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Friday, October 26, 2007

(Updated, -1) What Matters in Pardoning Estrada?

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines Thomas Hubbard (left) and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (center) visit with President Joseph E. Estrada (right) at Malacanang Palace, Philippines, on Aug. 3, 1998. Cohen is in the Philippines to discuss a pending agreement on the resumption of military exercises between the Philippines and the United States. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)- from Wikipedia; image is in the public domain.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in a lonely position. She is damned, if she pardoned Estrada, and damned if she does not, well maybe not so damned for the latter. The Anti-Estradas in her camp of course, are fervent that Estrada should be locked in jail for all eternity, if he must. There are those that though are not with Macapagal-Arroyo, likewise with zealot fervor believe a pardon for Estrada is bordering on insanity.

What is the political fallout that one would expect for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? This is a win-win situation for her. At a time when her presidency is perceived to be at its weakest, this buys time and necessary breathing space. This pardon buys her political capital. I would be greatly surprised that this deal did not have a price (not talking about anything monetary or criminal) of any sort, after all, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a shrewd politician. A play like the pardon for Estrada has already been calculated and determined that at the end of the day, it would be beneficial for Arroyo. It also doesn't hurt that this opens an exit strategy for Mrs. Arroyo and her family, should she fall in the same trap as Mr. Estrada.

Of course this will not stop the zealots on either side--- for or against the pardon for Mr. Estrada. What more do we want? We've "hanged" the man. The man has been convicted. Though, I have no love for the Estrada camp, what more toll can we expect? A protracted legal battle is not in the best interest of this republic. In fact, I submit that in fact, all Mr. Estrada had to do was hold on for either perpetuity--- his case will be on appeal until the day he dies, by then, its resolution would then be academic and will always raise the question, was he innocent after all? Or, he could always wait for a president far more sympathetic to him and ask for pardon then. Why does he need Arroyo to pardon him?

On one hand, Estrada does not lose face with his followers, pardoned on not. He is the recognized leader of the opposition. He commands loyalty and respect from his forces. What difference does it make for Estrada to be locked up or not? He commands from his lonely throne in Rizal and taxpayers pay how many millions of pesos just to keep him safe there. Millions, I might add that can go to building better schools or providing better health care to far more people.

Our nation is deeply divided. And not in two. We have a camp that is for Arroyo's wing. We have people rooting for Mr. Estrada. We have people like me, who to be quite frank, we're tired of all the bloody political games both camps play and pissed that they have the means and the ability to correct this ship of state, but choose the path that works for them and their clique first and everyone else, second. All we want is hope and all we want is for everyone to do their fair share in nation building.

A lot of people believe Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is evil. Equally, I suppose, a lot of people believe the same for Mr. Estrada that he was the worst thing that could have happened to this country. It is a personal zealotry--- one that does not look beyond the personalities and see the players for what they are. There will be people in the zealotry who believe both should be punished. I have no beef with that. They should be punished for the crimes they have committed. They should pay for them. We should let the courts and the rule of law--- however highly imperfect they are now, to do so because that is the only way to move things forward.

I believe that for good or ill, we the people have punished Estrada enough for whatever atrocities he may have committed against our people. And we have punished ourselves enough for the mistake we made by shortcutting our processes in EDSA 2 and installing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in place of Estrada. We can not ever right wrongs by making another wrong. We can not fix anything, if we do not reach out and rebuild bridges, however imperfect such bridges are, this nation will not attain anything and we might as well dismantle it right here, right now.

This pardon is for Mr. Estrada and it doesn't take away from people the right to exercise their option to prosecute Mrs. Arroyo or her ilk or anyone else for that matter who people deem to deserve it, all of course, within the framework of the law though people seem content to abuse and bend our laws everyday. The proponents and participants of EDSA 2 have already our conviction and day in court and how many years has Mr. Estrada been locked up for his crimes be that as it may, the circumstances of his incarceration and eventual conviction may be questioned by some? is that not enough justice?

Just as Nation-building can not be absolute black and white, no matter how much we desire it to be, so too must our vision for the future be broad and all-encompassing. The future holds so much promise and so many challenges, can we give facing it a shot?

I have no love for either camp. Though, if you ask me, I am not prepared to be single-minded, be a zealot in my desire for justice. There are just so many things we, the people must accomplish that it hardly seem worthwhile to wallow in vengeance. Arroyo may meet or maybe not the same fate as Estrada. it doesn't really matter, at this point. In either case, I would prefer, and I hope you would as well, to exercise vengeance by voting good people in and throwing the rotten apples out or if you so desire, also by exercising the option to boycott future elections.

Again, personally, if I am unsatisfied with the candidates, I will exercise my option not to vote. In either case, I prefer my vengeance to be positive, by contributing to nation-building by being the best citizen I could be. Will it make a difference? Probably not, but to borrow a line from a song, "it don't matter to the sun, it matters to me".

That said, though nation-building is a slow process that for many, has accomplished very little, since the dawn of our Republic, is it not true that People reinvent and relearn Democracy everyday?

At the end of the day, perhaps the only thing that matter is far deeper than anyone can really grasp, far more personal than the political landscape of our little island nation can ever construe. Perhaps, Mr. Estrada just wants to spend the few remaining days of his beloved mother by her side and all this political crap is just fallout of that very human desire. No man can find fault in that.

Update: Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. over at the Inquirer has an Analysis: Only Arroyo Can Forfeit Pardon Benefits.


DJB Rizalist wrote "if Erap's Pardon is Constitutional, Resignation becomes a loophole and Mockery of the Law."

Rick Carandang in, "Pardon Me," i think summarizes why a lot of people are pissed:
"On the other hand, to allow him to spend the rest of his life in prison would send a message that no one is above the law, not even a former president. And that would have increased the pressure on a post-Arroyo government to make her accountable for her own wrongdoing while in office. As the evidence against her mounts, a pardon for Estrada sends a message that its not important to make anyone accountable for what they do in office. By pardoning Estrada, she is, in effect, pardoning herself." (emphasis is mine).

Like I've said, this pardon is a great exit strategy, should it become needed down the road.