He never recognized the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency — the January 20, 2001 to June 30, 2004, despite the legitimization by the Supreme Court and Congress based on the Constitution and the recognition by foreign governments; and the 2004 to 2010, for having been stolen from his friend, Fernando Poe Jr. That Estrada said so, so it was is flaunting arrogance.
Just days before his conviction, he disdained the idea of being pardoned by President Arroyo. Yet, yet he, his family and his counsel sounded ambivalent: Why not if the terms are right.
On the day the verdict was handed down, presidential legal adviser Sergio Apostol asininely commented that President Arroyo might personally visit Estrada: “This President wants to be friend with everyone.” (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 13)
J. V. Ejercito, derisively doubting Arroyo’s sincerity, remarked that his father, a very forgiving man, would welcome her but stressed, “I don’t think President Estrada will accept pardon from Mrs. Arroyo at this point because sa kanyang puso at damdamin, wala siyang kasalanan [in his heart, he is not guilty].”
A week after at Club Filipino, Ejercito, oozing distrust, reiterated to reporters that his father should not accept pardon. However, if Arroyo was sincere, first, she should let Estrada set the terms of pardon; and, second, she should explain the “various scams and controversies plaguing the administration”. (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 19)
Senator Estrada repeated this after his father’s lunch with Puno on September 25: “We are not asking for it [pardon], nor is the government giving it to President Estrada. What we want is that they will give an absolute pardon to President Estrada, without admission of guilt.… [He] is innocent of the charges filed against him.” (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 25)
Contrary to reports, Estrada denied having had talks with either Puno or Gonzales about the grant of absolute pardon or amnesty. “I am surprised that all the newspapers are writing about me accepting or not accepting pardon when I haven’t talked yet.” (INQUIRER.net, Sept 21)
However, while swearing, “I will not accept pardon because I am not guilty”, he did not rule out accepting it, which, “if ever”, must be “unconditional” – without admitting guilt – and only on failing to obtain from the courts a reversal of the guilty verdict.
After his lunch with Puno, Estrada said that he and Puno had just held their first round of talks on the proposed presidential pardon, merely laying down the preliminaries, and their respective lawyers would follow this up in the weeks following. Puno acknowledged Estrada was “leaving his options open to legal remedies." (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 26)
Even Estrada’s sarcastic counsel, lawyer Rene Saguisag, was ambivalent. He saw Estrada’s better chance in the motion for reconsideration. Of the pardon, he said, “I don’t trust these guys [in Malacañang]” adding he feared “We might be tricked”, but he was not dismissing it.
Such a “delicate” matter, he said, “could not be resolved in one sitting” and the Tuesday meeting between Estrada and Puno was just exploratory, the “one step in a journey of a thousand miles."
In sum, the Estrada camp is denying that there had been talk about pardon before Estrada and Puno met at lunch last September 25. Yet, Malacañang was hyping people through the media that Estrada had already accepted its offer of absolute pardon.
However, it is also galling that while Estrada is belying the hype and is vehemently disdaining pardon, he will accept it if given on his own terms. In fact, according to his senator-son, they may withdraw the motion for reconsideration if the trial turns out not to be fair – meaning not to their liking – and pursue absolute pardon if his father would be allowed to set the conditions.
What we have been seeing in media reports is a folk dance depicting a courtship – the woman tripping away and the man tripping in pursuit. Like in a Chavacano saying, “Helehele bago quiere” [coyly refusing what is liked in reality], the woman in the end accepts her suitor’s love. Will the Malacañang-Estrada drama end similarly?
At present, spurned and chastised, the Palace set two conditions for absolute pardon. Puno said, “There will be no negotiations until Estrada’s conviction has become final and executory” and, “… they have to apply for it. No application, no pardon.” (INQUIRER.net, Oct. 1)
Has the Palace withdrawn its solicitude for Estrada? “You know, we are trying to find a way to help President Erap [Estrada] out of his predicament. That’s where we are focused,” Puno said last September 21.
What is Estrada’s predicament? His 102-year old mother is, by all appearances, dying in a San Juan hospital. He wants to be with her up to her end but the Sandiganbayan would not give him the time.
On September 29, he was granted only a 10-hour leave from detention. Absolute pardon is the quickest way out of detention. But Estrada filed last September 26 a motion for reconsideration. The case can go to the Supreme Court. He wants the guilty verdict reversed to innocence that only the court can do. Not admitting guilt when pardoned does not.
The appeal will take three to four years – or may be longer – to be decided with no assurance of a reversal. Seeing that the appeal will do no good for Estrada, Puno threw his predicament to his lawyers, with pardon as their option: “I hope his lawyers realize [the benefits of a pardon being readily available for Estrada].” (INQUIRER.net, Oct. 1)
Like a jilted lover, the Palace’s predicament is how to make Estrada reconsider and accept the proffered absolute pardon. But in so doing, President Arroyo and her men are defying sound comments, objections and criticisms.
Obviously ill-advised or seeking no advice, President Arroyo should heed these sound comments, objections and criticisms: Former President Fidel V. Ramos: “That’s all premature, even the executive clemency that Malacañang is saying… I don’t know where the media get all these. Maybe from a polluted source? An executive clemency cannot be given by the Chief Executive while the completion of the judicial process is still going on.” (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 23)
In opposing pardon, Sen. Richard Gordon wants “to let the [justice] system work”. As Estrada, he said, has not admitted guilt, let him suffer a bit – not in Muntinglupa but in the police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna where he was originally detained. (INQUIRER.net, Sept. 24)
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan: “Government should allow the courts to dispose of the case with finality before it discusses the issue of pardon or amnesty. Discussing pardon at this time is premature. Until the courts decide with finality, the executive and legislative departments should not interfere with judicial processes and prerogatives.” And he cautioned: “If we fail to do the right thing, then we face the spectacle of this all-important national issue of the accountability of our leaders in the highest office remaining unresolved and hanging instead of finding the closure that we all urgently need as a nation in order to move on.” (Same as above)
Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, who prosecuted Estrada, said: “His civil liability is a non-negotiable matter. It has to be settled” as a rule, even in absolute pardon. Concerning guilt, he said that Estrada “can always say that he is innocent, but it will not change records of the case finding him guilty”; in granting absolute pardon, guilt should not be totally disregarded. (Same as above)
Former Special Prosecutor Simeon Marcelo, on Estrada dictating the terms of pardon: “It will be a step backward. It’s the government that should be imposing terms for pardon, not him. There should be an admission of guilt, an expression of contrition, full restitution [of plunder], and conditions of good behavior.” (Same as above)
Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, on granting Estrada absolute pardon without his admission of guilt: “How can that happen? He’s already convicted. Absolute pardon is the restoration of civil and political rights.” (Same as above) Devanadera, Villa-Ignacio and Marcelo highlight the contradiction that President Arroyo and her men are abetting: Guilt stripped Estrada of his civil and political rights that absolute pardon would restore. If he is not guilty, there are no rights to restore; absolute pardon is unnecessary. Besides, on appealing for reconsideration, he admitted the court had found him guilty.
Estrada’s protestation of innocence since Day 1 cannot overturn the guilty verdict handed down by the three-member special division of the Sandiganbayan. Only the Estrada lawyers have found the 212- page decision flawed. Legal luminaries consider it well-studied.
However, Estrada will never admit his guilt even if affirmed by the graft court in the appeal and the high court in its review. President Arroyo, by prematurely offering absolute pardon to Estrada who was not yet under her jurisdiction, trifled with the rule of law, with the doctrine of separation of powers, with the judicial processes and with the judicial prerogatives. While she cannot be accused of violating Section 19, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, she ignored it when she let Puno offer pardon to Estrada.
Under Section 19, “the President may grant … pardons … after conviction by final judgment.” When Puno said that he was consulting officials of the Justice Department on how to grant pardon to Estrada, Malacañang was ignoring the Revised Rules of the Board of Pardons and Paroles approved by Arroyo’s Justice Secretary, Hernando B. Perez, on November 26, 2002. The Revised Rules provides all what Puno wanted to know from the Justice officials.
How sad and unfortunate for us Filipinos that our last two Presidents – one sitting and the other immediate past – are specimens in the study of hypocrisy. Of course, they are politicians first and statesmen off-and-on. Estrada despises Arroyo. He disdains pardon from her. He say’s his personal freedom is no longer important. Yet, if his appeal is denied, he will accept absolute pardon from Arroyo on his own terms.
Arroyo hailed the Estrada verdict as the triumph of the rule of law – that no man is above the law — and exhorted all to abide by the decision of the court. Yet, she put Estrada above the law and she trivialized the decision of the court.
The hypocrisy we witness in the Estrada case is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Hypocrisy was the bane of the short-lived Estrada administration; so it is of the long Arroyo regime.
Both Estrada and Arroyo are guilty of it; but neither will admit the guilt. Let the Filipino people pay the price. ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])