Former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada visited incarcerated Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a pre-Christmas meal of spaghetti, cake, and ham as they both reminisce about their respective childhoods in San Juan City where both also went to the same school. The unexpected event happened a mere 3 days before Christmas but holds a lot of significance especially because of the apparent role reversal between the two.
It was in May 2001 when the two had last met at a police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna province before Estrada was moved to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), incidentally in the same hospital suite where Arroyo is now staying. At the time, the roles were reversed as it was Estrada who was under hospital arrest while Arroyo was the VIP visitor, holding power as the President of the Philippines. Although Estrada is no longer president, he is a free man and holding power as the Mayor of Manila.
Ironically, Arroyo who had succeeded Estrada as president is being held and on trial for plunder, something that Estrada was convicted of. The conviction was seen by many as a triumph of justice over guilty people who hold power in the government; however, Arroyo had quickly pardoned Estrada mere weeks after the guilty verdict, much to the dismay of many.
Arroyo has been confined in the hospital since October 2012 following an arrest order for plunder charges. Estrada told reporters waiting outside the hospital that he visited Arroyo out of compassion and also because he believes in the spirit of Christmas. He also adds that Arroyo looks like she had lost some weight and appeared pale.
Estrada also admits that the afternoon chat did not touch on politics but they had talked about his visit to Hong Kong for knee surgery when the anti-graft court had allowed him to travel and seek medical assistance despite being confined at the VMMC.
Ike Gutierrez, Estrada’s spokesman, maintains that the visit was nothing political but was merely an act of kindness and gratitude, especially to return a favor after Arroyo had once visited him while he was incarcerated.
Ferdinand Topacio, Arroyo’s counsel, confirmed on Twitter the afternoon chat by the two former presidents, adding that there were also other people present in the suite. These included columnist Alex Magno, Estrada’s daughter Jackie, Manila Vice Mayor Francisco Domagoso, Arroyo’s sister Cielo Macapagal-Salgado, lawyer Larry Gadon, chief of staff Raul Lambino, and Arroyo’s husband Mike.
Topacio also reveals that the atmosphere inside the suite was actually a happy one. There was no hint of politics or hatred as old enemies but that of amity and goodwill. He also adds that the two former presidents appeared to be at ease and chatting happily with each other, not talking about politics at all. He also revealed that Estrada cracked a joke, saying “I have memories here” to which the people in the room laughed.
Domagoso also confirmed that there was no talk of politics but the two merely chatted about their childhood in San Juan. He believes Estrada was sincere in saying that he has forgiven those who have wronged him. He also feels happy to see the two former leaders chatting with each other, forgetting about past conflicts, and just enjoying the spirit of Christmas.