Weeping Estrada family bid palace goodbye


Disgraced Philippine leader Joseph Estrada and his family packed up and left the Malacanang presidential palace in tears Saturday after he ended his desperate bid to hold on to power.

The 63-year-old former movie star smiled, blew flying kisses and shook hands with members of the presidential guards and palace staff as he and his wife and four of their children boarded a navy boat that took them across the Pasig river from Malacanang.

But across the river, the tired smile vanished and his jowls sagged as the top two generals of the armed forces saluted their fallen commander-in-chief for the last time.

Estrada, clad casually in a beige jacket, chinos and loafers, blinked while the two generals removed their eyeglasses and wiped their eyes.

His grown sons Jose, Jude and Joseph Victor as well as daughter Jacqueline Lopez were all crying as three female members of the palace staff, all weeping, broke through the security cordon and hugged their departing master.

Aides said Estrada had stayed up all night as his remaining political allies negotiated a dignified exit for their patron, who was undone when impeached by Congress for bribery, corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution.

He has maintained he did no wrong, and insisted on Saturday he had “strong and serious doubts about the legality and constitutionality” of Arroyo’s proclamation as president.

However, he said he did not wish “to be a factor that will prevent the restoration of unity and order in our civil society,” and agreed to vacate Malacanang “for the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of our nation.”

The Supreme Court declared the presidency vacant a day after the military and the police withdrew their support for the president, less than halfway into his six-year term.

It allowed vice president Gloria Arroyo, a 53-year-old economist, to take her oath as president at noon. Estrada left the palace under heavy security two-and-a-half hours later.

From the barge, the family transferred to a boat which brought them to the suburban San Juan district where Estrada launched his political career as a mayor in the late ‘60s.

Aides said he had no plans to leave the country despite indications that he would be tried for graft following new president Arroyo’s refusal to promise an outright amnesty.

“I leave the Palace of our people with gratitude for the opportunities given to me for service to our people,’ said Estrada, who suggested that his political career was not necessarily over.

“I will not shirk from any future challenges that may come ahead in the same service of our country. I call on all my supporters and followers to join me in the promotion of a constructive national spirit of reconciliation and solidarity,” he said.