POSTSCRIPT / December 26, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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PRESIDENT Estrada claims he is innocent. Good.

Now he can proceed to make his next statement, which should be an order for all persons concerned to open pertinent records and freely testify on issues related to the impeachment charges.

At the same time, the President can instruct his lawyers to stop obstructing the presentation of evidence. After all, if he is indeed innocent, he and his lawyers need not fear what awful truth would come out, di po ba?

* * *

ANOTHER logical step for the President is to ask Equitable Bank depositor Jose Velarde, whoever he is, to come out and testify on the P142-million check used to buy the Boracay mansion for one of his mistresses and another check for P500 million for a deal with a crony.

We realize of course that asking Velarde to step into the limelight and testify may be a bit confusing.

Mr. Velarde, este Estrada, may have to get professional advice muna from master impersonator Willie Nepomuceno to be able to pull a convincing performance as Velarde, este Estrada.

* * *

WHILE Mr. Estrada, este Velarde, is rearranging his hairdo and mustache in the dressing room, suppose presidential crony Jaime Dichaves suddenly strides into the Senate waving his cedula and repeating his claim that he is the real Jose Velarde!

Ang gulo, ano po?

“You honor,” Dichaves’ lawyer might address the presiding officer Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. “My client, Mr. Velarde, wants to say something.”

Defense lawyer Estelito Mendoza would then jump to his feet and shout, almost by reflex, “Objection, your honor!”

“What’s the objection?” the Chief Justice asks.

“You honor, please, the defense has not been furnished advance Xerox (advt.) copies of the alleged cedula purporting to identify Mr. Estrada, este Velarde. Or Dichaves?”

…But because of the lateness of the hour, Floor Manager, este Floor Leader Francisco Tatad taps the microphone and moves for the suspension of the proceedings.

* * *

SERIOUSLY now, we’re disturbed by the strange statement of the Chief Justice made from the chair last Friday that under the graft and corrupt practices law, the burden of proving the guilt of an official found to have amassed substantial wealth rests on the prosecution.

It is not for the accused to prove his innocence, he said, but for the prosecution to prove his guilt. As one who never went to law school, we should defer to the superior legal wisdom of the chief magistrate. But we beg to disagree.

The general rule, all right, is that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proved otherwise. The burden of proving charges is on the accuser.

But the law on graft and corruption, we submit, precisely makes a clear exception to that general rule.

* * *

THAT law says that when a government official is found to possess property manifestly out of proportion to his legitimate income, the law presumes that the excess wealth was illegally acquired and should be seized by the government.

Under that law, the burden is on the accused official to prove that the assets in excess of his legitimate income had been legally acquired.

* * *

NOW if that adverse presumption applies to government personnel found to have amassed property grossly out of proportion to their legitimate income, why should that same rule not apply now to President Estrada?

Why should Joseph Ejercito Estrada be exempted while the rest of the bureaucracy must submit to the law meant to curb graft and corruption? What’s so special about him that he should be above the law?

President Estrada declared under oath in his 1999 statement of assets and liabilities a net worth of P35 million. Like the rest of officialdom, he now has to explain how come he had P500 million in his Equitable Bank account that same year.

This is not to mention other huge sums, including one that runs to P1.2 billion, reportedly held by him in other secret accounts with Equitable. And are there other accounts with other banks?

* * *

WE suggest that one of the parties raise the “burden of proof” issue in the next hearing after the holidays. The objective is not to challenge the Chief Justice, who has been doing a marvelous job, but merely to provide him an opening to clarify his statement.

Probably Davide merely meant that the law on unexplained wealth would apply to the accused President Estrada only if the prosecution can prove that Mr. Estrada is Jose Velarde.

The burden of proving that identity certainly rests on the prosecution. Maybe that was what Davide meant.

Once that crucial identity is established, the law on graft and corruption applies and shifts to the accused President the burden of proving that his wealth that is grossly in excess of his declared assets was not illegally acquired.

* * *

TOO bad the holidays quickly intervened after God sent Clarissa Ocampo, senior vice president and trust officer of Equitable, to testify and submit evidence last Friday that Velarde is no other than Estrada.

We imagine that the stock market would have perked up with the tearing away of the Velarde veil hiding Mr. Estrada. By most accounts, there was widespread rejoicing among the people as the Estrada defense crumbled.

As we said last Sunday, tapos na ang boksing! It is now pointless for Joseph Ejercito Estrada to continue in office. The only honorable option left for him is to resign.

* * *

THE President knows the whole truth. He knows that Ocampo was telling the truth about his opening a secret account and signing as Jose Velarde. He knows that he has other secret bank accounts on the verge of being similarly exposed.

His lawyers may tell him otherwise, but the widespread perception is that he has lost the case. He stands convicted in the eyes of the extended jury, the public watching the trial.

There is no defense against the truth. It’s as simple as that.

* * *

HIS only salvation, a technical rescue, lies in his allies among the senator-judges defying common wisdom, refusing to see the glaring truth and handing down a grossly partisan judgment.

Mr. Estrada is faced with the difficult dilemma: (1) Confess, say sorry and try to make amends, or (2) Continue insisting on the Big Lie that has torn this poor country apart.

We think he should stop treating this nation the way he has been treating his women.

* * *

WE also think that, as we’ve said days ago, the President should stop listening to his lawyers for a while.

We can imagine that his lawyers want him to continue fighting, and may in fact be telling him that they still have a winning case. Siyempre, why would they tell their client to stop fighting and, as a consequence, cause the drying up of their fat attorneys’ fees?

We can also imagine that the cronies and the leeches living off the President continue to profess loyalty and to drum into his bloodied head the advice that he should fight on and stay.

Mr. President, these are the same people who had contributed heavily to your downfall. These parasites want you, their host, to stay — although even now some of them are already opening lines to your apparent successor.

* * *

IF the burden is too heavy, the President may want to drop everything and be alone – really alone — during the holidays.

In spiritual retreat, away from the wiles of the world, the man is likely to rediscover God’s comforting presence and hear His fatherly counsel.

Maybe the President should also try talking to some of his more thoughtful children who had not been spoiled by the power and pelf associated with his celebrity status.

For spiritual guidance, he should be careful not to pick as counselor a business-minded Mike Velarde type or one of those priests whose alacrity in responding to a call to Malacañang is matched by the thick envelope awaiting them.

* * *

ANOTHER SURVEY: Some readers suggest that impeached President Estrada go into some kind of plea bargaining. They talk of several options, such as:

  1. The President negotiates an acquittal, but agrees to resign soon after.
  2. The President is acquitted as pre-arranged, goes on a leave of absence (extended vacation), and turns over the reins of government to the Vice President. His return to resume performing his duties would be subject to further negotiation.
  3. The President accepts a guilty verdict and leaves office, but with an understanding that he would be pardoned by the incoming President.
  4. The President should just resign unconditionally without waiting for the conclusion of the impeachment trial.

* * *

WE invite readers to tell the rest of us what they think of these interesting options, some of which may turn out to be legally flawed.

Please pick one of the four scenarios or options above and give a very brief one-paragraph explanation. As usual, kindly indicate such personal circumstances as your age, sex and location.

For easier sorting from the rest of the mail, please write “ERAP OPTIONS” on the subject line of your email, or on the envelope if you’re sending your response by regular post or by messenger.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 26, 2000)

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