POSTSCRIPT / November 5, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Afraid to go? Erap can try 7-11 option of Cory

ERAP Estrada is no novice. He’s not deaf or blind. By this time, he knows that the show is over and it’s time to bow out.

His problem is how to leave the stage with his dignity intact, and how he can protect his families. Maybe it is in his looking for a face-saving exit that everybody, including the opposition, could help him.

Erap’s insisting that he won’t resign, that the constitutional process of impeachment would eventually clear him is just for show. It’s a poker player’s bluff. Very soon, he would have to resign, unless he opts for another exit.

* * *

BUT Erap’s losing or giving up the presidency need not be irreversible. He could heed the earlier suggestion of former President Aquino for him to go on leave under Article VII, Section 11, of the Constitution (or “7-11” as she described it).

While resignation and impeachment will totally and permanently remove him from office, his taking a “7-11” leave of absence would mean only a temporary absence from which he could conceivably bounce back and reclaim the presidency at the opportune time.

We will discuss this more in detail toward the end of this column.

* * *

AFTER the dominant Erap coalition in the House of Representatives broke ranks and made their filing of impeachment charges against President Estrada a foregone conclusion, the focus shifted to the Senate.

The beleaguered Erap will now fall back on the Senate where the Erap coalition still holds sway — as of this writing.

With the first sign that many of his conscience-stricken allies in that Senate may allow themselves to be swept by the rampaging clamor for his immediate ouster, Erap may be forced to resign without waiting for his conviction by the Senate.

* * *

ERAP cannot miss the handwriting on the wall.

His own Cabinet members and partymates have started to desert him.

His trusted lieutenants in the House including Speaker Manuel Villar have jumped to the other side and voted for his impeachment, triggering an avalanche that ensured more than 100 signatures being affixed to the impeachment charge sheet.

An initial three senators — Senate President Franklin Drilon and Sens. Nikki Coseteng and Rodolfo Biazon — bolted the pro-Erap coalition, followed by Sen. Robert Jaworski.

It is premature to assume that the four senators would vote for a finding of guilt when the impeachment charges are finally heard by the Senate. But it is possible that other senators would soon move from the shadow of Malacañang and shun partisanship during the impeachment hearing.

* * *

IF the political intelligence from the Senate tells Erap Estrada that the opposition could get the required 15 or two-thirds votes in the 22-member Senate to convict him, that could be the signal for his finally resigning. (Some 13 senators have so far signified their anti-Erap sentiments.)

But Erap cannot wait for that final signal before making a decision. He is expected to try initiating secret negotiations in the meantime for a possible face-saving exit.

Some quarters have suggested that one concession to Erap would be for the incoming president, presumably Vice President Gloria Arroyo, to pardon him after impeachment.

This is not possible since Section 19 of Article VII (Executive Department) makes a clear exception to presidential pardons: “Except in cases of impeachment… the President may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons…after conviction by final judgment.”

* * *

AS for resignation, while this may effectively abort the impeachment proceeding and give Erap Estrada a convenient escape from the political turmoil, it is no guarantee that it would give him peace even with a secret understanding with the incoming administration.

A secret accommodation promising non-prosecution of an impeached president can bind only the two parties of Erap Estrada and Gloria Arroyo, but not third parties.

A taxpayer or a victim, for instance, may just file a case against Erap after he resigns and there is nothing that the new President and her officials could do about it.

The courts, which are independent of the Executive department, are also not bound to respect any extra-legal commitment made to Erap by the incoming administration.

* * *

THE judgment in case of impeachment consists of removal from office and disqualification to hold any office in the government, under Section 3(7) of Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers).

But the same sub-section says that after impeachment, “the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial and punishment according to law.”

An impeached president convicted by the Senate does not necessarily find peace after he is removed from office.

* * *

IF Erap can feel it in his bones that impeachment and his eventual conviction and removal are inevitable, what constitutional options are open to him to get out of the line of fire?

Erap may want to examine more closely one of the three options that former President Aquino herself had suggested in a speech at the EDSA shrine some weeks ago. She mentioned Section 11 of Article VII (or “7-11”) under which the President can go on leave.

The advantage of this option is that going on leave is not a permanent removal from office. The President can reclaim the office by simply serving written notice that he is going back to perform his duties.

In contrast, resignation and impeachment mean permanent removal from office. There is no way an ousted president can go back except by running for office again.

* * *

UNDER the “7-11” provision, Erap Estrada follows Mrs. Aquino’s suggestion and transmits to the Senate President and the House Speaker his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

In such a situation, the powers and duties of the President shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

To resume his duties after his absence from office, the President on leave merely sends to the same congressional leaders another written declaration that he is able again to discharge his powers and duties as president.

Note that in this “7-11” scenario, the Vice President only becomes Acting President, unlike when the President resigns or is removed by impeachment when the Vice President “becomes” the President.

* * *

IF Erap knows he has to go anyway, but is reluctant to surrender all with finality, he might try the “7-11” option that Mrs. Aquino herself suggested. He would find this option more flexible.

Depending on how he maneuvers and consolidates his forces during his absence, he might still be able to bounce back, especially if the new administration under the Acting President is unable to tame the market factors wreaking havoc on the economy.

Now if the new administration makes good and solves the problems that Erap was unable to handle, Erap can opt to quietly stay out of Malacañang indefinitely and let the Acting President finish his term.

* * *

HOW are the children taking this crisis? We want to share this email of reader E. B. Belen of edsamail.com:

“My first year high school son came home one evening from school. When asked what he and his friends discussed in Ramon Magsaysay High School about the President’s alleged involvement in the jueteng scandal, he matter-of-factly replied: “Pinag-usapan po namin na dapat mag-resign na si President Erap at baka i-pusta niya ang Pilipinas at matalo pa.”

“I asked him if he was joking, but he said that that was what he and his friends/classmates talked about. I pondered upon the matter: Maybe they were in their ‘boyish banters.’ Maybe this was just a childish perception. Or maybe they were really serious in their youthful assessment of current events.

“This worried me. This disturbed me. If 12-year old high school children are already expressing some, if not entirely serious reservations about their President’s moral fitness to govern, their parents must now really think more seriously on what is happening in our government.

“I believe that there is inherent goodness in the President. But I also believe that he must now be fully convinced that his credibility has been seriously eroded. And sadly, that credibility may no longer be restored.

“But he can still continue to be good. For goodness is greater than greatness. It’s about time the President remained good rather than strive to be great by remaining in the presidency. Let us all urge him to be good.

“Let’s plead with him to resign, so we could thereafter convince our children that our President was really good… and great… after all.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 5, 2000)

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