PLUNDER TRIAL-SEPTEMBER 12, 2007: Court observers agree that while the court tried very hard to ensure fairness throughout the proceedings, it became lenient to former President Estrada — in many instances to a fault. In fact, Estrada is now headed back to his Tanay residence, where he has been staying for the last three years, instead of Muntinlupa, where he is supposed to go after being convicted. The Estrada case thus puts in the spotlight once again how the justice system can become so helpless in the face of a powerful accused. Indeed, the proceedings that were highly politicized became mournfully drawn out, clogged up as it was in part with numerous court-granted perks for Estrada that would make ordinary inmates weep. FROM THE http://pcij.org/i-report/2007/verdict.html PCIJ.ORG THE ESTRADA PLUNDER TRIAL- PHOTO & CAPTION POSTED BY PHNO]


MANILA, JULY 8, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Artemio V. Panganiban - Joseph Ejercito Estrada is a phenomenon. A school dropout (with no college diploma to prop him up), celebrated actor and charismatic politician, he was elected and served as town mayor (1967-1986), senator (1987-1992), vice president (1992-1998), president (1998-2001), and now mayor of Manila (2013-2016).

Ousted and convicted. Though elected overwhelmingly, his presidency was abbreviated by an aborted Senate impeachment trial, which led to the Edsa II People Power Revolution and, eventually, to his controversial fall on Jan. 20, 2001. On March 2, 2001, the Supreme Court, voting 13-0, upheld his ouster from the top post. (Why? Well, that question deserves another full column.)

Thereafter, he was charged with and convicted of plunder on Sept. 12, 2007, but was pardoned on Oct. 25, 2007, by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The next day, Oct. 26, he walked free.

He ran for president in 2010, placed second to Benigno Aquino III, but bested early favorite Manuel Villar and six others. Undaunted by his only defeat in his long political career, he ran and won as Manila’s mayor last May 13.

I have had a nodding, so-so acquaintance with him since he was a senator. But I formally met and conversed with him only on Dec. 3, 2007, two months after he was released from detention and a year after I retired from the judiciary. This was during the 75th birthday party at Hotel InterContinental Manila of former Rep. Albertito Lopez, a valued client when I was still practicing law prior to my Supreme Court stint.

Affable encounter. I felt rather awkward encountering him at that point when he was just released from detention.

As a retired chief justice, I had personified the judiciary that sentenced him to reclusion perpetua. But he did not seem to mind our surprise encounter. In fact, he was cordial, polite and deferential.

Seated opposite me across the rectangular head table, he broke the ice by asking me how retired Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa was. I replied that after his wife, Jany, passed away, Narvasa had been inaccessible and depressed. To which he quipped, “Yan ang mahirap sa iisa ang minamahal at iisa ang nagmamahal. Di tulad ko, marami ang minamahal at marami rin ang nagmamahal, kaya hindi ako nalulungkot kahit ex-convict.”

Embarrassed at the quip made in the presence of his wife seated beside him, I apologized, “Pasensiya na po kayo, Doctora Loi, nagbibiro lang po si Presidente.”

To which she gamely retorted, “Walang problema, sanay na ako diyan.” That exchange set an affable tone for the rest of the evening.

At his request, we met a few times thereafter. He posited pointed questions from which I got an insight into his mindset and why he exemplifies and speaks for the masa.

One of the most memorable questions he asked was, “Chief Justice, why was I convicted of plunder and sentenced to a life in jail when I was charged merely with receiving (1) the broker’s commissions in the sale of listed shares owned by the Social Security System, and (2) jueteng money? Assuming this is true, how can I be guilty of any crime when I did not steal public funds? Wala po akong ninakaw na pera ng bayan.”

I replied that the 262-page decision of the Sandiganbayan completely answered his question. It eloquently spoke for itself. I could not add or subtract anything more.

In any event, if he disagreed with the verdict, he should have appealed to the Supreme Court. By accepting the pardon, he was deemed to have also accepted the judgment and the imposed penalty.

People’s verdict. He explained in his best Tagalog that his trial took more than six years while he was in detention. Had he appealed, he would have had to suffer many more years of detention without any assurance of victory.

On the other hand, by accepting the pardon, he became free to seek the people’s verdict by running again for public office. He preferred a direct redemption by the people.

In his populist mind, all government officials are ultimately judged by the people, not by the courts. Once elected to public office, he would have been exonerated by the people, the real sovereigns of our democracy.

This explains his eagerness to run for president in 2010 and for mayor in 2013. even if already, the poll victory of his wife Loi and their son Jinggoy as senators, and of JV, his son by Guia Gomez, as congressman and later also as senator, are proofs of his popular vindication.

Be that as it may, I think Estrada cannot completely ignore the judgments of our courts and of history.

Had he won the presidency in 2010, the Supreme Court would have decided his disqualification case, instead of dismissing it for having become moot after his defeat.

But now, with his victory as mayor, he can no longer avoid the scrutiny of the Supreme Court (see my column Sunday column below). Indeed, the rule of law and democracy are intertwined and inseparable.

We discussed many other interesting topics, which provided me a window to see why, despite his ouster from the presidency, his plunder conviction, and his open marital peccadilloes, he continues to be the darling of the masang Pilipino.

I do not necessarily agree with his unorthodox views but I respect his folksy way of articulating them. Freedom is not only for the ideas we adore but also for those we may abhor.

At 76, he thinks his “last hurrah” as Manila mayor will vindicate him in history and will presage his passage from villain to hero in the eyes of both themasa and the intelligencia. This, I will await and see.

* * *

The Estrada enigma By Artemio V. Panganiban Philippine Daily Inquirer 11:07 pm | Saturday, June 29th, 2013 127 924 714

Former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada won the mayoralty race in Manila. The Commission on Elections proclaimed him the winner, and his opponent, Alfredo Lim, publicly conceded his victory.

In fact, he will take his oath and assume office this noon. However, a legal challenge earlier dismissed by the Comelec may have gained some traction due to a very recent en banc jurisprudence, Comelec vs Jalosjos.

Brief background. Recall that on Sept. 12, 2007, the Sandiganbayan—after a sensational trial from 2001 to 2007—found him guilty of plunder and sentenced him “to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua (roughly equivalent to life imprisonment) and the accessory penalties of civil interdiction during the period of sentence and perpetual absolute disqualification.”

Moreover, it forfeited in favor of the government (1) P545 million “with interest and income earned… deposited in the name and account of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation,” (2) P189 million “inclusive of interest and income earned, deposited in the Jose Velarde account,” and (3) the so-called “Boracay Mansion” in Quezon City.

The verdict was handed down by a special division of the antigraft court composed of then Presiding Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro (now a member of the Supreme Court), who wrote the 262-page decision, Justice Francisco H. Villaruz Jr. (later became presiding justice, now retired) and Justice Diosdado M. Peralta (now also a member of the Supreme Court)

Estrada denounced the Sandiganbayan as a “kangaroo court,” and his counsel, Rene A.V. Saguisag, blurted, “The special division was programmed to convict. We never had a chance.”

GMA’s pardon. Despite these criticisms and initial attempts to appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court, the former President ultimately accepted the decision and the penalties imposed on him when he scribbled his agreement to the executive clemency granted him on Oct. 25, 2007 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. On the next day, Oct. 26, he walked free after being detained for six and a half years.

For clarity’s sake, let me copy verbatim the pertinent portion of the “pardon” signed by President Arroyo and Acting Executive Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye:

“WHEREAS, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,

“IN VIEW THEREOF and pursuant to the authority conferred upon 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.”

In asking the Supreme Court to unseat him, petitioner Alicia Risos-Vidal, later joined by Lim two weeks ago, argued that by its clear wording, the presidential pardon was based on Estrada’s commitment “to no longer seek any elective position or office.” Hence, the pardon did not restore his right to run for any elective office.

Furthermore, the Sandiganbayan’s imposition of the accessory penalty of “perpetual absolute disqualification” from holding public office was not expressly erased by the pardon.

Favoring Estrada, on the other hand, is the emphatic provision of the presidential pardon restoring “his civil and political rights.” Certainly, the right to vote and to be voted is a political right. Moreover, by his election to office, the people are deemed to have pardoned him.

Warped enigma

Convoluting Estrada’s legal enigma is Jalosjos vs Comelec, which ruled that “the accessory penalty of disqualification remains even though one is pardoned as to the principal penalty unless the accessory penalty shall have been so expressly remitted in the pardon.”

(This decision, as of my deadline for this column, is not yet posted in the Supreme Court website. Neither could the Court’s spokesman, Prof. Theodore Te, give me a copy. I took the preceding quotes, as well as those below, from a June 19 Rappler report.)

The Supreme Court held “that the penalties of perpetual or temporary absolute disqualification carr(y) with (them) the deprivation of the right to vote in any election for any popular office or to be elected to such office.”

It further explained, “This is based on the presumption that one who is rendered infamous by conviction of a felony or other base offense indicative of moral turpitude, is unfit to hold public office, as the same partakes of the nature of a privilege which the State grants only to such classes of persons (who) are most likely to exercise it for the common good.”

The big question is whether the Court will apply this ruling to unseat Estrada, considering (1) that he was convicted of plunder while Romeo Jalosjos was found guilty of two counts of statutory rape (a capital offense for which he, like Estrada, was imposed reclusion perpetua) and six counts of acts of lasciviousness, (2) that he was granted executive clemency while Jalosjos was given only a presidential commutation (or reduction) of sentence, after serving six years of the original penalty, and (3) that he was voted to office while Jalosjos was not because his name was not printed on the ballot by the Comelec.

Will these distinctions make a difference? Abangan!

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