Let us start with a little background. Estrada was elected president in 1998, but his tenure was cut short when on January 2001 he was ousted from office during the so-called EDSA II revolution where the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented manner, made then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the president by administering to her, through then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the oath of office for the president. The Supreme Court later on legitimized GMA's assumption of office by ruling in Estrada v. Desierto that Estrada resigned the presidency under the artful doctrines of "totality test" and "constructive resignation." In 2004, after serving about three years as president, GMA run for and was elected as president.
The constitutional provision dealing with the election and term of office of the president is Article 7, Section 4, which is pertinent to the eligibility of Estrada to run. The provision reads as follows:
Those who support the eligibility of Estrada raise the following positions: (1) The bar on second election to the presidency applies only to the incumbent president and (2) Estrada served as president for two and a half years only.
Section 4. The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any re-election. 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.
The first position argues that in prohibiting the election of a person to the presidency for the second time, the second sentence of Article 7, Section 4 refers only to the incumbent president as evidenced by the use of the definite article "the." Thus, in saying that "[t]he president" is not eligible for re-election the phrase simply means the sitting president, which at present is GMA. This position is further reinforced by the use of the word "re-election." The proponents claim that re-election refers to one who has been elected to an office and is seeking to be elected to the same office immediately upon the expiration of his or her term.
Since Estrada is not the incumbent president he is not covered by the prohibition on re-election to the presidency. As former Supreme Court justice and DOJ secretary Serafin Cuevas said, Estrada is not seeking re-election but a new election.
This interpretation would, of course, mean that not only will Estrada be eligible to run for president again, but also Fidel V. Ramos and others who will become president later on - after they are no longer in office. It advances the view that the prohibition on second election to the presidency is not absolute.
The opposing view, on the other hand, states that the use of the definite article "the," before the word president, and the word "re-election" in Section 4 are not conclusive grounds in saying that the prohibition on second election to the presidency applies only to the incumbent president. It is argued that the adjective "any" before the word re-election dispels this. Thus, when Section 4 states that the president shall not be eligible for any re-election, it means that the president cannot be elected president again either immediately upon the expiration of his or her term or on any presidential election thereafter.
If the intention were that the ban applies only to the election upon expiration of the holder's tenure of office, the adjective "any" would clearly be out of place and useless. But the insertion of this adjective suggests that the ban on re-election is not limited to the election to be held at the end of the incumbent president's term but on any other presidential election. The phraseology of Section 4 looks forward which thus makes the ban on second election to the presidency apply now and in the future to the sitting president.
The adjective "any" clearly modifies the word "re-election" by giving it a non-restrictive meaning. In addition the dictionary defines re-election as to elect again. Thus, one can be considered re-elected to the same office even after the interval of one or more terms.
Proponents of Estrada's re-election also explain that the rationale of Section 4 in prohibiting re-election is to prevent an incumbent president from using the power and influence of his or her office to ensure electoral victory. Obviously this rationale would have no application to one who is no longer president, which argues for the non-application of the prohibition to a former president like Estrada. The contrary view, however, is that if indeed this is the rationale, then why is the same not true in the case of one who succeeded as president and has served as such for four years or less. The third sentence of Section 4 states that such person will be eligible for election to the presidency. Such person will be enjoying the same power and influence as president - as in the case of GMA after succeeding to the presidency in 2001 - and yet the Constitution does not prohibit him or her from running in the next presidential election. The incumbent's advantage, therefore, is not a very strong argument.
As regards the second point of those favoring Estrada's candidacy, they argue that Estrada did not finish his term as president since he only served two and a half years. This is, however, a long shot. The ban on re-election under Section 4 does not require that the president must complete his or her term before the prohibition is triggered.
A variant of this position is that since on the third sentence of Section 4 it prohibits second election only when one who became president has served the presidency for more than four years, Estrada would be qualified to run since he only served two and a half years as president. But the contrary view holds that said provision of Section 4 applies only to one who became president by virtue of succession, such as when the vice president becomes president because the president dies, resigns or becomes permanently incapacitated.
This claim is supported by the phraseology of Section 4's third sentence when it says that no person who has succeeded as president and has served under that capacity for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the presidency at any time. The provision uses the word "succeeded as president" instead of "elected as president" or "became president," which means that it refers to the rule of succession. Also, this interpretation is supported by the use of the word "election" on the third sentence of Section 4, to wit:
Obviously, one who became president by the rule of succession is not elected to the office he or she succeeded. In contrast, the second sentence uses the word "re-elected" because it speaks of one who has already been elected to the presidency.
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.
There is view to the effect that if GMA was allowed to run for president in 2004, having served as president immediately prior thereto for less than four years, there is also no reason why Estrada cannot run for president, considering that he also served for less than four years. This proposition, however, ignores the fact that GMA only succeeded to the office of presidency in 2001 while Estrada was elected thereto in 1998.
One other legal obstacle being thrust into Estrada's candidacy is his conviction for plunder, which carried the accessory penalty of disqualification. It would appear, however, that the absolute nature of the pardon granted him by President Macapagal-Arroyo has eliminated this legal challenge.