By Fernando del Mundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:05:00
MANILA, Philippines -- Their ties were bound in good times and in bad, and for one special evening they shared memories of triumph and tragedy.
There was Anwar Ibrahim, 60, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia. He had been clapped in jail for six years as he sought to become premier. He is now on the cusp of political restoration.
There was his wife Wan Azizah Ismail. She had struggled to seek justice for her husband, when he was in jail on what she said were trumped up charges of corruption and sodomy. She had tried to fill the political shoes of the husband and became a member of the Malaysian parliament.
There was Corazon Aquino, now cancer-stricken, the icon of People Power revolutions in countries yearning to be free, widow of assassinated opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.
Wearing her traditional yellow-colored dress, the former President came out for the first time since it was announced that she had to undergo chemotherapy to attend a soiree in honor of one she had inspired.
Wan, slighter than she was only a few months ago, she nevertheless was engaged in an animated conversation with Azizah during most of the evening.
"We reminisced about the past," Azizah later said. "She talked about Ninoy when he was in jail."
The dictator Ferdinand Marcos had imprisoned Ninoy upon the declaration of martial law for eight years. He was later freed, went on self-exile in the United States for three years, and was murdered on his return to rally the opposition against Marcos.
After she stepped down as President, Aquino had taken the cause of the violent fates that had befallen husbands and wives of political leaders.
She once read a letter smuggled out of Burma on behalf of detained Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aquino had given Azizah a political pulpit in Manila to seek justice for her then incarcerated husband in Malaysia.
Ex-President Joseph Estrada hosted the evening of sumptuous meals, wine, and song on Friday in his opulent, centrally air-conditioned home on Polk Street at the wealthy Greenhills subdivision in San Juan.
Beside him stood his wife Loi, who, while her husband was detained on plunder charges for six years, had run and won a Senate seat, as Azizah did.
Anwar had come for a two-day visit, met with ousted House Speaker Jose de Venecia, former President Fidel Ramos, and Senate president and presidential aspirant Manuel Villar.
Anwar was guest at a forum on Friday afternoon. There, he had riled at the 40 percent increase in petroleum prices in Malaysia announced only a day earlier. He thought it was "unconscionable" for a country that exports oil to set petroleum rates at global levels for its own people.
Ibrahim also promised to urge the Kuala Lumpur government to keep Malaysian peacekeepers in Mindanao who were on the last stages of a withdrawal.
A ban on Anwar seeking political office ended in April. After he emerged from prison four years ago, he cobbled together the People’s Alliance of opposition parties that in March won in five of Malaysia's 13 states.
The alliance is seeking a no-confidence vote on the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who had a falling out with the powerful former premier Mahathir Mohammad, Ibrahim's jailer.
Political analysts say it is likely that Azizah will become prime minister and hold the post for her husband, who was unable to run for Parliament in March because of the ban still in effect. Anwar could ask an ally to resign so he could then run for the vacant seat in Parliament to pave his way to the premiership, something he hopes he will get in September.
If that happens, Estrada might well be at Anwar's inaugural. "He will be one of the first few to be invited," Anwar said.
"There's a long way to go. I came to seek the advice of my great friend," Ibrahim told reporters after posing for pictures with Estrada. "I've been looking forward to this," he said.
"We don't have that many loyal friends. I look at him as part of my family. He has a good heart. He has a passion for the poor and justice. It's too strong."
Upon his release, Anwar had wanted to visit Estrada while he was under detention in his rambling Tanay estate.
"The least I can do is just to go and express my sympathy and ask for his welfare," said Ibrahim.
Estrada was convicted of plunder last year, sentenced to 40 years in jail, but was pardoned by President Macapagal-Arroyo.
Estrada described Anwar as a "mutual friend," meeting him for the first time when the movie actor turned politician was vice president and the one time Islamic firebrand was then deputy prime minister.
When Estrada was President, he met with the wife and daughter of Anwar, earning the ire of Mahathir and causing a diplomatic flap.
In his conversations with Estrada, Anwar said the two picked up "what we discussed 15, 20 years ago." Asked if he had something in common with Estrada, Ibrahim replied, "We are both quite handsome."
Ibrahim also was very pleased that Aquino had gone out of her way to see him. She stayed for two hours. "I had to persuade her to leave earlier. In her condition, it could be bad," said Anwar.
Asked if he expected to see Estrada in Malacañang in 2010. He smiled and said: "That's, of course, for the Filipino people to decide. But he's a great friend and to my mind, I believe in his passion for justice, for the goodness of the people.