Unprecedented meeting of 5 PH Presidents over The Hague ruling

The meeting underscored the importance of the issue. No less than five Philippine presidents sat down to discuss the matter, specifically on national security vis-à-vis The Hague ruling on the country’s West Philippine Sea dispute with China.

President Rodrigo Duterte met the National Security Council (NSC) last Wednesday, July 27, 2016, with former presidents Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Fidel V. Ramos and Benigno Aquino III. The meeting was convened at Malacañang to discuss “vital policies and strategies on important matters, including the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the West Philippine Sea,” the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.

All five of them were photographed together at the Palace’s President’s Hall, according to PCOO’s Facebook page.

5 PH Presidents
image source: PCOO


Also present in the meeting were members of the Cabinet and recently elected Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The NSC meeting was held after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s courtesy visit to the president in Malacañang, which ended at about 3 pm.


Unique meeting

Many observers saw the meeting as a unique occasion where five Philippine presidents (four of them former presidents) sat together to decide on vital national issues—even if several of them had political friction against each other in the past.

Former president Joseph Estrada, for instance, was deposed by his then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001 in a so-called EDSA People Power Revolution. Estrada was charged with alleged corruption and faced impeachment.

But after Arroyo’s presidency, she was arrested and imprisoned at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in 2011 for criminal charges due to alleged electoral fraud and electoral sabotage. The president then, former President Benigno Aquino III (who was also among Arroyo’s students at the Ateneo de Manila University where she had been Economics professor), did not grant her presidential pardon despite her failing health condition, although some sectors, especially from Arroyo’s supporters, were clamoring for it. Thus, Aquino was seen as being allegedly vindictive toward Arroyo because of this, among other things.

Avoiding each other?

Aquino was also deemed at the time as among the alleged perpetrators of her incarceration when Arroyo cried foul on what she believed was political harassment under Aquino’s watch.

But under the Duterte administration, Arroyo was recently acquitted of plunder charges by the Supreme Court and was released from hospital custody. The plunder involved alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds amounting to millions.

Aquino’s absence during Duterte’s first SONA was quite conspicuous to the media, especially when all three former presidents were there. What was most noticeable and actually eye-catching was the vacant seat beside Arroyo which observers concluded was where Aquino should have been seated.

But Aquino had clarified in an interview that he preferred not to attend the SONA because he’d rather watch it at home where he could better focus on Duterte’s speech, especially his 10-point economic plan.

Moreover, some nosy reporters noticed how Aquino had shook hands with Ramos and Duterte during the NSC meet, but not with Arroyo.


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