July 4, 2011

I was one foot away from Joseph Estrada

Eleven years ago, I stood one foot away from Joseph Estrada outside the Sandiganbayan. Here's my story.

I was in journalism school when former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson squealed that then incumbent Philippines President Joseph "Erap" Estrada was the "lord of all jueteng (a form of gambling) lords." The accusation to the president of accepting payola led to one gripping plot in Philippine history and students like me were in the midst of a good training material.

Four months after Edsa 2 revolution toppled Joseph Estrada, "Erap fans stage Edsa 3" (as one broadsheet splashed on its front page) in reaction to the arrest of the deposed leader.

The president was tried and was eventually deposed by a "popular coup." He would now had to face criminal cases before the Sandiganbayan (the special Philippine court that have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices committed by public officers and employees).

I have no idea of what exactly was going on inside the building. I have no connections whatsoever. All I knew then, the most popular elected official in the country was inside and I just had to be there too... with a borrowed film camera to shoot.

Edsa 3 gathered the masses for an indignant call to reinstate the deposed Joseph Estrada, but to no avail.

So I arrived at the vicinity on a rainy afternoon and people from both sides of the political camp were reclaiming the highway for their Constitution-guaranteed freedom of expressions and of assembly.  

Then after about an hour or so, word went about that the arraignment was done and the former president will come out from the building through the front left gate. Quickly I ran towards that gate along with some press people and bystanders. I got a spot and secured my vantage point for whatever photo opportunity the situation would bring. 

Minutes later, no Erap yet. 

Until I noticed someone from the compound murmuring to, perhaps, a colleague. The direction of their eyes gazed towards the other side of the building. I forget what really prompted me to dash towards the other side of the compound but my quick reflex gave me a spot by the gate at the right side of Sandiganbayan building.

There were guards and patrol motorcycles with their blinkers on. There were some sort of commotion, too. Supporters and fans were eager to see the accused. Some press people had also stationed themselves there.

Then finally, a vehicle emerged from that gate. I was already in a fighting form when I heard a man with a television camera on his shoulders told the supporters to "oh kawayan nyo (wave your hands)." 

As if in perfect timing, the vehicle stopped then the left side door opened with Estrada smiling and waving to everyone. His well-scrubbed face gleamed in the now sunny sky, spectacles and the signature moustache; well-pressed barong tagalog and that undefinable Erap charisma. 

A roll of Kodak ProImage 100 color film wound inside the Canon camera strapped to my hand. Shrieks of women filled the air. Estrada welcomed the mob. That was a photo op I could never forget. All of 10 seconds of it, as close as one foot away from Erap.

When the film was developed, I was thrilled to capture Erap on my photographs. But it would be better if I got his entire face neatly composed on my frames... Not just his wristband, his lips smiling and that signature moustache.

Written as Assignment 4 for News Gathering and Reporting class of Diploma in Photojournalism at ACJF-AdMU, under Prateebha Tuladhar.