POSTSCRIPT / January 21, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Don’t look now, but we have two presidents!

IT’S over, or so it seems.

It’s curious, but we now actually have two presidents. President Estrada has not resigned. He just left the presidential palace under duress.

And Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, presumably apprised of the legal nuances, took an oath at EDSA yesterday only as “acting” president, not as president.

Under the Constitution (Section 8, Article VII), when the presidency is permanently vacated, the Vice President “shall become the president” — not just an “acting” president. Why was GMA installed only as an “acting” president, a title used when there is a temporary assumption of the duties of the president?

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READ very carefully all the pre-departure statements of President Estrada and you will notice that not once did he say anything about resignation. He has not formally resigned, and it seems to us that until he left he had no intention of resigning.

Where does the President send his letter of resignation? Section 11 of Article VII contemplates a situation where the President sends to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House his “written declaration” of his inability to discharge his powers and duties.

But Congress has not been sent a letter of resignation, or a “written declaration” of his inability to do his job, from President Estrada. Has he then resigned?

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MUCH has been made of some Cabinet members resigning or abandoning a beleaguered President Estrada.

This has been interpreted as resulting in a power vacuum that disabled or prevented the President from performing his duties. Such disability, if it is indeed disability, must be so declared in writing by the majority of his Cabinet. But no such written declaration has been sent to Congress.

In all instances of the President’s being unable to discharge his duties under Section 11, the Vice President becomes “acting president.” This happens to be exactly the temporary title assumed by GMA upon her inauguration yesterday.

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THERE is the notion that when Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. administered the oath to GMA at EDSA, the Supreme Court in effect rendered a unanimous verdict upholding the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency.

How could that be when Davide, with due respect, is not the Supreme Court? How could the tribunal have rendered such a unanimous judgment when there was no petition filed before it?

We stress that we’re not arguing that GMA has been illegally installed, or that Erap Estrada would or should soon take back his office. We’re just pointing out some curious loose ends.

In the real world, it is virtually impossible for disgraced Joseph Ejercito Estrada to grab back the presidency from GMA. Not after all the pouring out of gut and emotions of a people angered by the Senate majority’s refusal to look at impeachment evidence.

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EDSA II was a people’s way of righting a grievous wrong committed by the Senate majority closing its eyes to the truth locked inside a sealed envelope from the Equitable PCI Bank. The envelope contained documents on an account of one Jose Velarde, an alias of President Estrada.

While the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 was the result of arrogance of power, the Senate majority’s arrogance of numbers plunged the country into a crisis, leading to the fall of the Estrada administration within five days.

In a plot to save President Estrada from sure damnation with the opening of the second envelope, the majority flaunted its superior number (11 vs. 10) to vote down a motion to open the envelope.

The arrogance backfired, resulting in an even worse scenario — the fall of the senators’ friend and benefactor in Malacañang.

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TALKING of loose ends, there are many of them to keep us busy the next few months, or years, depending on how seriously we put ourselves to the arduous task of reformation and rehabilitation.

The departure scenes from Malacañang yesterday showing the First Family bidding goodbye to those who stuck by them to the very end could be heart-tugging for Filipinos who were not direct victims of the greed and corruption of the Estrada administration.

The danger in viewing such film clips is that many of us might now say the Estrada’s have been hurt enough, and that we should let them quietly fade away to private life.

* * *

THAT would be charitable, but we cry for justice and not charity. Is it just to simply close the Estrada cases without further hearing? Even if we could forgive, should we forget the wholesale corruption that pulled down the Estrada presidency and the entire country?

We expect to see Mr. Estrada being hounded for high crimes, particularly for the mind-boggling multibillion-peso bank accounts he keeps in various banks. GMA herself cites the need for creating a presidential commission to pursue graft cases.

In an attempt to quell the public outrage over the refusal of the Senate majority to open the bank documents, Mr. Estrada urged, belatedly, that the second envelope be opened.

Interestingly, Senate President Nene Pimentel said he would move to have the envelope opened this coming week. What’s going on?

* * *

ANY move to salvage the stalled impeachment trial could open a new theater of war. It could reopen hostilities while GMA is still going around preaching the gospel of healing.

Can the impeachment trial continue if the President is no longer president and therefore no longer impeachable? Any attempt to resume the trial would raise the question of whether or not President Estrada has resigned.

Outside the Senate, an entirely new legal front could be opened. If Mr. Estrada is deemed to be no longer president, criminal charges could be filed in court using the evidence already gathered or uncovered for the impeachment trial.

If Estrada’s foes decide to hound him or the outraged public insists on prosecuting him, we could soon see criminal charges piling up against Mr. Estrada.

There were attempts to extract assurances from the GMA takeover team that Mr. Estrada would be accorded immunity after he stepped down. But the talks bogged down.

* * *

THERE was something wrong with the picture at EDSA showing an exultant crowd dominated by Estrada officials who had just junked their boss while Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson, who started the impeachment ball rolling, was all but forgotten in an obscure corner.

And while the festive EDSA crowd was being worked into wild cheering by the emcee, there was no mention of the EDSA faction that had marched to reclaim Mendiola from the unruly Erap loyalists. At the forefront of the anti-Erap marchers were Satur Ocampo, Mel Lopez, Karina David, Lorenzo Tanada III, among others.

After Gen. Angelo Reyes, AFP chief of staff, and Defense Secretary Orly Mercado cut clean from President Estrada and delivered the military to GMA, a slew of other officials who then felt the earth shaking under their feet hurriedly shed their Estrada colors and hurried to EDSA.

The resignation of these officials after the isolation of Estrada and their rushing to EDSA to switch sides smacked of opportunism.

* * *

WE loathe the attempts of some senatorial wannabes, such as this congressman from Parañaque (always wearing violet to call attention) elbowing his way to the front of the EDSA stage. Earlier at the impeachment trial, the same publicity hound always sat where the TV cameras were likely to aim.

In contrast, Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo, who stood out for his virtuoso performance as prosecution lawyer, never bothered to go to EDSA to gain well-deserved opprobrium.

But the crowd saw through some of the officials who had rushed to EDSA for dubious reasons. Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella and Sen. Robert Jaworski were among those booed. The turning of Cavite Gov. Bong Revilla Jr. against his ninong Erap Estrada was met with incredulity.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: We would appreciate somebody from the Ousters Band contacting us and saying how people could get copies of their recording of Erap impeachment songs. We got a deluge of mail from readers inquiring about the band’s rousing numbers that are singable and danceable. The record is perfect for political rallies and parties. It is also a unique gift for the politically awake, including Pinoys abroad who are following up developments in the home country.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 21, 2001)

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