A SHOW OF FORCE
by Fel Maragay
Former President Joseph Estrada and his followers flexed their muscles and demonstrated their strength when a mammoth crowd, estimated at 15,000, showed up at the opening rally of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino-United Opposition at the historic Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila on Feb. 10. The gathering signaled the start of the election campaign. The crowd was composed of delegations from various cities and towns in Metro Manila.
Estrada says huge crowds like this, a familiar sight in his campaign sorties, have inspired and emboldened him to pursue his wish to recapture power, although his political adversaries continue to peddle the rumor that he would soon chicken out of the fight and switch his support to a fellow presidential contender from the opposition. To the deposed president, such yarn is a cruel joke because this is his last chance for ultimate political vindication, which has been his obsession since he was thrown out of Malacañang and detained about a decade ago.
Former Sen. Ernesto Maceda, PMP-UNO campaign manager, says this impressive show of force “only proves that the public welcomes Estrada’s intent to return to his post in Malacañang and his vow to finish all the pro-poor programs he had initiated” during his interrupted presidency. “The sheer number of people here dwarfs those in our opponents’ rallies and surely belies the results of those surveys claiming the other candidates are ahead of Erap,” the former Senate president and ambassador to the United States adds.
I caught the last hour or so of the rally when Estrada was delivering his speech and I saw that the city square was indeed packed with his partisans. Even after the last candidate had spoken and the event was over, swarms of spectators stayed put, not wishing to leave while entertainer Faith Cuneta was rendering a few more songs, including “Handang Magtiis,” the lyrics of which were crafted by Estrada.
Former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza,Jr., who is running anew for mayor of the nation’s capital city, and his team of local candidates, notably running mate Councilor Bonjay Isip-Garcia and the aspirants for councilor, were largely credited for mobilizing their constituents into attending the rally.
Earlier in the day, an unfavorable news filtered out from the Commission on Elections related to Atienza’s candidacy. The poll body issued a ruling that Atienza could not run under the banner of the LP-Atienza wing. It declared Atienza as an independent mayoral candidate in Manila and incumbent
Mayor Alfredo Lim as the LP official candidate. The decision was in response to a petition from the LP led by Sen. Mar Roxas (president) and former Sen. Franklin Drilon (chairman) asking the Comelec to disallow Atienza from running under the party.
Recall that the Atienza faction had fought bitterly with the Roxas-Drilon faction for control of the LP since 2005, The party was split into two after the Drilon wing withdrew its support from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the wake of the
Hello Garci scandal. Atienza and his group stuck it out with the Arroyo administration but in April 17, 2007 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Drilon as the duly-elected LP president. Nonetheless, the high court ordered a new election of party officials. But in what Atienza branded as a treacherous act, the Drilon faction expelled him and other members of his wing from the party on the eve of the election held at the Club Filipino in San Juan City in November 2007.
The latest Comelec ruling came as a letdown for Atienza although he had anticipated it. To him, it was a Pyrrhic victory for his opponents because Manilans know how to distinguish the genuine Liberals and from the pretenders and usurpers. Regardless of the ruling, he said “I will remain a Liberal despite what Drilon is claiming. Nobody can take away my identity of my being a Liberal. I am a true Liberal.”
As far as Atienza is concerned, it is simply ridiculous to strip him of his party membership because he has always been identified as a Liberal since he became a party volunteer in his youth. His father, Jose Atienza, Sr., distinguished public servant to three Philippine presidents, was one of the original members of the LP which was founded on November 24, 1945.
Atienza, now 68, rose from the ranks, beginning as barangay tanod (watchman) and moving up steadily to kagawad (councilman) and chairman of his barangay in San Andres Bukid. In 1968, he organized the Democratic Youth Movement, the youth arm of LP. He was among the LP leaders who were injured and survived the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971. He was then running for councilor.
During the martial law period, Atienza was arrested twice for denouncing human rights abuses under the Marcos dictatorship. He was elected as member of the Batasang Pambansa in 1984, representing the San Andres Bukid-Sta.Ana-Paco-Pandacn-Sta. Mesa district in Manila.
He won as vice mayor of the city in 1992 and 1995. He was elected mayor for three consecutive terms—in 1998, 2001 and 2004.
Atienza is probably the only survivor of the Plaza Miranda carnage who is still active in politics. During his presidency of the LP, he invited Drilon, then Senate president, to join the LP. It never entered his mind that his recruit would one day instigate his expulsion from the party he has so painstakingly nurtured and kept alive.
This account of the LP’s internal discord explains why Atienza, despite being a dutiful Cabinet member and staunch ally of President Arroyo, was forced to strike an alliance with Estrada and was adopted as PMP-UNO mayoral candidate in Manila. The Estrada-Atienza partnership is a phenomenon that has puzzled the electorate.
In response to calls for party unity, leaders of both factions explored ways to resolve the dispute. Despite deep-seated differences with the rival group, Atienza was prepared to bend over backwards to patch up the feud. He really entertained the possibility of reconciliation especially when Mar Roxas yielded to the clamor to give up as party standard bearer in favor of Sen. Benigno Aquino III.
Unity talks were conducted but alas, they proved too late and doomed from the start. The Roxas-Drilon faction had already committed itself to supporting Lim as LP candidate for Manila mayor. They could not accommodate Atienza without junking Lim, which was no longer possible.
Aside from this, the Roxas-Drilon faction imposed demands that Atienza thought were unreasonable. For instance, he was being asked to make a public apology to his antagonists in the LP leadership squabble and to re-apply for party membership. But the biggest stumbling block to the unification effort was the conflicting positions between the two factions insofar as dealing with the Arroyo administration was concerned. This difference could only be reconciled if Atienza and his faction would break away from, and declare war with, the administration, which of course was totally unacceptable to the former environment secretary.
Atienza found it more convenient to ally himself with Estrada who was then looking for a candidate to support for the mayoral race in Manila. Unknown to many, the two are long-time friends who have helped each other in their political careers in many ways. Estrada during his presidency infused funds into Atienza’s projects during his stint as Manila mayor. As a gesture of gratitude, Atienza did not abandon Estrada up to the last days of his stay in Malacañang before his downfall.
The former president had a falling out with Lim, whom he backed in the 2004 mayoral contest against Ali Atienza, son of the three-termer mayor. Estrada trounced Lim in the 1998 presidential election. In a magnanimous act, he appointed Lim as secretary of interior and local government secretary in his Cabinet. A crack developed in their relations when Lim abandoned Estrada during the crucial hours of the January 2001 Edsa revolt and defected to the enemy forces. The Estrada camp has been saying that Lim could not have won the 2004 mayoral contest over Ali Atienza without the backing of the ousted president.
Sometime in 2008, Lim fired former Police Supt. Roberto Calinisan, an Estrada man, as his consultant for security for alleged involvement in a fund anomaly. Calinisan’s removal angered Estrada and this proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. In reprisal, Estrada had Lim removed as president of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino. They parted ways. But insiders said there were deeper reasons behind the Estrada-Lim rift.
Lim’s departure from the Estrada camp gave Atienza a fall-back position to challenge Lim in the political battle in Manila. But this also gave Estrada a beachhead in the presidential contest in the vote-rich premier city.
Former Manila Assemblyman, General Manager of the National Housing Authority, Manila Vice-Mayor for 6 years, Mayor of Manila for 9 years, and Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources