(Updated 2:18 p.m.) There is no turning back for former President Joseph Estrada.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Sunday belied rumors that the standard bearer of his political party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), is bowing out of the presidential race.
“Hindi aatras iyon (Estrada). Kung inaasahan ng iba na aatras iyon, eh nagkakamali sila. Tuloy na tuloy si Erap (Estrada is not backing out. Those who expect him to back out are mistaken. Erap will push through with running for President)," Enrile told dzBB radio.
Enrile will run for reelection in the May 10 polls under the PMP banner.
Enrile also disclosed that in separate instances last year, presidential contender Sen. Manuel Villar, Jr. of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the siblings of Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino had asked Estrada to give up his presidential bid. He did not say when the talks took place.
Sought for comment, Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda quoted the Aquino sisters – Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee and Kris Yap – as denying that they asked Estrada to back out of the presidential race.
"The sisters categorically deny that. There was never any discussion that they were asking President Estrada to withdraw from the race," Lacierda said in a phone interview with GMANews.TV.
He added that the Aquino siblings met with Estrada thrice: when time former President Corazon Aquino was still confined at the Makati Medical Center, during Mrs. Aquino's wake, and during a dinner where the Aquino family thanked Estrada for "the fruits he sent during Mrs. Aquino's confinement."
Lacierda however could not say if the dinner occurred before or after Aquino announced that he will be seeking the presidency in May.
NP's Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was mum on whether Villar had indeed asked Estrada to give up his presidential ambition.
Cayetano only said Estrada and Villar had rarely spoken even as they “resumed being friends" after the NP's standard bearer was ousted as Senate president in November 2008.
“The friendship resumed... at ang alam ko, di ganun ang contact nila since nung filing (The friendship resumed but as far as I know, they have not been communicating frequently since the filing of certificates of candidacy)," Cayetano said in a separate interview on dzBB radio.
Estrada was accused of having a hand in Villar’s ouster because at the time, the latter was leading in surveys on most preferred presidential bets. Estrada has since denied the allegations.
Following his poor survey ratings last year, Estrada had clarified that he would not back out to support Aquino’s candidacy.
Estrada officially announced his bid for the presidency last October despite legal challenges and objections to the idea of his political comeback.
Section 4, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states that "the President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time."
Estrada insists he is eligible since he failed to finish his term. At the height of his impeachment trial in January 2001, he was ousted via a popular street uprising. He only served as President for roughly two years and seven months.
In September 2007, the Sandiganbayan, the country's anti-graft court, convicted him for plunder and sentenced him to a lifetime in jail, as well as disqualified him from seeking any public office.
But a month later, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo granted Estrada executive clemency. — LBG/NPA, GMANews.TV