POSTSCRIPT / August 16, 2007 / Thusday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Amnesty, even pardon, for Erap is still feasible

AMNESTY BID: Amnesty for former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada?

As pointed out elsewhere, a problem here is that Mr. Estrada’s alleged plunder is not a political offense. It is a heinous crime.

The amnesty being cooked up by Speaker Jose de Venecia covers only political offenses (such as rebellion, sedition, coup d’etat, etc.). It does not cover crimes.

But of course, on its way to fruition, the idea may just ripen into an amnesty proclamation covering a wide variety of characters and cases, depending on the chemistry of President Gloria Arroyo at the moment she signs it.

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WATCH PUNO: Another problem is that the Sandiganbayan is in control of the case. Neither the Executive nor the Legislature — at this late stage — may take the accused away from the Judiciary for the purpose of deciding or terminating his case.

Adverse public opinion and a peeved Supreme Court may pose problems.

Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, who is on a mission to restore the luster of the tribunal and make it shine brighter as a beacon of justice, can be expected to repel any attempt to trifle with the judicial process.

There is no telling what the Chief Justice might do if he sees any hint of extra-judicial accommodation in resolving the plunder case. Political interference in a pending case could rub Puno the wrong way.

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PARDON: A presidential pardon as an alternative to amnesty may be out of the question at the moment since the beneficiary has to be convicted first or at least admit his guilt. Mr. Estrada insists on his innocence.

Pardon is still the more attractive, because it is direct, route. Except in a few specific cases (as when involving election offenders) the power of the President to pardon is virtually absolute. Legally, it is beyond question.

If Mr. Estrada is just willing to tame his pride and machismo, a presidential pardon can be given him faster than he can drive from the hills of Tanay to his home on Polk Street.

If, as it seems, he is not comfortable with accepting a pardon because it implies guilt, everybody might have to fall back on an amnesty.

Politicians are of the same feather, and when they flock together, anything is possible. If they want amnesty for Mr. Estrada, they can find reason to gloss over the problem of plunder being a crime and not a political offense.

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IT DEPENDS: So my answer to the original question (“Amnesty for Erap?”) is: It depends.

Ultimately, it depends on just the two of them — Ms Arroyo and Mr. Estrada. What they want will happen. (Same thing with any settlement with the Marcoses and Danding Cojuangco.)

Ms Arroyo will do what is good for her, and Mr. Estrada will agree to what is good for him. The President wants a less turbulent term and a graceful exit, while the former president wants a closure, without losing face, to this embarrassing chapter of his life.

Where their respective circles overlap, they have enough room for accommodation. There is space where anything can happen.

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SCATTERGUN: An election protest that does not cite the specific place, date and other circumstances of the alleged cheating is likely to be dismissed under the new Supreme Court rules governing protests that were laid down last May 15.

I mention this in connection with the scattergun election protest filed against Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio by losing candidate Lilia Pineda, wife of suspected jueteng lord Bong Pineda.

Regional Trial Courts in the province dismissed recently protests that they deemed insufficient in form and substance for being too general or shown to have been mostly copied verbatim from earlier protests.

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NO DETAILS: Judge Omar T. Viola of Branch 57 of Angeles City dismissed last Aug. 7 the protest of defeated mayoral candidate Condralito dela Cruz against Porac Mayor Rogelio Santos on the ground that the protest did not detail the “who, when, where and how” of the alleged irregularities.

The court ruled that Dela Cruz’s claims in his protest were merely “bare, indiscriminate and shotgun allegations that cannot stand on their own.”

Last June 22, Judge Divina Luz P. Aquino-Simbulan also dismissed the protest of Ernesto Punzalan against proclaimed Mayor Teddy C. Tumang of Mexico town.

The court found that the protest failed to comply with the requirement of the new SC rules “which mandate that there must be detailed specification of the acts or omissions complained of.”

In dismissing Punzalan’s protest as “insufficient in its contents,” the court cited a SC decision saying that “if the allegations in the protest are unsupported by even the faintest whisper of authority in fact and law, there is no other course than to dismiss the petition.”

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TOO GENERAL: The same reasons were cited in the dismissal last July 2 of the protests filed against Mabalacat Mayor Marino Morales and Vice Mayor Prospero Lagman by their respective rivals, Anthony Dee and Victor Tiglao.

Judge Ma. Angelica T. Paras-Quiambao also said the protests were “insufficient in form and contents” under the same SC rules on election cases.

The complaints, the court said, “are in the nature of scattershot allegations, fishing for evidence expedition” as they were couched in general terms.

The protests against Morales and Lagman were also found to have been merely copied word for word, differing only in the names of the parties and the municipalities, from the protest in Porac.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 16, 2007)

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