It is a paradox of Filipino proportions that a President overthrown six years ago and on trial for capital plunder, nonetheless enjoys the highest public trust rating among all national leaders as Joseph Ejercito Estrada does.
It is not "mere popularity" either, for Erap is also the titular head of the political opposition whose standard bearer during the last election is now Senate President Manny Villar, said to be eyeing the Presidency in 2010. But his strong supporters also include Senators Mar Roxas, Loren Legarda, Noynoy Aquino (along with his mother, Corazon Aquino), Chiz Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, and such national stalwarts as former Senate President Franklin Drilon, and Senators Serge Osmena and Ernesto Maceda. And of course, he has never dipped below the two thirds level of public support and sympathy, as measured in survey after public opinion survey over the last six years, whilst all his tormentors, including Gloria Arroyo can barely scare up double digit percentages of those who trust them. His wife Loi and son Jinggoy have been elected to the Senate and almost everyone who earns his endorsement reaps victory at the polls.
This Wednesday the verdict in Erap's trial will be announced but I believe his personal political power can only grow even greater--whether he is convicted or acquitted. Here is why...
JOSEPH ESTRADA was an absolute disaster as President. He brought shame and scandal to the seat of Executive Power of Malacanan Palace, where he reportedly hosted all night drinking sessions with cronies and sycophants eager to urge all sorts of corrupt deals on him. He was impeached in November, 2000 when he was accused by Gov. Luis Chavit Singson of taking jueteng money and tobacco tax kickbacks. Erap's trial in the Philippine Senate proved to be a disaster when the Prosecution walked out and worse, the Presiding Judge joined them and aborted the Trial for no good reason whatsoever.
HILARIO G. DAVIDE Jr. was a disaster as the Presiding Judge in the impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada which was aborted when Prosecutors led by Joker Arroyo walked out and Davide did not bother trying to call them back to finish the trial. Instead he effectively sided with the Prosecution, and the anti-Erap forces when he walked out on the trial himself, went to the Edsa Shrine and swore in the Vice President, with absolutely no legal or ethical basis. It was simply that Davide himself could not accept the inevitable verdict of acquittal that the Vote on the Second Envelope actually foretold, since it became clear at that point that Erap had the numbers to definitively win acquittal on all four impeachment charges brought against him. But in order to get rid of Erap, Davide knew he could not simply continue with the Impeachment Trial since that would surely lead to Erap's acquittal. He fell in with GMA, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Chief of Staff of the AFP and agreed to simply swear in the Vice President while a Mob threatened to take Erap out of Malacanang in a horizontal position.
What Davide did to Erap was pure and simple: a DENIAL OF DUE PROCESS. Only conviction at his impeachment trial could validly remove Erap from office in January, 2001, unless he died, was permanently incapacitated, or if he resigned. The Supreme Court ruled in March 2001 that Erap "constructively resigned." This was necessitated by the fact that it was an overt ACTION of the Supreme Court's own Chief Justice that aborted the Impeachment Trial and effected the Edsa Dos regime change that overthrew Erap's Presidency and allowed him to be turned into a suspect charged for capital plunder.
IF CONVICTED of Plunder by the Sandiganbayan Court, can former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada be granted pardon?
I don't think so, even if almost everyone, including the Palace itself wishes that Erap would accept a pardon, thus proving his guilt and finishing off his legal case. But Erap vows to appeal his case all the way to the Supreme Court. If he appeals his case immediately after a prospective guilty verdict is rendered this coming Wednesday, I don't believe a Presidential Pardon can even be validly granted, for it is of the essence of a pardon that it can only be granted after the sentence of guilt has become final and executory. An immediate appeal would mean the accused maintains his innocence and refuses to accept the Sandiganbayan's verdict as final or executory. Therefore a Pardon cannot validly be granted, for it would mean an admission of guilt and therefore contradict the appeal.
Of course, the Powers-That-Be in the Judiciary did manage to force a Constructed Resignation on him in 2001, so it would not be more absurd I suppose if they could somehow force a Pardon on him for alleged plunder. But having willingly spent these last six years in detention professing his innocence, it would be illogical for Erap to cop a pardon if convicted now, which would be tantamount to admitting guilt. By parity of reasoning, a Pardon cannot be forced upon him as that would be a violation of the right against self-incrimination, often called the Fifth Amendment, a forced confession, as it were.
Thus an appeal against a guilty verdict by the Sandiganbayan (which is equivalent to a mere Court of First Instance or perhaps a Regional Trial Court) cannot be denied him since he has maintained his innocence from the day he was charged, hoping to clear his name. Neither did Erap flight like Ferdinand Marcos, Virgilio Garcillano, and JocJoc Bolante, and he publicly rejected several immoral offers from his captors to take a Get Out of Jail Free Card as delivered at various times infamously by Nani Perez and Mike Defensor.
IF CONVICTED must Erap go to Bilibid Prison?
DILG Secretary Ronnie Puno said recently that the Palace would insist on Erap staying right where he is--in his Tanay residence, but Erap has declared that if found guilty he ought to be put in with the rest of the penal convicts of Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. It would be a security nightmare, as Puno claimed, though I doubt it is really Erap's security he was worried about! Erap in jail would only reprise one of his many movie roles and he would become even more powerful as a martyred figure, hamming it up with the capos and presos in jail.
Whether or not he goes to Bilibid Prison if convicted of Plunder, the unavoidable fact is that Erap will surely gain even more political power as a result of the inevitable popular sympathy for his plight. No one today feels the effect of whatever plunder he might have committed with the likes of Luis Chavit Singson, whom he derided on television recently since the electorate decisively rejected his bid for the Senate (he ended up where he started out in 24th place). But a whole series of scandals, both political and economic in the Garci and ZTE cases, is engulfing the Palace at the moment and the comparison is not at all flattering for them. The all-night drinking, gambling and carousing that Erap conducted with his cronies in Malacanang Palace actually seems like mere juvenile delinquency now compared to the whole string of allegedly corrupt doings of the Arroyo administration.
Whether former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada is convicted or acquitted of Plunder this Wednesday in a much ballyhooed Sandiganbayan promulgation event and official extravaganza, it won't much affect Erap's personal circumstances and political standing, which has never actually been higher than right now. Erap is far more powerful today than he ever was as President, when he was vulnerable to a relentless scrutiny and attack by the righteous mass media, as well as legal and political proceedings like impeachment and People Power.
But today, by a variety of misguided decisions on the part of the highest officials of the land since 2001, which may be described summarily as a DENIAL OF DUE PROCESS, Joseph Estrada has ironically been put beyond the reach of the Law. He is more powerful than the law, because his tormentors are not so insane as to kill him, yet being unable to get him to leave the country to their tender mercies and go into exile, the Law must deal with him on his own terms.
Since his Resignation was actually constructed and forced on him, there is no end in coming ironies if he is convicted and then some genetically modified Pardon is constructed and forced upon him also!
IS THERE A CASE FOR ACQUITTAL?
The lawyer of President Estrada at the Impeachment Trial in 2001, the esteemable Estelito Mendoza, claims that by all the rules of Court, Erap should be acquitted because the Prosecution simply did not prove its case and he explained succinctly recently to Pia Hontiveros:
The brevity and crystal clear wit of Mendoza's explanation I find convincing in the way that a clever but straightforward mathematical proof often does for me. Of course the Sandiganbayan is not Solon of Athens who was after all a Pythagorean by religion and philosophy, and so they may not find Estelito Mendoza as convincing as I do.
MP3: Estelito Mendoza Plunder 101 on the Erap Case
If you would believe another of Erap's several lawyers, the equally esteemable Alan Paguia, the Sandiganbayan should rule from the outset that they had, have and could never possibly have JURISDICTION over the case of President Joseph Estrada.
Alan Paguia would go further, that an unpunished criminal of Edsa Dos is former Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., who aborted the Impeachement Trial of the former President, instead of presiding over it to a successful conclusion. Instead, it is a matter of historical record, that the Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., on Saturday 20 January 2001, for some inexplicable and certainly illegal, improper, immoral and unwise reason, suddenly swore in the Vice President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as President, thus effectively overthrowing the Chief Executive in swift coup d'etat conspired and participated in by no less than the Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo T. Reyes. Later, in March 2001, the Supreme Court, with Davide abstaining of course, blessed the acts in January of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chief of Staff of the AFP, and called the events "Constitutional throughout." The magical realist stinkeroo of the historic decision Estrada v. Arroyo is the invention of the mode of enacting Regime Change and overthrowing any democratically elected President called CONSTRUCTIVE RESIGNATION, though the more accurate term is CONSTRUCTED RESIGNATION.
Now in the 20/20 of historical hindsight, and purely as a matter of record, we only need to observe that on Tuesday, 16 January 2001, a vote was taken on the matter of the Second Envelope by the Senator Judges at Erap's Impeachment Trial, which Davide was presiding over. Eleven Senator Judges showed their hand in that vote, meaning to say, President Estrada was sure of eventual acquittal at the Impeachment Trial on that date, Tuesday, 16 January 2001. Purely as a matter of record again, the Supreme Court in Estrada v. Arroyo then constructed a sequence of events and rationalizations, of narrative and self-justification, between that Tuesday and the following Saturady, 20 January 2001, by which time President Joseph Estrada had somehow decided to resign, or showed by his actions, (a boat ride home from the Palace to Green Hills!) that he had decided in fact resigned.
Erap has denied it ever since, as a matter of record. And he filed a case against GMA on Monday 22 January 2001, which only resulted in the ruling I've already mentioned in Estrada v. Arroyo.
In retrospect also, I must say, Erap and his lawyers made a curious mistake on that Monday. Why indeed did they sue GMA, and not Davide? For who was the bigger transgressor of their Oath of Office and moral duty on Saturday 20 January 2001, when GMA was the mere recipient of Hilario Davide's towering DERELICTION OF DUTY.
His duty was to continue the Impeachment Trial of President Estrada. If he had done his simple duty and merely ordered back the walkout copout Prosecutor, Joker Arroyo, now JPE's sidekick (what strange bedfellows, I wonder who is more revolted?), Erap would've been acquitted, probably, but so what. The Rule of Law would not have been destroyed as Davide did. His restoration of Zion is more like the destruction of the Temple of Justice!
And so now we come to the Sandiganbayan farce this coming Wednesday.
Observe that if there is anything they agree upon, both the anti-Erap Edsa Dos diehards and the two thirds majority sympathetic to the former President, enduring support as measured by outfits like the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, Inc.. Not that they are equally happy at such measurements of course, but how does it come about that a President supposedly overthrown by a People Power Revolution in January 2001.
Erap, in my opinion, is beyond the reach of the Law and Justice, except the poetic kind now, because the Law and Justice were most unfair in their dealings with him as Chief Executive.
Only God can get rid of Erap now, because his human prosecutors broke the Law themselves to get rid of him instead of respecting the Social Contract that is the Constitution.
There are numerous Philippine Commentaries on Edsa Dos.
Chief Justice Panganiban Tells Seminarians The Story of Edsa Dos
Edsa Dos: The Real Coup D'etat
Davide's Chicken Comes Home To Roost