncles and aunties, why not, could end up running as one big gang.

You, Mr. President, and we, your friends in UNO, have a special responsibility to make sure this does not even begin to happen. The Senate is a small body of 24 members, representing a nation of 90 million Filipinos or about 18 million families. No single family has a vested right to be represented there. Membership in the Senate is a privilege conferred by the people. It is a gift from them, except when cheats manage to rig the electoral process. No two senators from a single nuclear family had ever sat there until Jinggoy was elected in 2004, after his mother Sen. Loi Estrada had been elected in 2001. But this was the result of an extraordinary situation, an exception which proves the rule.

We all know how and why it happened. In 2001, the President was removed in a coup after his impeachment trial was cut short by a walkout of the prosecutors. He wanted to show ---and the opposition and the voters agreed with him then--- that despite his removal he continued to enjoy popular support which the people were willing to translate into Senate seats for his wife Loi and his son Jinggoy. That, however, was to be a one-shot deal only, not to be used as a precedent or model.

Now that Senator Loi has decided, in your words, “to retire” and become your “caregiver,” that exceptional situation would cease to exist, and what many believe was truly an error would be finally cured. But were the President to inflict his other son J.V. Ejercito on the UNO ticket, then he would be perpetuating the error, and encouraging others to follow his example, as seems to be happening now to the two otherwise bright young men---Alan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel.

Not only would the President be perpetuating an error. He would also be confirming the suspicion of those who reject any possibility of his assuming any leadership role in a post-Arroyo scenario before or after 2010 ---- that his idea of the national interest is seriously impaired by his devotion to the personal. This is totally unnecessary and unfair.

We at UNO cannot possibly support this error without in effect telling the masses, whose champions we say we are, that, contrary to what we have been saying to them, and what we have led them to believe, our primary interest has never been to serve them but only to serve ourselves. We would thereby be throwing away our moral advantage, and making our party the most effective campaigners for the administration.

I have no doubt that if the administration tried to do what the leaders of UNO want to do now, we would be the first ones to shout to the high heavens in outrage and anger. Why then should we ever want to do it ourselves? Our people expect us to do better, and we have so assured them. Have we been lying to them all this time that we have been saying Mrs. Arroyo is the liar? If we are no better than the ones we denounce, what right have we to be here at all? To whom will our people turn if they see that the administration and the opposition have cancelled each other out? Would this not be the cruelest betrayal?

In that meeting, I waited to hear someone say I was wrong. I waited to be told that the reason or reasons for drafting the three next-of-kin of sitting senators were far beyond my ability to grasp in one short lifetime. But there was no effort to shoot down or refute my objection. No effort to explain why UNO has to have all the star fruits and the three wonders on its dream ticket. You will, therefore, understand why when you and Ernie Maceda agreed to release to the media the names of the three wonders as part of your proposed ticket, while my objection was waiting to be addressed, I felt that my long service to the Opposition and my presence in that meeting had just been annulled. That was the worst possible slap I had ever received -- and from my party colleagues yet. For that reason, I decided that any future participation in any UNO activity on my part would be completely superfluous.

The real issue here is our moral integrity as the presumed alternative to the Arroyo government. I have fought for this, a little more than many of those you see in the street marches. After the 2001 coup, many simply decided to cross over to the administration.. Many others decided to watch and see, to bury their heads in the sand, or to negotiate the terms of mutually beneficial coexistence. I decided to keep on, clarifying the issues for myself, the opposition and the nation. Many of those now groveling before you used to laugh at the very line which they now superficially spout for your pleasure.

There were times when all I could hear was my lone solitary voice ---and that of Prof. Alan Paguia, whose right to practice and teach law has since been cancelled --- madly questioning President Arroyo’s legitimacy after almost everyone else had caved in.

But I refused to back down. With the help of a few brave souls on the Citizens vs. Corruption Task Force, I continued to expose major scams in government, including the P100-billion customs bonds scam, the P100-million DOTC airport land scam, the $2-million BSP fund diversion in Hong Kong, the misuse of OWA funds, and the P728-million Agricultural Modernization Fund scam, now known as the Jocjoc Bolante affair, which became a cause celebre at the Senate in 2006, two years after I had exposed it at the start of the 2004 campaign.

That entailed a heavy price, and I paid it in full. In the 2004 elections, which I thought was the best of my senatorial campaigns, I was singled out for demolition. . This was known to PMP and to KNP, whose members had read or heard about Oplan Checkmate, which detailed the plot against our presidential ticket and me, and which had surfaced at the start of the campaign. As always, you did what you could to help, but if there was any party or coalition effort to save my candidacy from the Oplan, it never caught my attention.

On the campaign trail, radio-tv coverage suddenly vanished as soon as it was my turn to speak. My campaign posters everywhere were brought down by the wrecking crew in less than 24 hours. On election day, my name disappeared from the 12-man KNP senatorial slate on the Comelec official list of candidates posted in every voting booth to guide voters, and appeared separately as the lone PMP senatorial candidate at the bottom of the printed form.

At the counting, my votes mysteriously shrank by something like 80 percent as they traveled from the barangay precinct to the national canvassing center. In contrast, the votes of one losing candidate were padded by at least 200 percent to make the recipient one of the top senatorial winners. Ultimately, my recorded “historic vote” ---a term known to seasoned political players and analysts---which in two successful senatorial elections had risen to close to 11 million by 1995 was savaged to nearly half that number. .

Today, I am a defendant in a criminal libel case filed by the First Gentleman in a Manila court, arising from a 2004 post-election newspaper article which attributes to me certain statements that are not even slightly libelous.. My name had been dropped from the complaint in 2004, but was reinstated in 2006, upon motion of the complainant --- after the supposed crime had legally prescribed.

All this is par for the course. None of it should have been mentioned here were I not obliged to show that I have earned the right to be heard on the basic morality of our cause.

Before I left Polk street, you came over to say you would like to have me included in your senatorial slate. I begged off. “Please don’t, Mr. President,” I said. You tried to insist, but I pleaded, “please, Mr. President.” You did not say so, but you seemed to be under the impression that I was objecting to certain candidacies because I wanted to be a candidate myself. That was not the point at all. It was a total misimpression. We should know each other well enough by now for you to know if there was anything I have ever done or would ever do just for my own self-interest.

My one consuming desire is to see the country return to a state of normalcy where all can live a morally upright life, and one does not have to be part of a power structure to get the respect he deserves. Where law and justice are one and truth presides, where deserving individuals are elected to high office because the office needs them, and not because they need the office. For this reason, I wanted to see electoral reforms before the parade of celebrities and popular incompetents begins. Thus, I was for boycotting the elections, if no electoral reforms were put in place.. However, that position was quickly vaporized after a swarm of ambitious innocents, whose idea of national politics consists purely of packing public office with synthetic personalities, started hyping the opposition’s alleged ability to give Mrs. Arroyo the same “thumping” the Democrats gave the Republicans in the last U.S. elections. This was capped by the President’s premature announcement of his dream ticket.

This, I thought, was a serious mistake, as did a number of respected foreign analysts. Under these circumstances, I could not bring myself to consider running again, even though I honestly believed I had a right and duty to regain the Senate seat which was fraudulently taken away from me in 2004. So when you asked me why I would not want to join your ticket, I said: first, because I wasn’t sure elections would be held –(to date, there is still no budget); second, because I wasn’t sure the elections would be honest, assuming they were held---we have not insisted on electoral reforms and no reforms have been put in place; third, because I did not believe I could be part of a ticket whose other candidates I could not even endorse to the public. There were two other reasons: I could not allow it to interrupt the joys of grand parenting, and I need to honor some publishing commitments, which can no longer be delayed.

This, for me then, is a new turning point. I began my political career in 1969, when I was appointed to the Cabinet at 29, the youngest such appointee in our history. Through the years, I have fought many fights, many of them lost causes. I have not learned to exchange principle for personal pleasure or profit, and I have always paid the price. This allows me to stand on my own, with no fear of powers or personalities, of the dark or of the light; to snore quietly in my sleep every night in the hope of waking up in the morning to a loving and merciful God, and to speak up whenever truth demands a witness, and something that needs to be said in speech and in silence is not being said.

I would be untrue to myself if I said that what the leaders of UNO propose to do with their “Unity Ticket” is right. It is most certainly not, and I will not dishonor our friendship by keeping silent or pretending that it is right, or of little or no consequence. I want to thank you for your friendship and for the many personal kindnesses you have extended to me and to my wife, in the course of that friendship. We shall remain friends for as long as we both put ourselves and our personal interests in the service of truth, justice, and the common good.

May the good Lord guide you always.

Sincerely yours,

Francisco S. Tatad

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