POSTSCRIPT / January 30, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Survey: 92% of readers oppose exile for Estrada

WHAT do our readers think of exile as an option for deposed President Estrada? We’re inviting our readers to tell us in this new Postscript survey.

The two-part question is: (1) Are you in favor of having former President Estrada go on exile while the cases against him are being prosecuted? (2) Why?

Please condense your answer to “Why” to not more than 100 words. To help us in our statistical analysis, also tell us your Age, Sex and Location.

For faster sorting of responses from the rest of the mail, please type “EXILE” in the subject line if you’re responding via email, or on the envelope if you’re sending a reply by post or messenger.

When using email, kindly use your primary address given by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) as we may not have the time to trace and tally responses sent via secondary addresses such as those provided by yahoo, hotmail and the like.

* * *

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seems to be still undecided on the question of whether or not to send Erap Estrada packing for foreign exile. Maybe her senior adviser Gen. Fidel V. Ramos has not told her his preference.

Ms Arroyo has said in a TV interview that exile was all up to Mr. Estrada. We take it to mean that if the former president decides to go, she would not stand in the way. Mr. Estrada, meanwhile, insists that he was born here, lives her and would die here.

Those are brave words about his staying put. They are also reassuring to his fans, especially to his mistresses who would loathe seeing him retired in a faraway land in the arms of his wife Loi Ejercito.

* * *

SENATE President Aquilino Pimentel was the one who first prominently raised the option of Mr. Estrada going on exile to nurse his wounds abroad and, by his absence, allow the Arroyo administration maximum elbow room in rearranging the furniture.

Pimentel was reiterating the suggestion he had made to Mr. Estrada before the roof, weighed down by greed and corruption, caved in on the actor pretending to be president. The senator was trying to talk sense into him.

At that time, Mr. Estrada was faced with a People Power revolt, an agitated crowd marching toward the Palace, a Cabinet in disarray, and his armed forces top brass unceremoniously junking him and scurrying to GMA.

The Catholic bishops, seconding Pimentel’s notion, also urged Mr. Estrada to please go away like a bad dream so the church-backed GMA could concentrate on healing and rebuilding the nation. They all sounded scared of Mr. Estrada’s shadow.

* * *

WE pre-tested the exile survey question on our politically alert barber, who is now able to give full attention to our tonsorial needs without an impeachment trial distracting him from a small TV in his shop.

The legal gobbledygook imbibed from the televised trial has affected even the way his mind works. Posed the exile-or-not question, his quick response was: It depends on what we mean by “exile.”

His retort sort of impressed us, especially when he asked if the exile we’re talking about is punitive (“parusa”) or simply the political accommodation (“pagbibigayan”) of an incoming to an exiting politician.

We pick it up from there.

* * *

WE remember our Pilipino teacher in high school telling us that in older legal systems, exile was one of several forms of punishment for some crimes. She called it “destierro.”

The person exiled was thrown out and admonished to stay within a designated faraway place and forbidden to come within the limits of his hometown.

That was the time, we mused, when being forced to live away from home and country was a painful punishment. Under normal jail terms of our times, however, a convict is allowed visits of kith and kin that somehow mitigate the pain of incarceration.

* * *

WHILE exile usually means being thrown out and forced to live in another land willing to accept the person, there is a variation called “internal exile.”

An example was the then Soviet Union where perceived enemies of the state were banished to one of several inhospitable or inaccessible areas on the huge socialist map. One such place was Siberia that conjures up images of vast wastelands untouched by civilization.

One of the best-known cases of internal exile was that of Russian dissident Andrey Sakharov, who was exiled to the city of Gorky (now Nizhniy Novgorod) between 1980 and 1986.

Internal exile was deemed prudent in the case of the Soviet Union because of its leaders’ fear that their enemies, if exiled to other countries, would use their haven for mounting oppositionist campaigns to the extent that the host country would allow it.

* * *

WHEN opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was released from detention and allowed to leave the country in May 1980 for medical treatment (heart bypass), it was not an exile in the punitive sense.

Most commentators termed it a “self-exile,’ by which they probably meant that he had the option to come back home but preferred to stay abroad.

In self-exile, Aquino was able to journey to other countries sympathetic to his cause and, more significantly, to rally opposition against the Marcos regime.

This was a violation of his agreement with the dictator that he would not speak against the regime while abroad. But from the safety of America, Aquino said a pact with the devil was no pact at all.

* * *

THE dictator could not have successfully muzzled Aquino by protesting to Washington the latter’s use of US territory as launching pad for political missiles against tyranny in the Philippines.

American agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were used to harass Filipino oppositionists (sometimes labeled as “terrorists” for propaganda effect), but such tactics failed to dampen dissent in view of the libertarian milieu of America.

The main reason advanced by Pimental, the bishops and others suggesting exile for Mr. Estrada is their fear that the fallen president may be able to rally his followers and cause trouble for the Arroyo administration.

We wonder if it ever occurred to them that even abroad, an Estrada loaded with billions, seething with vengeance and venom, could still create trouble.

* * *

FOR local application, we consulted lawyer Mel “Batas” Mauricio, who dispenses free legal advice in an engaging, down-to-earth fastfood-style in his popular program on GMA Super Radyo DzBB (594 mhz).

“Batas” Mauricio said that exile is not among the modes of punishment awaiting persons convicted by Philippine courts.

This means that the exile being suggested for Mr. Estrada is not construed as punishment. He is just being sent, or being asked to go, away. And only if he wants to go, if we understood GMA, Pimentel and the bishops right.

* * *

SOME hardliners consider exile for Mr. Estrada, who has claimed to be merely on leave from the presidency, a pre-arranged getaway.

The stern demand of the crowd that pulled him down from his perch last Jan. 20 is to have him promptly arrested and thrown into jail, right here, while facing criminal charges. To these hardliners, exile is akin to throwing the turtle back into the river.

Mauricio notes that Mr. Estrada has not been arraigned, much less convicted, and is therefore presumed innocent. He said there is no law empowering the government to exile Mr. Estrada, guilty or not.

Undesirable aliens are deported, but Mr. Estrada, undesirable as he may appear to some, is not an alien.

(Btw, in deportation, the alien is sent back to his country of origin. Eg: A Chinese holding a passport from the Republic of China in Taiwan and who flew in from Taipei cannot be deported to China, but only to Taiwan.)

* * *

EVEN assuming that Mr. Estrada is willing to get out, there is the other requirement that the host country must be willing to accept him. That’s what visas are for.

Another question is if he could still be extradited or forced to return from abroad to face trial if the government so desires. The answer depends on where he would go to exile.

If he goes to the US (which is unlikely), he would be extraditable. If it were Canada for him, where his former chief of staff Prod Laquian has emigrated, it would be difficult forcing his return, as we have no extradition treaty with that country.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 30, 2001)

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