Erap on Chiz: Nothing wrong with ambition

Is former president Joseph Estrada campaigning against Sen Chiz Escudero? The book 'Ambition, Destiny, Victory' provides a background.

MANILA, Philippines – When re-electionist Sen Francis Escudero claimed on Thursday, March 7, that forrmer President Joseph Estrada was campaigning against him, we recalled how the Erap camp had grown uncomfortable with him in the lead up to the 2010 presidential elections.

It was not always that way. The following excerpt from our book, “Ambition, Destiny, Victory: Stories From A Presidential Election,” reveals how the former president – and, undoubtedly, still a formidable political endorser – changed his perception of Escudero. From being his (Estrada’s) top choice for running mate in 2010, Escudero slid — in the former presidential candidate’s view — to ambitious politician.

Jejomar Binay was not among those whom Joseph Estrada first considered for his running mate for 2010.

Estrada’s top choice was his godson Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Estrada was a sponsor at his wedding). Recognized as bright by both politicos and the public, Chiz was an early frontrunner in the vice presidential surveys. “Almost everybody around Erap” was pushing for the young, glib senator, who served as spokesman of UNO in 2004, when Estrada’s best friend Fernando Poe Jr ran against President Gloria Arroyo.

The other two on the original list were former Sen Manuel Roxas II, for whom Estrada admittedly had a soft spot; and Vice President Noli de Castro, who was initially topping all the early pre-election surveys.

However, Roxas had been, for two years, the expected standard-bearer of the Liberal Party. When he decided to slide down in September 2009, he did it for party mate and family friend Benigno Aquino III. De Castro, on the other hand, was just a suggestion, with the end view of solidifying the masa vote for the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino ticket. Nobody in the Estrada camp initiated talks with the vice president.

When Escudero declared his intention to run for president, Estrada still thought he could persuade him to slide down for his ninong. After all, Escudero was with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the party founded by tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr, who, in 1992, likewise convinced Estrada to become his running mate.

Young and ambitious

Estrada told him, “You’re the luckiest candidate. You can be president, but as vice president you’re a sure winner.” But in the two times that Estrada spoke to Escudero, the latter made it clear that for him, it was the “presidency or nothing.”

Estrada said he didn’t take it against Escudero to be young and ambitious. “I was a college dropout and I became ambitious, too, so I became president. Marcos was also young when he became president,” he said.

But the former president was probably just being diplomatic. Sources close to him said Estrada was taken aback when, after they had talked, Escudero relayed a counter offer: “Siya na lang ang mag-VP sa akin.”

Although some quarters either contest or have slightly different versions of this account, Escudero’s tendency to be arrogant was also the subject of stories by his former party mates at the NPC. When the party was yet to decide how its 2010 ticket would look like, Escudero went to the Senate office of Loren Legarda, who was then also eyeing the presidency. He reportedly said, “Ano, Loren, ako na for president, ha? VP ka?

The former president dilly-dallied after talks with Escudero fell through. When crunch time came, only Legarda and Binay were available. Between the two, Estrada was more inclined toward Legarda, Poe’s running mate in 2004. He admitted never having considered Binay because the Makati mayor wasn’t figuring well in the surveys.

Binay: Waiting to get noticed

But Estrada and his strategists weighed the pros and cons some more, until Binay’s perfect fit with their pro-poor platform and his loyalty to Estrada and the opposition’s cause became all too clear. It also weighed heavily that Binay had worked closely with Estrada’s advisers for years. During Estrada’s short-lived presidency from 1998 to 2001, Binay was his chairman at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. When Estrada was ousted and Binay returned as Makati mayor, the latter was among the few local officials who stuck it out with the opposition.

In 2004, as president of the UNO coalition and with Estrada under house arrest, he coordinated Poe’s presidential campaign. When Arroyo’s poll cheating was exposed, Binay hosted (and, Malacañang believed, funded) large anti-administration rallies in Makati when such demonstrations were banned everywhere else.

Lastly, it dawned on them that, more than any other opposition figure, Binay was the one who had been tirelessly accompanying them on Lakbay Pasasalamat, the caravan that brought Estrada across the country right after his pardon to thank his supporters for not abandoning him and his family in past elections. Estrada was impressed when he realized that Binay obviously wanted the slot, but that he never volunteered himself. He was waiting for Estrada to notice him.

Estrada picked Binay on Oct 11, 2009, and announced it a couple of days later. Estrada’s people were looking at a proclamation rally in Tondo, Manila, the following week, but this was postponed to make time for relief operations for victims of two typhoons that had hit parts of Luzon.

During this interval, something unexpected happened. Escudero approached a ranking leader of the Iglesia ni Cristo to find out if he could still be Estrada’s vice presidential candidate. The senator also met with Estrada’s son Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito and campaign vice-chair Renato “RC” Constantino Jr to say that he was still open to being Estrada’s running mate.

Closed doors

Escudero supposedly said, “Basta huwag lang si Noynoy, huwag lang si Villar, si Gibo kalimutan na, basta ako nakabukas ang pinto ko.” It was taken as a suggestion that if Estrada dropped Binay, he (Escudero) would gladly fill his shoes.

When this was relayed to Estrada, he quipped, “Eh ’yung pinto ko nakasarado na!” He had given his word to Binay, and he wouldn’t take it back.

It turned out that at that time, Escudero was already having trouble getting a firm commitment of financial support from Cojuangco. He was planning to bolt NPC—and he did on October 28. Obviously he did not have a spot on the Liberal ticket either.

Binay proved to be a good choice for the Estrada camp. Campaign manager Ernesto Maceda said they didn’t want friction in the campaign, and the “extremely loyal and dependable” Binay made this possible. –

Editor’s Note: “Ambition, Destiny, Victory: Stories From A Presidential Election” was a National Bookstore bestseller for several months when it was published in 2011. Copies are still available at the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation. Call Cecille at (+632) 661-9985.


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