POSTSCRIPT / January 18, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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With the Senate trial stalled, Erap must face EDSA court

PRESIDENT Estrada may not realize it, but by his tampering with the Senate and causing the indefinite suspension of the impeachment trial, he has lost a valuable, manageable forum for arguing his innocence.

His rabid defenders among the senators were rendered useless after they went berserk for him the other day. Now the President is left only with the forum of the street, where the cards are stacked against him.

His expensive lawyers have also become irrelevant as nobody in the streets cares to listen to technicalities and legal gobbledygook.

While he can buy rallies and poll surveys, and even senators similarly inclined, Mr. Estrada cannot buy all the people. This is the real problem he faces out there in the people’s court on EDSA.

* * *

WITH the crisis gripping the country, we are now seeing proof that Joseph Ejercito Estrada, alias Jose Velarde, is indeed our No. 1 national problem. We don’t have to open the second envelope to know this.

But instead of acknowledging his errors and making amends, President Estrada is flailing against the winds of adverse public opinion. In his desperate defense, he is driving a wedge through the heart of the nation. He is dividing the country.

He has set the poor against the rich. He has prostituted the banking system and left the economy prostrate and bleeding. He has just destroyed the Senate.

(We hope the collateral damage does not reach the Supreme Court via poor Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. who happened to be presiding when the Senate was seized by a fit of partisanship the other day.)

* * *

THE stalled impeachment trial should not be allowed to proceed. Having been compromised, that court will never be credible anyway. Besides, there are no more prosecutors from the House of Representatives to tango with the defense.

The Senate should not just postpone the trial, but call it off. Why should the Senate waste time and continue pretending to be searching for the truth while its majority is blatantly suppressing it?

The truth is right there in an envelope already in their hands, but the majority refused to look at its contents on the self-serving say-so of the lawyers of President Estrada that they are irrelevant and immaterial to the charges.

Everybody’s asking how the senator-judges can determine that the contents are irrelevant if they refuse to glance at them. The point is so clear that even Asiong Salonga should be able to see it at 4 a.m., except that he pretends it’s not there.

* * *

THE defense has foisted an illustration of what it means by irrelevance that seems to have registered with many listeners, including sleepy senators.

If Juan is accused of murder for allegedly stabbing Pedro to death, the defense said that if Juan is found during the hearing to have killed Jose (somebody else), Juan cannot be convicted for the murder of Pedro on the basis of his having killed Jose. Of course. Jose’s murder is an entirely different case.

Drawing a parallel, the defense said that when President Estrada was charged with graft and corruption for reasons given in the charge sheet, evidence that’s not listed in the complaint is irrelevant. A sympathetic senator-judge amplified by saying that the charges cannot now be revised or amended by introducing evidence not listed in the charge sheet.

* * *

THIS illustration of supposed irrelevance gained some adherents, because it was not adequately explained by the prosecution that there is no attempt to revise the charges by the introduction of newly discovered evidence.

Using the same illustration, we say that if it was later found that aside from stabbing Pedro, Juan also pressed a pillow on his face and thus directly caused his death by asphyxiation, (Estrada’s) defense cannot argue that the pillow is irrelevant and inadmissible just because there was no mention of it in the original complaint. The pillow, discovered later, caused the death for which charges were filed.

In the case of President Estrada’s being accused of graft and corruption for owning mind-boggling bank deposits not declared in his statement of assets and liabilities, additional bank records of these undeclared deposits cannot be deemed irrelevant just because they were not specifically mentioned in the impeachment papers.

Introducing additional evidence does not amend the graft and corruption charges. Nobody is changing the four articles of impeachment. The prosecution is simply bringing out more evidence to prove the charges. The evidence is clearly relevant as it pertains directly to the alleged graft.

* * *

THIS line was actually brought out by Senate President Nene Pimentel when he refuted the claim of the defense that the bank papers in the second envelope were irrelevant because they were not mentioned in the charge sheet.

But it seems not too many senators heard Pimentel. Besides, at that point, it was obvious that the pro-Estrada senators had received their Palace marching orders and there was no more convincing them to change their minds.

Also lost in the heat of partisan passion was the oft-repeated point that the relevance of the evidence in the envelope cannot be evaluated unless the papers are examined after, not before, opening the envelope.

* * *

THE trial should not be resumed. It may not be a good reason to some, but calling off the trial altogether would deny the “swing” senator-judges a chance to recover from the fallout of their ill-advised “No” (do not open) vote.

Some of the less sophisticated middle-ground senators were convinced to vote No after they were assured that the open-the-envelope issue was not yet the decisive and final guilty-or-innocent vote.

Apparently, some senators were convinced to play along with Estrada’s gofers with the thought of making up for it later by casting a conscience vote (maybe a Guilty verdict?) when it is time to hand down the final decision.

These senators who had locked themselves in with the No core bloc and gambled their reputation won’t be able to recover if the trial is not resumed.

The lesson is for one to always vote with his conscience in both the small and the big issues, in the preliminary and the final questions.

* * *

ONE positive angle of the suspension of the trial is that the senators would be able to now focus on their legislative tasks that had been put on hold. They would have the time now to pass the national budget and prevent a bigger political crisis.

Without the budget, there will be no money for holding the regular elections this May for 12 new senators, a complete lineup of around 200 congressmen, and the thousands of other officials running local governments. What a crisis!

The previous national budget is carried over and used when Congress fails to pass a new budget, but the current budget, not being for 2001, does not carry a provision for the funding of the 2001 elections.

* * *

LIKE Jaime Cardinal Sin, we do pity Sen. Tessie Oreta, the favorite kid sister of Ninoy Aquino. She went overboard for her special friend Erap Estrada.

Ninoy must have tossed in his grave when Tessie let go and danced with glee after their pro-Erap vote won. She was later seen calling somebody on her cellphone to report, according to naughty observers, their victory.

What else can we expect after she pocketed that P1 million balato in gambling winnings of Erap Estrada and after her husband raked in juicy government contracts allegedly in violation of pertinent laws on conflict of interest?

* * *

READER Logy Nakpil said of her: “I have never seen a more disgusting spectacle than the one performed on the ‘dance floor’ of the Senate by that Oreta woman. It almost seemed to me as if she was dancing on the grave of the Filipino people.”

Andre Casimiro said: “I don’t know if I should be ashamed to be a Filipino after that. Shame on the 11 senators (who voted No). I hope they can sleep at night, especially Senator Oreta who was caught on TV jumping and rejoicing, and heckling the people in the gallery who decided to walk out.”

Mario Edwin O. Demesa Jr.: “I was totally dismayed. Senator Oreta showed her true colors when she performed her antics unmindful of the cameras surrounding her. It clearly showed her bias. She destroyed the credibility and integrity of the Senate.”

* * *

BACK to the garbage problem… We’re still awaiting word from MMDA chairman Jojo Binay and Secretary Robert Aventajado if they had dropped the alternate plan to dump Metro Manila garbage on Clark Field in Pampanga.

As resident of Mabalacat, where 85 percent of Clark squats, we protest the plan. We have not recovered from the invisible volcanic ash hanging over our community. We have not succeeded in having the US remove the toxic wastes it has left on base.

Now comes this avoidable health hazard in the form of tons of stinking garbage being dumped in our backyard! Whose crazy idea is this?

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: If you still do not have the tape of rousing Erap impeachment songs, you better hurry up and get one before fast-moving events overtake us. The songs are catching fire wherever people congregate to give vent to their anti-Erap sentiments. They are singable, danceable adaptations of popular pieces. They are perfect for rallies, even for street dancing. Also perfect for gifts. Our favorite pieces are “Huling-huli” and “Song for Emma Lim.” You can hear some of them over Radio Bandido.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 18, 2001)

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