POSTSCRIPT / April 29, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Stick to main issue: Is Erap guilty or not?

WHAT we had warned against as early as last January is now happening.

At the height of the euphoria of Edsa II, we kept stressing that we should attribute the ascension to the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the regular constitutional succession, and not so much to People Power.

To attribute the GMA presidency to a romantic notion of People Power was dangerous, we said then, because such an extralegal (if not illegal) route is not among the processes provided in the Constitution for filling a vacancy in the presidency.

We said, as others did say, that to recognize Edsa II as the basis of the GMA presidency would be to open ourselves to an Edsa III, then an Edsa IV, and so on in an open-ended series.

* * *

SO three months after, we now have another crowd staging an imitation of Edsa II. Sympathizers of disgraced Erap Estrada have gathered at the Edsa shrine declaring that they would disperse only if GMA stepped down and Erap returned to Malacañang.

In short, the present crowd at Edsa wants to undo what happened last January. It wants to do the impossible.

By any stretch of the imagination, there is no way that so-called People Power can legally remove GMA and replace her with Erap at this point.

* * *

AS the Supreme Court has ruled and reiterated, then President Estrada had resigned and left a vacancy under the Constitution. Also according to the Constitution, GMA as then Vice President had to fill the vacancy and thus become President.

Also under the Constitution, a new Vice President (Sen. Teofisto Guingona) was chosen by the new President (GMA), and confirmed by both chambers of Congress.

In all this, Erap Estrada continued to recede farther and farther away from the post of president that he had abandoned.

* * *

EVEN assuming the improbable scenario where GMA vacates the presidency by resignation, permanent disability, death, or impeachment, Vice President Guingona — and certainly not Erap Estrada — will become the new President under the Constitution.

So what are the Erap stragglers really saying when they demand that Erap be reinstated?

* * *

PEOPLE Power was, and is, not part of the constitutional process of presidential succession.

The massive gathering that took on the name of Edsa II last January only served as the socio-political background of the events leading to the constitutional ascension of GMA to the presidency.

Any group attempting to stage another People Power is actually just trying to create a similar setting that it hopes could lay the legal basis for Erap’s returning to the presidency.

* * *

AS we see it, the only way the so-called Edsa III could succeed in putting back Erap is for the phenomenon to metamorphose into a revolution in his favor.

Since there is no way for Erap to go back to Malacañang via the Constitution, the only route left for him is for a revolutionary clique, backed by a critical mass, to cast aside the charter and install him as dictator.

A variation of a revolution is a coup d’etat by a cabal of adventurous military officers.

But that’s going too far already. Any reasonable observer will immediately see that a revolution or a coup is improbable, given the present situation. Especially if its intended beneficiary is Erap.

* * *

SO, how can the crowd milling at Edsa achieve its twin goals of removing GMA and putting back Erap as president?

Malayong mangyari iyan. Malabo.

The problem is if unseen forces with an ulterior agenda and a multibillion-peso war chest fuels the mob into a revolutionary frenzy without their knowing that they are being used.

* * *

BUT whatever we think, there is this reality of a new Edsa crowd with its ramifications. It’s there. A big crowd is there, chanting, shouting and waving placards and making demands.

Of course there are the trapo and some desperate cliff-hanging candidates working on the expectant crowd in a symbiotic exploitation.

When will this go away, ask concerned elements of the community.

Since its spokesmen said the crowd would disperse only if GMA stepped down and Erap were put back as president, and since those demands are not legally feasible, do we see a protracted rally that could spawn more serious disturbances?

It depends.

* * *

IT depends mainly on the man himself.

If Erap, seeking vengeance, wants to destabilize the GMA administration and sort of remind the world that he is still a force to contend with, he could encourage and even secretly fund the crowd demonstrating for him.

If an enlightened Erap chooses to be statesmanlike, following his favorite spiel that he is just an innocent victim of fabricated charges, he could ask the mob to go home and let the judicial process decide his fate.

* * *

HOW the disturbance would turn out also depends partly on the GMA administration’s handling of the situation.

We think it would be an error to physically confront the crowd and disperse it. Tolerance is the key word.

As Erap’s case is now with the Judiciary, it would be wise also for Malacañang, the President especially, to minimize commenting on it.

If it is true anyway that the pro-Erap crowd lacks genuine conviction and moral basis, it should dissipate in time, if left alone. To engage the Erap stragglers would only provoke them and add fuel to their passion, rightly or wrongly.

* * *

AT this point, it would be constructive to remind everybody that the main issue of the entire drama is still whether or not Erap Estrada is guilty of plunder.

We should not allow the street antics of Erap stragglers to distract us from this basic bone of contention. We must keep going back to it.

Due process was meticulously followed. Erap was arrested after a complaint for plunder was filed with the Sandiganbayan. The graft court found probable cause after examining the complaint and the evidence. The arrest warrant was served on the accused despite attempts to block the sheriff.

The outstanding question, which Erap supporters apparently do not want answered, is whether or not Erap is guilty as charged.

* * *

TO cut short the legally irrelevant disturbance outside the court, let’s not prolong the process. Let nobody stand in the way of a speedy trial.

As an accused itching to prove his professed innocence, Erap should be the first to demand a speedy trial. He should stop the rigmarole of his high-flying lawyers throwing obstructions everywhere to stall the hearings.

As an honorable man, a former president desiring to keep the respect of society, Erap should not transfer the venue from the courtroom to the street.

* * *

THE impression that Erap is afraid to face charges and thereby prove his alleged innocence is not doing him and the country any good.

If Erap is guilty, let the court say so with the least delay and mete him the proper penalties. But if he is innocent, let the court say so and set him free right away.

Either way, let’s get on with our lives with the least distraction.

* * *

LAST night we heard First Gentleman Mike Arroyo talking lengthily from Mendiola about the pro-Erap crowd and other topics thrown by the broadcast media. With due respect, we think that Mr. Arroyo should leave the talking to others.

There should be a minimum of critical comments on Erap sympathizers from President Arroyo and members of her family. If possible, she should just ignore the annoyance and let the proper agencies deal with them.

Instead of commenting, the President should engage in other high-profile productive activities to buttress the impression that everything’s normal and that she cannot be disoriented by the disturbances created by Erap stragglers.

There are more important things demanding her attention.

* * *

PERSONAL Postscript: We commend fellow columnist Art Borjal and his group of mostly anonymous Samaritans for their corporal works of mercy. Our family thanks Art particularly for the wheelchair that he has passed on to my ailing 96-year-old mother. She would use it when she comes out of ICU, where she has been confined for more than two weeks now.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2001)

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