POSTSCRIPT / November 16, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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On pardon of Erap, ask GMA her intent

POWER POLITICS: Word is out that the Supreme Court is about to hand down its long-awaited decision on a petition seeking to remove former President Erap Estrada as elected mayor of Manila and bar him from ever running for public office.

The question revolves around the interpretation of the absolute pardon that then President Gloria Arroyo gave Estrada after his conviction for plunder in 2007.

Because of the circumstances and the personalities involved, the decision could go beyond the ambit of the law and stray into the realm of power politics.

The legal bone of contention seems to be the dispositive portion of the presidential pardon which says:

“In view hereof and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution, I (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada … He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.”

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ANY CONDITION?: Estrada’s sympathizers point to the pardon’s fully restoring his civil and political rights which, they said, include his right to vote and to be voted into office.

But his detractors point to the whereas clauses in the pardon one of which says: “Whereas, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office;”.

Among other basic questions that the High Court is called upon to answer is whether the pardon was absolute and unconditional and whether the whereas clause cited imposed a condition upon President Arroyo and the pardon she had granted.

Said differently, in her exercise of her constitutional authority to grant executive clemency, did President Arroyo impose upon herself and her act a limitation or condition?

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ASK GLORIA: The best person to answer this crucial question is former President Arroyo herself.

This non-lawyer suggests that the Supreme Court hold in abeyance its decision and invite/summon former President Arroyo to inform the tribunal of the real extent and intent of her act of clemency.

Only Ms Arroyo can explain clearly the meaning of the pardon typed on that piece of paper bearing her signature affixed below the grant of presidential clemency. Why don’t we ask her? Is anybody afraid to ask her, and why?

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ABSOLUTE, UNCONDITIONAL: Shortly before the May 2013 elections where Estrada ran against former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, three disqualification cases were filed against him. Not one, not two, but three.

All three cases were dismissed not only by a division of the Commission on Elections but also by the Comelec en banc for “utter lack of merit”.

In its 2013 resolution dismissing the disqualification cases, the Comelec quoted from its prior consolidated resolution promulgated on Jan. 20, 2010 involving two disqualification cases filed against Estrada:

“His (Estrada’s) statement (in the whereas) cannot, therefore, serve to restrict the operation of, or prevail over, the explicit statement in the executive clemency which restored all of Estrada’s civil and political rights, including the ‘right to vote and to be voted for a public office,’ including the position of the presidency. This executive clemency granted to the former President being absolute and unconditional and having been accepted by him, the same can no longer be revoked or be made subject to a condition.”

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LIM INTERVENTION: Note that the Comelec resolution allowing Estrada to run for president in 2010 became final and executory when the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for certiorari on the case of his disqualification in 2010.

Allowed by the Comelec to run, Estrada won over Lim in 2013 convincingly, as he beat Lim by around 40,000 votes. In the morning of May 14, 2013, Estrada was declared the new Mayor of Manila — and Lim conceded defeat to him.

However, Lim later moved to intervene in the appeal or petition for certiorari to the SC of one of the disqualification cases, the case of Alicia Risos-Vidal, a lawyer of Lim. This despite the fact that Vidal’s cases had already been dismissed for “utter lack of merit”.

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VOX POPULI: Estrada’s being allowed to run for president in 2010 and for Manila mayor in 2013 – and with millions of supporters voting for him on both occasions — is sometimes cited by his camp as a sovereign expression of “vox populi.”

The legal body of the Estrada disqualification case is clothed in politics.

The fact that he is still a strong contender in any political race weighs on the evaluation of options in the disposition of the legal question before the Supreme Court.

If allowed to run after recognition of the full restoration of his civil and political rights, the so-called “Ama ng Masa” could just decide to run again for president in 2016, pushing aside his partymate Vice President Jojo Binay as standard bearer of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance.

In fact, if Cory Aquino did not pass away in time for her son Noynoy Aquino to run, Estrada may have become president again, garnering around 10 million votes, almost the same number of votes he won in his “landscape victory” in 1998. He came in second in the 2010 presidential elections, after the Iglesia Ni Cristo threw its support behind Aquino instead of Estrada.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 16, 2014)

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