POSTSCRIPT / January 22, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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SC: No bar to Erap seeking public office

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Despite the lingering Pope Francis spell, we are going back to regular programming.

Topping my lineup is the Supreme Court ruling throwing out a petition to unseat Manila Mayor Erap Estrada and to bar him from ever holding any public office despite the presidential pardon granted him after his conviction for plunder in September 2007.

The SC decision comes as no surprise, because while his conviction had barred him from holding public office, the pardon granted him a month later by President Gloria Arroyo restored his civil and political rights, including his right to vote and be voted upon.

The High Court, by a vote of 11-3, upheld yesterday Estrada’s contention that his having been pardoned has lifted the bar to his running for mayor or any public office.

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PRESIDENCY NEXT?: By interpretative extension, excited followers of Estrada are already saying he can even join the 2016 presidential race where no clear leader has emerged yet.

But Estrada himself is just talking, at the moment, of possibly running for reelection as Manila mayor. We see this as a politically nuanced statement for reasons we can only speculate on.

With that, his heir apparent Vice Mayor Ishko Moreno is dutifully readjusting his sights to a House or Senate seat in case the mayor does seek a second term.

The presidency is another tricky legal issue. While the pardon may have washed away the perpetual disqualification effect of his conviction, another constitutional restriction may be thrown across Estrada’s return path to Malacañang.

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‘ANY REELECTION’: Section 4, Article VII, of the Constitution says: “… The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.”

Would Estrada’s hypothetical running for president in 2016 be considered running for “any reelection”? Note the insertion of the qualifier “any” that could be interpreted as all-encompassing.

Anticipating that, Estrada once said that if he runs, he would just be “running again” after an interval — which he said is different from an incumbent president “running for reelection”. His running again in 2016 would kick up political dust going all the way to the Supreme Court.

This observer thinks Estrada will be guided by how he sees the political landscape shaping up in the coming months. His “running again” for president remains an option – unless contrary political commitments had been made in relation to his being “given” this victory at the SC.

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PONENTE REPLACED?: Actually, the Supreme Court decision merely upheld a questioned Comelec ruling that said Estrada was qualified to run for mayor in 2013.

Through Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, the tribunal dismissed the consolidated petitions of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim — the candidate Estrada beat in 2013 — and his lawyer Alicia Risos-Vidal.

It is significant that De Castro was the then chairperson of the Sandiganbayan Special Division that had convicted Estrada for plunder.

There was talk earlier that Associate Justice Marvic Leonen had already drafted the intended ponencia that was adverse to Estrada, but that it failed to garner majority support.

De Castro was then reportedly tasked to write a new ponencia with Leonen joining the other two dissenters, namely Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. The 15th associate justice, Francis Jardeleza, inhibited himself.

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DISPOSITIVE TEXT: The President’s power to pardon, adopted from the US Constitution and traceable to the concept of the divine rights of kings, is so absolute that one can hardly find a non-partisan lawyer questioning the power to grant it.

In the Estrada case, after whereas paragraphs mentioning Estrada’s having reached the age of 70, his having been detained for 6-1/2 years, and his reported intention not to seek any elective position, Arroyo said in the dispositive portion of the pardon:

“In view hereof and pursuant to the authority conferred on me by the Constitution, I hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of Plunder and imposed a penalty of Reclusion Perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.

“The forfeitures imposed by the Sandiganbayan remain in force and in full, including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayan in pursuance hereof, except for the bank account(s) he owned before his tenure as President.

“Upon acceptance of this pardon by Joseph Ejercito Estrada, this pardon shall take effect.

“Given under my hand at the City of Manila, this 25th day of October, in the year of Our Lord, two thousand and seven.”

Estrada signed the one-page document and wrote at the bottom: “Received & accepted; (his signature) DATE: 26 Oct. ’07 TIME: 3:35 P.M.”

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WHY, GOD?: Back to the Pope, I fully agree with Cito Beltran in his answer (CTalk in PhilStar yesterday) to “The Glyselle Question” of why God allows such evil as drug addiction and prostitution to befall His children. And I like the way he said it.

On the lingering Francis effect on Filipinos, I strongly suggest that his fans go to (The world seen from Rome) for more factual reportage on the Pontiff and the Vatican. This news agency depends on the support of its users, so we urge them to subscribe to it.

To illustrate why it pays to go straight to Zenit: We learned from it that Pope Francis actually told media on his homeward flight that Catholics need not “be (not breed) like rabbits” in his comments on human reproduction. The phrase had stirred another round of debate on population control.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 22, 2015)

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