DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 November) CRUELTY? — My good ol’ friend, journalist Jun Ledesma related to me yesterday his one-on-one interview on Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) over a TV program in Davao City just a few days ago.

According to Jun, JPE who visited former President Arroyo described her condition and said that anything wrong at anytime could happen and “could snuff the light on her”.  She was not the healthy president she was, JPE lamented. “Not to allow her to travel (for treatment) is sheer cruelty,” according to JPE.

I AM SAD –At the rate recent events are taking place involving my former boss, all of us who somehow had worked with her during her presidency but who are now a bit remote from Manila to know first hand the inside stories were just shocked at what was being reported about her by media over the past few days.

I am sad PGMA, in her present sorry state of physical condition is being publicly treated this way. What PGMA was made to go through is unchristian, to say it kindly.   No one but no one, she be a former president or just an ordinary person, whether innocent or guilty, deserves this. The way she is being “demonized” by many who never even met her in person and only going by what they read or hear may be too unfair, if not unkind at this stage.

But before I proceed, a precautionary note first. There is such a thing as the principle of privileged communication where a confidentiality rule is observed called “executive privilege” where anyone (like me) is not supposed to disclose matters that came to one’s official dealings with the executive, unless with the concurrence of the principal or executive. So sorry, Ma’am, but I will take my chance nevertheless.

HER WAY – I remember Frank Sinatra’s immortal “I DID IT MY WAY”.

I worked with PGMA for almost the whole term of her presidency in various capacities. I watched her up close. She did it her way, gave her all for the country and her people.  She went through rough and tumble, through thick and thin, but stayed her course. She was strong-willed and strong in conviction. She had a purpose and a clear plan for the country.   And she did things knowing that they were the right things to do, her popularity the least of her concerns, although I knew she was agonizing over those consequences.

For example, her giving the green light for the controversial MOA-AD to address the Bangsamoro aspiration for self determination, knowing it would cost her more political capital when, in the first place, she knew she did not have as much to spare at that time was a clear example of her doggedness to do things she thought were the right things to do. Never mind if time would prove her wrong. Although she refused to admit it, she was focused on leaving a legacy for the future.

PRAYERS — Perhaps unknown to many, she was very prayerful. She sought refuge in the Palace chapel at the ground floor every time.  I could sense that she deeply believed it was fate that brought her to the presidency. And that fate ruled our lives. And I can only surmise now but consequently, what is happening to her life today must also be viewed by her as “fate” in action. Hence by now, she has already steeled herself to undergo the unchristian and inhumane treatment and cruelty that is clearly undeserved

ABOUT PGMA –I don’t want to appear presumptuous and “sipsip”. (I don’t need to be one now.) But this much I know about the former president: she was a public official who expected and demanded quality performance and excellence. . She was stern, proper and strict, quick in temper, rigorous in her factual requirements, meticulous, a perfectionist, and a slave driver of sorts. She “terrorized” the sloppy and the mediocre. But she was forgiving. A passing moment of rage usually ended up in intimate and warm chat with the shaken one.

She also flirted with dangers whenever needed by the call of the moment, perhaps reinforcing her belief in fate as the arbiter of events.  I recall once when we all sat waiting for “clearance” for our helicopter to take off at the Cotabato airport enroute to an evacuation center in an MILF area. She was advised to just skip that ground visit because sniper shots could down her presidential chopper, as the area was not totally cleared yet.  She insisted on going to personally see for herself the situation especially because her trusted ally and friend (but not anymore) DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman was already on site and PGMA was worried for Dinky’s safety.  Unable to convince her otherwise, the presidential security group sent a decoy chopper to land with a decoy “president” on board. A petite PSG lady looking like PGMA was ferried back and forth and when the coast was “somehow” clear, we flew in.

PROTECTIVE RIGOR —    Her rigor to protect the presidency from missteps and her discipline to do this was remarkable. . Despite her competence and long experience and her mastery of the nuances of national governance, she adopted as a Palace rule, that since every time the president spoke, it was national policy, her speaking directly to media be somehow limited.  No ambush interviews. Her palace spokesmen were to handle communication dissemination, and except in pre-arranged cases, PGMA would subject only to a one-on-one interview with a chosen journalist and the rest of the media practitioners could get their stories from there as part of the audience.

When I came to the palace as Press Secretary, I wanted to change all that.  I thought she would be viewed more positively if she talked directly to the media and the nation as often as possible. But the president stuck to the arrangement. And on those select occasions she would allow a one-on-one, she came fully prepared with all inputs coming from cabinet secretaries. And it was during those preparatory sessions (rehearsals if you wish) with her that I discovered her uncanny gift of a “photographic memory”. A briefer earlier submitted she could recite its full contents by sheer memory, pausing even where paragraphs or commas were found!

KEEP IT PRIVATE –During  her incumbency, she tried her best to separate the official and the personal.

I   was press secretary in December 2008. Since it was Christmas season I suggested to her then that we allow the TV networks to photo shoot and interview her not as a public official but as a doting mother and grandmother to help “soften” her image to the public. . I had observed in the course of my work, very warm, close and intimate bonding of her with her family. I thought that making the public aware of things within the home of one like her who was publicly perceived as “mataray” and stern would help her image and her popularity problem.  I remember RG Cruz of ABS-CBN already got clearance from his network to do a special feature on that.  But she wanted nothing of that sort. She refused to approve it. I insisted but she would not budge. She cut me off with finality when she told me: “Look Jess, I want to keep my private life stay private. Never mind if they see me in another light!.” End of discussion.

But beneath that stern public veneer,  PGMA was, and still is, warm and humane up close.

SURPRISE PHONE CALL –This happened just recently.  I recall she just came out of the hospital weeks ago when while in our Davao home, I received a surprise phone call from her. Since I lost track of her phone numbers, I almost did not recognize her as her voice was hoarse and raspy.  All she said was: “How’s Beth. I hope she’s well.”  Then she merely said: “I read your articles”.  All I could manage to say was “thank you Ma’am”. I did not even have the chance to do my pleasantries.  She just hung up. Late last night, I searched for the phone number she used in calling me and upon Beth’s suggestion I texted: “Ma’am, Beth and I are praying for your early recovery and eventual vindication”. In less than a minute, I got a one-word reply: “Ty”. When I showed the text message to Beth, she surmised the staff was quick in replying. She could not believe that PGMA would text back that quick herself. I told her:”It’s her. Take it from me”.   That’s the PGMA I knew.

IF I WERE PGMA — Please allow me to be presumptuous this time. If I were PGMA now, (thank goodness I am not her with all her pains and predicament  now) I will fervently pray that those who are responsible for my  travails now , in Fate’s own sweet time, will themselves  be  treated differently and handled more humanely. If I were PGMA, I would not wish upon others the things I was made to undergo. If I were PGMA, I will view everything happening to me now as fate personified.

To me, the accusations being leveled at her now is another matter altogether.  I am not competent to discuss them since I have not been privy to those matters in the course of my work with her at the Palace. The justice system has taken over and let it be fully ventilated there.

It may be time now for all of us to back off and allow the judicial process to take its own normal course.

I am sure Fate will take its inevitable course, too.