POSTSCRIPT / July 3, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap guilty of plunder? Betting is divided 50-50

MIGZ’S FATE: If Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos and the parents of senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri want to discuss his precarious position in the winning column, they would not do it in a Makati hotel crawling with people.

That they met there last Friday is proof that they were not out to discuss Migz’s fate. The Zubiri couple was celebrating its 45th wedding anniversary when they bumped into Abalos, an acquaintance who was at a reception there of Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

It would have been impolite if they did not greet each other. The supposed wrongdoing is in the mind of the malicious beholder. Unfortunately for Abalos, people are disposed to believe the worst said of him.

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ERAP CASE: With the plunder case against former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada already submitted for resolution by the Sandiganbayan, the betting among kibitzers is divided evenly between his conviction and acquittal.

Those who bet that Erap would be found guilty do not necessarily want him convicted. They just think he would be convicted. And those who predict that he would be acquitted do not necessarily want him cleared of the charges.

There is a third or middle ground — that a mistrial would be declared. Under this theory, Erap would neither be acquitted nor found guilty. Walang nanalo, walang natalo. Peace all around. Neat.

How do I see it? I think Erap would be acquitted of the plunder charges.

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ELEMENTS OF PLUNDER: Under the plunder law (RA 7080), the offender must be a public officer acting by himself or in connivance with other persons.

The offender must have amassed or acquired ill-gotten wealth — totaling at least P50 million — through a combination of these acts:

(a) Misappropriation, conversion, misuse, or malversation of public funds or raids on the public treasury.

(b) Receiving, directly or indirectly, any commission, gift, share, percentage, kickback or any pecuniary benefits from any person and/or entity in connection with a government contract or project or by reason of the office or position of the public officer.

(c) Illegal or fraudulent conveyance or disposition of assets belonging to the national government or any of its subdivisions, agencies or instrumentalities of government-owned or -controlled corporations or their subsidiaries.

(d) Obtaining, receiving or accepting directly or indirectly shares of stock, equity or any other form of interest or participation including the promise of future employment in any business enterprise or undertaking.

(e) Establishing agricultural, industrial or commercial monopolies or other combinations and/or implementing decrees and orders intended to benefit particular persons or special interests.

(f) Taking advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines.

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ACQUITTAL SEEN: I see Erap’s acquittal, mainly because the prosecution failed, in my view, to present sufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The prosecution depended heavily on the testimony of former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson, who is himself facing serious charges casting doubts on his own integrity. In this country, affidavits are a dime a dozen.

The collective value of the documents of the prosecution has been tenuous, because of the failure to wrap them up in an airtight package. The prosecution failed to connect all the dots linking Erap to the crime.

It is also not clear that the acts attributed to Erap constitute plunder in the context of the elements as listed above.

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SETTLEMENT: Besides, and this is now political reasoning, I see President Gloria Arroyo reaching out to anti-administration forces, trying to make peace all around as part of her exit strategy for 2010.

I would not be surprised if the President had sent an emissary to talk to Erap or his representatives about possible settlement.

The Sandiganbayan does not fall under the Executive branch and does not take orders from MalacaƱang. But in our scheme of things, it is easy for the President to influence even judicial bodies.

With Erap having scored a victory in the May 14 senatorial election, however, he just might start feeling confident he could now negotiate from a position of strength and spurn “peace” feelers.

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SAMPLE: Those who see conviction say that this country and the Arroyo administration are in bad need of a “sample” to demonstrate to the skeptical world that it is serious in its claimed anti-corruption campaign.

This group argues that the conviction of Erap would send a strong signal that a new wave of reform is taking shape in Manila with no less than a former President being sent to prison, or even to the death chamber, for the heinous crime of plunder.

Between redeeming the corrupt image of the country and the administration and winning points with the Erap and hostile forces, this group says, a reformist image is more important.

A variation is: Erap is convicted, then President Arroyo saves him with a pardon after a decent interval.

This is all political talk. The Sandiganbayan is not supposed to decide cases, especially one as high-profile as the Erap plunder case, on the basis of extra-legal considerations.

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POWER GRAB: The Estrada camp said in its summary that, politically and legally, Erap and his son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and their co-accused merit acquittal.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro) said Erap was just a victim of “an illegal power grab mounted by a small mob and some generals” triggered by the accusations of Singson.

But I do not buy his other argument that the people themselves had acquitted Erap when they elected his wife, Luisa “Loi” Estrada, and his son Jinggoy to the Senate in the 2001 and 2004 elections, respectively.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 3, 2007)

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