(UPDATED) Some wounds are slow to heal.
This seems especially true for former president Benigno Aquino III who did not greet President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with a handshake before a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday, July 27.
It was Aquino’s first close encounter with Arroyo after the Pampanga lawmaker walked free from hospital arrest after the Supreme Court cleared her of plunder charges.
Aquino and Arroyo, as well as former presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph “Erap” Estrada were in Malacañang to attend the first full NSC meeting under the Duterte administration. Past presidents are members of the council (READ: Aquino, Arroyo attend NSC meeting on Hague ruling)
Before the meeting started, the 4 former presidents had a photo with President Rodrigo Duterte.
An edited video of the photo opportunity released by PTV4 showed Aquino striding into the room where Arroyo, Duterte, and Ramos were already waiting, standing in a line facing the entrance.
Aquino first shook hands with Duterte and Ramos and then took his place beside Ramos without extending the same courtesy to Arroyo, who stood beside the incumbent president with her hands clasped together. When Aquino first approached the group though, Arroyo and Aquino were seen smiling in each other’s direction, though it was hard to see from the video if they looked at – or past – each other.
Estrada was next to walk into the room. The Manila Mayor shook hands with all 4 of them before walking to Arroyo’s side to begin the photo session.
Photos of the meeting itself, sent by Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, show Arroyo, Ramos, Estrada, and Aquino sitting beside each other, in that order. Did Aquino or Malacañang staff make sure there would be two former presidents sitting between the two?
Tit for tat or phobia?
Aquino’s “snub” comes as no surprise. Arroyo was charged of plunder and placed under hospital arrest during his watch. Arroyo and her lawyers blame him for making her the face of corruption.
It’s been observed that Aquino’s absence at Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address was partly to avoid seeing Arroyo there.
Upon seeing photos of the former presidents and Duterte together, netizens have expressed their amusement and pleasure at the supposed show of unity. But as Aquino’s apparent cold-sholdering reminds us, it’s complicated.
One can only wonder what the two were thinking during that awkward encounter in Malacañang. Perhaps it brought back memories of another cringe-worthy incident over 6 years ago, when Aquino was preparing to assume the presidency.
In a national broadcast watched by millions of Filipinos on June 30, 2010, Aquino and Arroyo were at the Quirino Grandstand where Arroyo trooped the line for the last time as Chief Executive.
Aquino, known to be a gentleman, extended his hand to help Arroyo get on her platform, but she did not take it. At that point, onlookers gave her the benefit of the doubt that she might not have seen Aquino’s offered hand.
When the ceremony was over, the two exchanged smiles and shook hands. When Arroyo prepared to get off her platform, Aquino again extended his hand to help her down but Arroyo ignored it.
But wait, there’s more. A source privy to what happened during the NSC meeting said the real snubbing took place when the photographers and cameramen were asked to leave the Palace Aguinaldo State Dining Room where the meeting was held.
According to the source, Aquino said “Hi” to Arroyo but she ignored him. Her cheerful facial expression during the photo opportunity with the other former presidents and Duterte reportedly turned into her trademark scowl when Aquino greeted her.
“She seemed uneasy; peeved,” the source said.
Aquino might have known he was taking his chance when he made the friendly gesture to Arroyo, but he is known to be civil even to people he has differences with. Remember that time he shook hands with the late Chief Justice Renato Corona – not once, but thrice – at a Department of Justice event in late 2011?
At the justice department’s First National Criminal Justice Summit at the Manila Hotel on December 5, 2011, Aquino delivered a scathing speech against the Corona-led Supreme Court in front of Corona himself.
He shook hands with Corona when he arrived at the event, after Aquino delivered his speech (Corona was seated at the presidential table), and before he left the venue. – Pia Ranada with a report from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com