POSTSCRIPT / May 22, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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House arrest: Sending Erap home on vacation

FORMER President Erap Estrada looked pathetic in those front-page pictures showing him virtually begging President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for better treatment, including his being placed on house arrest.

It must have dawned on Erap after his traumatic arrest that he could just be jailed for life or given the lethal injection for the heinous crime of plunder. His lawyers must have told him the facts of life already.

What his lawyers are doing in the meantime is delaying the trial so their client can have more time to maneuver and work out something more dignified than being thrown into a stinking jail while the case is being heard.

* * *

OUR reading of news reports on her last meeting with Erap told us that GMA did not actually say she “favored” house arrest for her predecessor. She merely said she had no objection to the idea. Those are two different things.

If she were casting a vote on whether Erap should be detained at home or not, GMA neither voted Yes nor No. In effect, she abstained – which is, we think, the correct position, despite some media interpreting it as a Yes vote.

Upon service of the warrant of arrest on Erap, the court took jurisdiction over his person. President Arroyo has no business now interfering in the case, or deciding how or where the Sandiganbayan should detain the accused.

* * *

IN fact, it was improper for GMA to offer to build a special detention facility beside the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for the former President without the instruction or prior consent of the Sandiganbayan.

There should be no hint whatsoever of GMA poking her finger into the case.

Instead of building a special facility for Erap on the hospital grounds, the government could use the existing presidential suite of the medical center where Erap could be detained under guard.

The problem is that Erap is not sick, and the hospital is a medical and not a detention center.

* * *

HAVING completed his overly prolonged medical tests, Erap should now be discharged from Veterans Memorial and sent back to his detention resort in Santa Rosa, Laguna, or some other place the Sandigan deems proper.

To be consistent, Erap should send formal notice to the Senate and the House of Representatives that having been declared fit after the rigorous examinations, he is now resuming his duties as President.

If Erap does not have the guts, or the legal legs, to march back to Malacañang at the head of his throng of supporters, he must now formally recognize GMA as the legally installed President.

Of course he has informally done this by making pakiusap to the new President (GMA) about his case.

With that, we can spare him further humiliation by allowing him to play along, hunched before a properly seated President Arroyo, without having to expose his guts.

* * *

EVEN in war, once enemy officers (and even mere foot soldiers) are captured, they are accorded due courtesy and humane treatment.

One difference, of course, is that combatants in war are fighting only on orders of superior authority. In the case of Erap, he was the one either giving orders as supreme commander or personally committing the acts without orders from above.

Still, our laws, customs and native psychology could be flexible enough to allow the legal system to make adjustments for unusual situations. To most Pinoys, “kung may gusot, may lusot.”

* * *

ONE basic problem for GMA is that as President she has solemnly sworn to “preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man…” She must apply the law evenly. She must respect the equal protection clause in the Constitution.

For her to give special individualized treatment to her predecessor charged with a heinous crime calling for death would not be doing justice to every man, unless she extends the same or reasonably similar preferential treatment to other detainees.

That luxurious detention resort in the PNP training camp in Santa Rosa itself could be regarded as not giving justice to every man, except that security excuses have been concocted to sort of justify the special treatment and amenities.

* * *

WHILE the law does not list house arrest (or house detention) as one of the options for detaining individuals facing charges for heinous crimes, neither does it expressly prohibit it.

The court can very well order Erap’s house arrest/detention if it wants, but it has to consider as well the political ramifications. The Sandigan may not be accustomed to straying into the realm of politics, but this time it may have to tiptoe into this treacherous minefield.

It seems to us that the issue of house arrest is more of a political point posing as a legal question. Would it then be up to the political leadership, and not the court, to decide?

Our answer to that is No, since, as we’ve said, the court has taken exclusive jurisdiction over the person of Erap as it should.

* * *

ONE reason why house arrest does not sit well with those who know the gravity of the plunder attributed to Erap is that such treatment is tantamount to sending the suspect home – if the court does not bother to impose restrictive conditions. In general terms, we hold that (1) when a person is accused of a crime where no life was taken and (2) where the possibility of flight is remote, house arrest/detention during his trial could be allowed under conditions such as these:-

  • The detainee’s residence shall fall under the administrative jurisdiction of the court, and shall be used exclusively for detention and closely related purposes.
  • The court shall determine who should be allowed in the premises at any time. It shall assign guards and other personnel needed to secure and monitor the detainee.
  • Court personnel may make reasonable checks and inspections of how the detainee and other persons in the premises conduct themselves, and make the appropriate report to the court.
  • Although the residence is under court administration, all necessary expenses (such as for utilities, taxes, food and maintenance) normally incurred by the residents shall be borne by the detainee.
  • The detainee may not leave the premises without written permission of the court. The house shall not be used in any manner tending to pursue, continue or cover up the crime alleged to have been committed by the detainee.
  • The order for house arrest can be amended or withdrawn by the court anytime without need for hearing or explanation.

* * *

THE Philippine National Construction Corp. has put up a big sign at the entrance of the North Luzon Expressway warning motorists that they are entering a Traffic Discipline Zone. The sign threatens violators (of traffic rules) with arrest.

That’s good. Except that nobody minds the sign. And hardly anybody, as far as this daily user of the 88-kilometer road has observed, has been arrested for violations.

Vehicles without taillights enter the highway with nobody checking their death crawl in the dark. Trucks and buses hog the left (fast) lane instead of the right lane meant for them. Drivers swing with abandon from lane to lane and even onto the potholed shoulder. Only a few drivers bother to wear their seatbelts and nobody at PNCC notices the wanton violation.

* * *

LAST Sunday afternoon, when the expressway was clogged with the usual Manila-bound traffic, a gang of motorcycle-riders in mufti and some of them without helmets wove their way in-between the vehicles.

There is supposed to be a strict rule against motorcycles on the expressway. They were not PNCC motorized highway patrols, so why were they there?

We suggest to new PNCC boss Luis Sison to take down that warning sign if his boys cannot enforce the rules anyway. Instead of instilling discipline, lackluster enforcement only conditions us motorists into flouting the law – not only on the road but everywhere else.

* * *

WE once had a chat with Sison and he struck us as sincerely wanting to do something about the monumental mess that he had inherited from previous administrations. But he cannot pave the North expressway with pure intentions.

He told us that he had summoned all supervisors and told them of his resolve to turn the death trap that is the North expressway into a zone of safety and discipline. We failed to ask him if he noticed any of his supervisors yawning while he was giving them the pep talk.

And by the way, he may want to decide also what to call the expressway. Their big warning sign now calls it the North Luzon Tollway. Why, are they embarrassed having called it an expressway?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 22, 2001)

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