The Explainer: Edsa Dos in Retrospect

“All those that loved Caesar…”

“…It would be as if he were struck by lighting…”

Rome, 2×01 (29:54 – 30:37)


That was a scene from Episode 1, Season 2, of Rome, where Marc Anthony negotiates ith Brutus, a post-Casear scenario. In this manner must the fall of Joseph Estrada have been discussed.

Where were you from January 17 to 20, 2001? Which side were you on? And since then, have you changed your political persuasions at all? Or do you belong to those who, having shouted yourselves hoarse during those January nights at the Edsa Shrine, have decided not to lend your voices to the screaming matches that have taken place since?

Edsa Dos in retrospect, is our topic for tonight. I’m Manolo Quezon, the Explainer.


I. Dos por Dos


The images we have had in recent years are unfortunate.

We see the opposition, and many of us want to puke.

We see those now in power, and many of us still want to puke.

We try to look back on the memories of Edsa Dos, and yet the image that comes to us is-

Money. They say it makes the world go round. It certainly makes our politicians frisky, from Jose Velarde to Jose Pidal. And so, all that Edsa Dos was about, a hullabaloo about money? Was it a fight over who would control the national treasury?

The reality is, there were two Edsas during Edsa Dos.

The first was the Edsa Dos of popular memory; the Edsa Dos that viewed itself as a yellow brick road leading straight back to the original Edsa People Power of 1986. As in 86, the initial inclination of the public was to pursue the democratic process: in 1986 it was a snap election. In 2000 to 2001, it was through the impeachment trial, where television enabled the population to act as jurors while the senate obsessed over its privileges as senator-judges.

The second was the Edsa Dos of the pros, the same pros who’ve reduced Edsa Dos to an unattractive sample of currency. The Edsa Dos which only came to light in subsequent interviews, and most notably in Amando Doronila’s book, “The Fall of Joseph Estrada.”

This Edsa Dos had many faces, all working behind the scenes. There was Chavit Singson who wanted revenge for being stripped of his rackets and the target of an assassination plot. There was Civil Society, disillusioned with Estrada; there were the politicians still smarting from their defeat in 1998, and big business in a panic over the midnight cabinet.

We all remember that some national leaders had drawn a line in the sand as early as October, 2000. Teofisto Guingona, Jr. had pointed an accusing finger in a speech; Chavit Singson had spilled the beans; Cardinal Sin had announced Estrada had lost the moral right to lead; by November, civil society and Cory Aquino had called for Estrada to resign. But still, and we often forget this, even as the second part of Edsa Dos had already formed its ranks, the first Edsa Dos was still nowhere to be found. Opinion polls at the time said, the people wanted to wait and see, watch and learn, witness the impeachment.

It was the second envelope that made Edsa Dos an Edsa. Just as the computer tabulators had walked out of the Comelec counting in 1986, so did the impeachment team walk of the Senate when senators voted to suppress the evidence. Enough was enough. And the public had had enough of a senate which blundered its way into infamy, led by Kit Tatad, who made the motion to take a vote on the opening of that envelope.

Tatad even wrote a book, “A Nation on Fire,” to justify that historic vote; and this is how he described his colleague, Tessie Aquino Oreta: ”She did not know how to respond to the crowd,” Tatad wrote.  “In the end she decided to turn away with a gentle waving of the hand and swaying of the hips.” Thus did Tatad’s try to whitewash  did the most notorious little dance since Hitler’s hop of joy over the fall of France. Is it any surprise these two have never recovered politically since?

And it wasn’t surprising, either, that the public got fed up when the allies of President Estrada thought they’d won the numbers game –but had forgotten that beside each senator-judge, in a sense, were tens of thousands of viewers and listeners also serving as jurors in Estrada’s trial.

But that was the first Edsa Dos, the people who spontaneously went to the Edsa Shrine, and went back, and back, for three days.

The other Edsa Dos, the political players, viewed things from a more strategic point of view.

The President’s husband, Atty. Miguel Arroyo, talking to the late Nick Joaquin in an interview published on March 5, 2001, said there were three plans afoot.

Plan A was General Renato de Villa’s. It focused on the Chief of Staff, Angelo Reyes, and the Service Commanders to withdraw support De Villa warned that if an untimely move against the government was made, the military would automatically defend it.

Then there was what Atty. Arroyo called Plan B, hatched by Luis “Chavit” Singson, Estrada’s nemesis. Plan B involving elements of the military striking the first blow.  Entire classes of of alumni of the Philippine Military Academy would withdraw support. Class ’71, then ’72, and so on.

And it seems, there was Plan C, put together by what the President’s husband called “our group.” Explainee, can you read Atty. Arroyo’s words?

“In every place where Erap loyalists had a force, we had a counter-force to face it, with orders to shoot. And not only in Metro Manila. Carillo had already been sent to the provinces; and in Nueva Ecija, for instance, we had Rabosa. This was a fight to the finish. That’s why those five days that Erap was demanding were so important. He was counting on counter-coups and baliktaran.”

So as the first Edsa Dos, students, professionals, and the rest of the citizenry protested in the streets, the second Edsa Dos applied pressure on the armed forces. On the afternoon of Friday, January 19, 2001, all the heads of the major commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) withdrew their support from President Estrada. “Gentlemen,” Chief of Staff Angelo de los Reyes told his fellow top brass, “we are committing mutiny.”

Former Chief Justice Aremio Panganiban later described the situation that emerged in this way: “From that fateful afternoon, there was no effectively functioning government in the country.”

Estrada, we should remember, by this time, haddecided to throw in the towel. He’d appeared on TV calling for snap elections in May, 2001, in which he would not even be a candidate. But he wanted some things in exchange. The five bargaining points that were never ironed out, according to Tatad, Angara, and Doronila, were these:

1. The security of Estrada and family, including no persecution or revenge exacted on them after he relinquished power.

2. Opening the second envelope to vindicate Estrada and his senatorial allies.

3. A five-day grace period, with the new president to assume office on January 24.

4. The transition to begin on January 20.

5. the vice-president would control the armed forces and police from the 20th onwards.


We know at least two versions of a letter of resignation were considered; that exile was proposed, and rejected; and that the opponents of Estrada would not budge on the five-day grace period because as we saw, they feared a counterstrike by Estrada.


When we return, what kind of political animal was Edsa Dos? Was it People Power, a coup, or a constitutional rescue?


II. Doubting Edsa Dos


William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!


That was one of the most famous quotes from the movie, “A Man for All Seasons.”


From January 17 to 20, the country witnessed Humpty Dumpty have a great fall, and experienced the mind-boggling miracle of Humpy Dumpty being put together again. Humpty Dumpty in this case was our constitution. Joseph Ejercito Estrada, without a cabinet, with the armed forces and the police refusing to obey his orders, without a bureaucracy, and with his countrymen rallying against him in the streets, knew the game was up.

Furthermore, there a division took place among the leaders gathered at the Edsa Shrine. Some wanted to march on the Palace; Cory and the Cardinal oppose such a move, but at 1:00 in the morning of January 20, the late  Raul Roco announced that people would march on the Palace and Estrada had until 6 that morning to resign.

Panganiban later explained that the country, already lacking a functioning government, was now headed towards a real revolution. Explainee, would you like to read what he said in a speech?


“The country was faced with an extraordinary situation that demanded an extraordinary solution. Only one state institution, the Supreme Court, had the credibility and the moral authority to avert a governmental catastrophe. And there was only one person who could steer the country from armed confrontation and upheaval: Chief Justice Davide. His outstanding performance as presiding officer of the impeachment court made him-per a scientific poll survey–the most trusted Filipino.”


Though critics point out that Davide lacked the will to order the resumption of the trial, at the time the moderate turned to him to rescue the constitutional setup. Panganiban says he had an early morning conversation with the Chief Justice who said that if asked, he would swear in the vice-president as Acting President.

A fax accordingly arrived in the Supreme Court at 11:26 A.M. on Saturday January 20, 2001. An hour later, the vice-president took her oath as, depending on how you recall that fateful event, Acting or full and actual, President.

Estrada’s final act in the Palace was to sign a letter, which said he would go, for the sake of peace, but that he doubted the legality of what had happened.

And while the United States government issued an official statement saying it believed Estrada had resigned, an American journalist, Anthony Spaeth, would pen an article that began a furious debate: was Edsa Dos a coup or People Power?

Six years after Edsa Dos, the debate continues: was it people power? Was it a coup d’etat disguised as people power? Is people power compatible with a constitution? Does people power even have a role in a functioning democracy? After all, what about the 40% that voted in Joseph Ejercito Estrada and who stayed home as tens of thousands rallied in the streets?

The defining issue of Edsa Dos was that Estrada refused to sign a letter of resignation, because it came without the guarantees he wanted. So the Supreme Court said, he had lost the capacity to govern and someone else must take his place. Estrada decided to run away to fight another day. The fight has been going on ever since.

Having decided on January 20 to authorize the chief justice to administer the presidential oath to the vice-president, the Supreme Court, ever since, has been haunted by critics of its political intervention. But the high court has consistently faced down its critics.

On January 22, 2001, Monday, the Supreme Court, by a unanimous vote of all its 15 members, passed a Resolution “to confirm the authority” of the Chief Justice to swear in GMA as “President of the Philippines.”

Less than two months later, on March 2, 2001, the Court promulgated its 13-0 Decision in Estrada v. Desierto and Estrada vs Arroyo, upholding the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency. Only thirteen voted: Chief justice Davide and Justice Artemio Panganiban inhibited ourselves from the case because their active participation in the swearing -in ceremony. Critics said the entire Court should have inhibited itself. One of them was suspended from the practice of law for criticizing the court.

A month after that, on April 3, 2001, the Court, again by a vote of 13-0, denied with finality President Estrada`s Motion for Reconsideration. Thus, it hoped to put to rest the constitutionality of the Arroyo government.

But the situation was complicated by the justices obviously having different views as to what took place during Edsa Dos. Here, I’m relying on Justice Panganiban’s summaries of his colleagues’ views.

Resignation was what happened, in the opinion of justices Melo, Puno, Quisumbing, Gonzaga-Reyes de Leon and Buena: “the totality of prior, contemporaneous and posterior facts and circumstantial evidence” unmistakably showed that a resignation had in fact taken place.

Permanent Disability, the vice-president’s argument, was supported by  Justices Bellosillo  and Mendoza. Justice Bellosillo opined that the permanent disability “cannot realistically be given a restrictive and impractical interpretation as referring only to physical and mental incapacity, but must likewise cover other forms of incapacities of a permanent nature, e.g., functional incapacity.” Justice Mendoza, on the other hand, clarified that what enabled GMA “to assume the presidency was the fact that there was a crisis, nay a vacuum, in the executive leadership which made the government rife for seizure by lawless elements.”

Abandonment is what happened, Justice Vitug opined. He said that President Estrada practically abandoned the presidency -an act equivalent to resignation. He explained that abandonment “connotes the giving up of the office although not attended by the formalities normally observed in a resignation.”

Reality was the pragmatic view of  Justices Kapunan, Pardo, Ynares-Santiago and Sandoval-Gutierrez. They believed that Estrada had neither resigned nor voluntarily left his office. “This Court has to declare as a fact what in fact exists. Respondent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is the de jure President of the Republic of the Philippines,” they bluntly said.

But critics of the Supreme Court said it couldn’t be a judge in a case of its own making. The Supreme Court had made possible the swearing-in of then vice-president Arroyo. Of course it would say the oath taking was legal. Estrada had only said he was leaving the palace; he’d never resigned; and even if he had, a resignation because of the threat of people power would have been illegal and null and void. The impeachment trial, they said, should have proceeded but the vice-president knew the senate would most likely have acquitted Estrada. The voting on the second envelope was the dry run for the acquittal of Estrada.

But possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law. Estrada, in the eyes of many members of Civil Society preening over the ouster of Estrada, said he’d been judged by public opinion and found wanting. He should be locked up and tried in a proper court of law.

Korea had imprisoned and imposed sentences on two previous sentences, so why couldn’t Filipinos? The problem was those two presidents hadn’t been elected, while Estrada had received the biggest mandate since 1992. We’ve imprisoned presidents before. No one protested when an unelected president, Jose P. Laurel, was charged with treason and detained. But he lacked what Estrada had -a mandate, the first unquestionable one since 1969.

And those responsible for that mandate, though they’d stayed home during Edsa Dos, came out in the streets in turn, when an Estrada who’d gone home to a disgraceful early retirement, was arrested and locked up. 101 days after Edsa Dos, a new Edsa took place, and it called itself Edsa Tres.


When we come back, our guest’s views on Edsa Dos in retrospect.


My view


IT’S hard to imagine that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has become the fourth-longest serving president of our country. On January 20, the sixth anniversary of her emergency inaugural, she matched the length of time Fidel V. Ramos was in office. By 2010 she will have become the 2nd longest-serving president in our history. She has said time and again that she is the president both of Edsa Dos and Edsa Tres.

She became that by force of the same circumstances that led Edsa Dos to be tarnished even before the first annual commemoration could take place. Within the first hundred days of the present presidency –one that signaled the diminished expectations of an entire society by proclaiming it aspired to be “good,” but not “great”- a great shudder went through Philippine society as Estrada’s supporters flocked to the streets to protest his arrest; we thrilled to People Power. And then came the cry, “Poor Power,” and half the country trembled.

Should we regret Edsa Dos? I believe we should have no regrets. If our politics today seems even more disgraceful than it was then, no one could have known it would have been so.

But since then, we have staggered on without the one thing Estrada unquestionably had, even as he fell: an indubitable mandate. We had elections in 2001, in 2004, and will have one in May, 2007. But up to now, and probably not even in the coming midterm polls, has an unquestionable mandate been granted either the administration or the opposition.

And so, we must recall Abraham Lincoln’s words: a nation divided against itself cannot stand. We continue to have a nation on shaky political foundations, which should be our true cause for regret.



Manuel L. Quezon III.

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