, OCTOBER 27, 2007 (STAR) Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, head of the team of government lawyers who prosecuted former President Joseph Estrada for six years, yesterday said he would go to the Supreme Court to clarify some questions on the grant of pardon by President Arroyo to Estrada.

“We will question the legality of the President’s grant of pardon due to the absence of any legal basis,” Villa-Ignacio said.

Malacañang, through spokesman Ignacio Bunye, announced the executive clemency for the deposed President a few hours after Villa-Ignacio sent a three-page letter to acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera expressing strong objections to the grant of absolute pardon to Estrada.

“It’s a sad day for the OSP because there was no transparency. There were no extensive deliberations. We were then hoping that our letters to the Board of Pardons and Parole will be in the agenda and deliberated upon, hoping that those would put in some points,” related Villa-Ignacio, who said he is still in a state of disbelief.

He said there should be deliberation by the board on the propriety and correctness of recommending to the President the grant of absolute pardon.

Despite his opposition to the pardon, Villa-Ignacio conceded that it’s the prerogative of the President under the Constitution.

He added that “it is a well-considered decision to be made by the President.” Right now, Villa-Ignacio disclosed that the prosecution panel is studying the implication and significance of Section 19, Article 7 of the Constitution, which provides that the President may extend pardon except in impeachment cases.

He countered the declaration of Jose Flaminiano, one of the lawyers of Estrada, that the former President was not impeached as the senators walked out of the session hall.

Villa-Ignacio maintained the disqualification of being pardoned is attached to Estrada as he was already impeached by the House of Representatives on Nov. 15, 2001 and the Articles of Impeachment were then sent to the Senate.

“It cannot be denied there was an impeachment case filed (against Estrada) in the Lower House (Congress), and then the Senate. That was not terminated,” recalled Villa-Ignacio.

“If we have a good basis, we will be able to enhance the existing jurisprudence on pardon the moment we go to the High Court,” he said.

“If only to make it clear what exercise of the executive clemency in relations to Sec. 19, Art. 7 of the Constitution. We just like to know about that provision in the Constitution. And when will it apply, what instances and what case will this apply to,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman said Villa-Ignacio’s letter to Devanadera is his own personal position on the grant of pardon to Estrada.

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, under whose watch the plunder case was mostly tried, scored the executive clemency.

“The conviction of a big fish like Erap was useless because he was going to be pardoned in the end. I don’t know how to describe my feelings, but what I know is I’m angry. I can’t think rationally,” he told The STAR.

“Why the haste?”

Senators Joker Arroyo, Francis Pangilinan, Richard Gordon and Benigno Aquino III questioned the haste with which the pardon was granted, saying it made the six-year trial useless and a mockery of the justice system.

“The President pardoned him with lightning and tasteless haste. How many convicts who were qualified for pardon or parole have languished in jail for years because of the many conditions imposed?” Arroyo said.

Arroyo said if the idea was to make Mr. Estrada comfortable because of his stature as former president, the Chief Executive could have extended Mr. Estrada house arrest in his residence in San Juan or ordered a city arrest with hardly any restrictions.

For his part, Pangilinan said Mrs. Arroyo’s pardon of Estrada was meant to appease his camp to ensure her own political survival.

“It is highly questionable and inappropriate for the Arroyo administration to go into a mad rush to grant the pardon, just as her government faces all these serious charges of corruption and bribery happening allegedly right at the very seat of power, inside Malacañang Palace,” Pangilinan said.

Gordon said “President Arroyo disgraced her position. She lost the chance to have a legacy of justice (prevailing in the country).”

“Honor among thieves”

Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who was among the complainants in the P4.1-billion plunder case against Estrada, said the pardon to Estrada “reflects not national unity but honor among thieves.”

“Who else but the most incorrigible of thieves would not hesitate to do a shameless act like this? This mockery of justice is unpardonable,” Baraquel said, adding that Estrada’s release is “an ultimate betrayal of people power.”

“Like the Glorietta blast, this political bomb, which caught many by surprise, is meant to divert the attention of the public from the NBN controversy and allegations of bribery in Malacañang,” she said.

Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino likewise slammed the pardon.

“The least GMA should have demanded was an admission of guilt and some acts of remorse and/or restitution,” he said.

Extend similar treatment

Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman challenged President Arroyo to extend similar treatment to ordinary prisoners, particularly to innocent Muslims who have been languishing in jail for years.

Lawyer Leonard De Vera, a member of the No Pardon for Erap Movement, also questioned the plight of thousands of poor people in jail who were imprisoned for stealing lesser amounts of money because of urgent family needs and not out of greed.

“It’s very hard to get presidential pardon. Very, very difficult. For the first time in the history of our country, the one who is in power is the one pleading, ‘Please accept our pardon’,” said De Vera. -With Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla

STAR  EDITORIAL – Indecent haste Saturday, October 27, 2007

Did the punishment fit the crime? Not too long ago, deposed President Joseph Estrada would have been on death row following his conviction for plunder. Instead he was sentenced last month to spend the rest of his life in prison. Now he is walking out without spending a single minute behind bars in a regular prison cell, unrepentant, the beneficiary of a presidential pardon for a crime he insists he did not commit.

Is an impeachable official who has not admitted his crime eligible for pardon? Prosecutors who worked for six years to secure Estrada’s conviction do not think so. But this will soon become immaterial as Estrada is freed and Malacanang invokes the President’s power to grant executive clemency. Even if the pardon is challenged in court, putting toothpaste back into the tube will be easier than keeping Estrada locked up.

Estrada’s supporters believe he has suffered enough, having gone through the indignity of arrest and detention for six and a half years. Never mind if no inmate in this country will ever enjoy detention facilities as comfortable as the one handpicked by Estrada after he found the bungalow in a police camp too modest for his taste. As a former president, his supporters argue, he deserves special treatment. The administration has wholeheartedly agreed.

Malacanang said Estrada was granted pardon in the spirit of national unity and reconciliation. Who was it who used to insist there should be justice first before reconciliation? She now lauds the pardon for Estrada. Perhaps she has seen the futility of aiming for justice in this country. No one really believed Estrada, who insists he never resigned as president, would rot in prison forever. But there were people who hoped, naively, as it turned out, that he would feel penalized enough for his crime to feel remorse. Instead an administration in urgent need of friends has fallen all over itself in its rush to grant pardon to a convicted plunderer. At least Malacañang extracted a commitment that Estrada would no longer seek public office, although he joked that he could change his mind.

Everyone expected pardon for Estrada, but not this soon. Amid all the corruption scandals, the timing of the pardon has opened the administration to accusations of indecent haste in the name of political survival. What are all corrupt public officials thinking? In this country, politics trumps justice any time.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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