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Looking back at EDSA II: The political paths of Estrada and Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines – Sixteen years ago, Filipinos gathered at the historic thoroughfare EDSA, where freedom was once won against a dictator in 1986. 

EDSA People Power II, as it came to be known, was a series of protests held from January 16 to 20, 2001, against former president Joseph Estrada who was then facing plunder charges. The protests eventually triggered Estrada's downfall – and paved the way for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his vice president, to enter the spotlight in the political scene.

But Arroyo would later face her own share of troubles during her administration. Both former presidents seemed to follow the same track in politics: they were both vice presidents before assuming the highest seat of the land, and both have been accused of criminal offenses. Despite these, Estrada and Arroyo have managed to retain positions in government today.

Rappler looks back at the two former presidents' rise, fall, and resurgence in politics.

EDSA II: Estrada's downfall, Arroyo’s rise

In 1998, Estrada – a popular actor-turned-politician – won the presidential race with his slogan, “Erap para sa mahirap” (Erap for the poor). His political troubles started shortly two years later, when then Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson, his longtime friend, went public with accusations that Estrada and his cronies received millions of pesos from illegal operations of jueteng.

During Estrada's impeachment trial, senator-judges had to decide on whether or not to open an envelope supposed to contain strong evidence linking Estrada to over a billion pesos in deposits under the name "Jose Velarde".

Ten voted "yes" while 11 said "no" – a decision that prompted Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr to resign as Senate President and walk out of the hall, joined by 9 other senators.

This dramatic scene was the final trigger that sent Filipinos to EDSA on January 16, 2001. Throughout the first night of the rally, people began to swarm around the historical EDSA Shrine to express their sentiments. More Filipinos, including students, activists and personalities in the music industry, joined in the next days, while the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines withdrew their support from the president.

On the last day of the protest, January 20, Arroyo took her oath in the presence of clamoring crowds on EDSA as the 14th president of the Republic of the Philippines. Estrada released a letter about Arroyo’s proclamation, saying he had strong doubts about the legality and constitutionality of her proclamation as president. However, he said he would step down to allow national reconciliation.

Estrada left Malacañang Palace together with his family in the same year. He was convicted of plunder in September 2007.

Corruption allegations

When he was president, Estrada allegedly received P10 million monthly from November 1998 to August 2000 from jueteng lords as protection money. He was also accused of bagging a P130-million kickback from the P200 million released by then budget secretary Benjamin Diokno for tobacco farmers. He also allegedly received P100 million as “donation” from government funds allegedly given by a private organization run by Estrada’s wife.

Aside from kickbacks, he reportedly ordered 52 impounded luxury vehicles from the Bureau of Customs commissioner to give to his Cabinet members and other officials.

Arroyo, on the other hand, was also charged with plunder over the alleged misuse of P366 million from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.

Impeachment complaints

Before EDSA II, then Senate president Franklin Drilon referred arguments on Estrada’s corruption allegations to the Senate's Blue Ribbon Committee and the Committee on Justice for joint investigation. Another committee in the House of Representatives investigated the case, while other members of the House wanted the president’s impeachment.

More political figures suggested Estrada’s resignation, including then Manila Cardinal archbishop Jaime Sin and former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos. Then vice president Arroyo, meanwhile, resigned from her Cabinet position as social welfare secretary to signify her protest.

In November 2000, the House of Representatives led by Speaker Manuel Villar transferred the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. The impeachment trial formally began in the same month, with then Supreme Court chief justice Hillario Davide Jr presiding over 21 senators sitting as judges. (READ: Cast in Erap plunder case: Where are they now?)

Estrada faced the impeachment trial with allegations of bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust, and culpable violation of the Constitution.

During her own term, Arroyo faced multiple impeachment attempts over the NBN-ZTE deal, human rights violations, the Northrail project, the Mt Diwalwal project, fertilizer fund scam, alleged bribery of members of Congress, and electoral fraud in the 2004 elections, better known as the "Hello Garci" controversy.

Arroyo’s grounds for impeachment were much the same as Estrada's, including betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes.

Acquittals

Six weeks after Estrada was found guilty and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, Arroyo granted him presidential pardon in 2007.

In 2016, Arroyo also got her acquittal from the Supreme Court with an 11-4 vote, shortly after Benigno Aquino III, her successor and one of her critics, completed his term.

Back on the scene

Perhaps adopting the same attitude as the popular protagonists he portrayed in films, Estrada's fall was only the prelude to his resurgence in politics. Barely 9 years after his dramatic ouster, he announced his bid for the presidency to regain what he said was “stolen from him.”

He also shunned all allegations that led to his plunder conviction, insisting that he never stole a single peso of the country’s money.

Estrada, however, lost the presidential race to Benigno Aquino III by over 5 million votes.

Three years later, Estrada still managed to secure a political slot. He first won as Manila city mayor in 2013, beating rival Alfredo Lim, who had served as mayor of the city for 12 years. Estrada won over Lim by 30,000 votes.

In 2016, Estrada won his second straight term as Manila mayor – also against Lim – by a reduced margin of over 2,000 votes.

Arroyo, meanwhile, won a seat in Congress in 2010 to represent the 2nd district of Pampanga. She was reelected in 2013, amid a new plunder case and her deteriorating health. She is now on her third term as Pampanga representative, and is one of the 13 deputy speakers of the House of Representatives. – Addie Pobre and Cathrine Gonzales/Rappler.com

Addie Pobre and Cathrine Gonzales are Rappler interns studying journalism at Polytechnic University of the Philippines