Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Guilty! (for the right and wrong reasons)

( A photo of Erap with son Senator Jinggoy with a sad look on his face. The father was convicted but the son was exonorated of the similar crime of plunder.)

Note: Plunder is a criminal offense legally defined as: "By taking undue advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines."

Today, 12 Sep 2007, a historic guilty verdict was handed down to deposed 13th Philippine president Joseph Estrada. He was convicted of the crime of plunder and sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. It is highly unlikely that the charismatic leader will carry out that lifetime sentence given that he is now 70 years of age. If he does, he will outlive his enduring mother who is now 102 years old. Seems that long life runs in the family and instead of feeling blessed, Estrada might be wary these days if he lives that long. At any rate, the guilty verdict, which doesn't come as a surprise knowing that this case is primarily a political one if truth be told, will not bother Estrada that much. He knows very well that he has the upperhand and that the government, or rather the Arroyo regime, won't dare place him in an ordinary or poor man's jail cell, as he can easily provoke the sympathy of his paid and blind minions.

That Estrada is guilty is a well known fact. However, the thing that troubles a lot of people, particularly his sympathizers is that he was the only one convicted of such a heavy crime. The charge of plunder or simply put it graft and corruption in a massive scale, is an offense committed by almost everybody in the government. Sadly, power corrupts people and if you're not morally strong enough by nature, you don't stand any chance if you opt to work for the government. One ripple cannot possibly overturn the raging river. If you dont go with the "flow", you will simply drown in the sea of murky government affairs. They will brand you as an aberration, as somebody who doesn't know how to blend in the crowd. They will mistrust you and do overything in their power to take you out of position as you are not one them. Estrada may be guilty but so are the rest of them. How come justice is not served as swiftly to others who are just as guilty as him? Seems to me that justice in this country is never blind, it is partial and only serves the interests of those who are in power.

Estrada was found guilty for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he will never be given a non-guilty verdict as this decision will undermine the legitimacy of the Arroyo government. Regardless, that she supposedly "legitimately" won a second mandate in the last 2004 elections, the fact that her first taste of presidency might be questionable is enough reason to convict Estrada. Secondly, the Supreme Court, in the person of then SC Chief Hilario Davide, presided over the oath-taking of erstwhile Vice President Gloria Arroyo to the highest position in the land, saying that the Estrada presidency has lost its "moral" ascendancy to govern. This means that the highest court in the land legally approved the take-over. The people then cheered for the "morally" conscious, church-going and family-oriented replacement that was Arroyo. Little did we know that morality has different shades and that being outwardly moral does not guarantee inward and deeply ingrained morality after all. Six years under her government rule will prove that morality is such a contentious issue and that one should not simply judge a book by its cover. Estrada with his philandering and Bacchic ways is no less moral than the churh-going Arroyo.

The Estrada conviction is hollow victory for the Philippine justice system. They caught a "big fish" but it was a fish that has been out of the water for so long. He no longer wields the same charisma and political clout as before. Compared to the current president, Estrada is no doubt more popular, but in terms of political strings and connections, he does not have the same network when he was still the one in power. In politics, the adage "friends in need, are friends indeed" holds true. Estrada had numerous political friends before as his was the figurative ass that needed kissing, but now that this very same bottom was literaly kicked out of power, his so-called friends have dissipated one by one.


Lately, after much reading, hearing and watching about the merits of the plunder case against Estrada, I came to realize that the 3 justices of the Sandiganbayan maybe truthful and impartial after all. Judging from the contents of their decision, it seems to me that the justices did base their final ruling on the dry facts of the case alone. Accordingly, they convicted Estrada based on the P189 million kickback he received from the purchase of Belle Corp. shares by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System. They deemed this piece of evidence as irrefutable, incontrovertible fact as this was a matter of Estrada's word against the SSS and GSIS officials who bravely testified that the former did receive kickback and ordered the transaction. The justices also contend that Erap and Jose Velarde are one and the same after hearing Clarissa Ocampo's testimony that she saw Estrada signing bank documents in such a signature. If we only had a person of Ocampo's stature and credibility to testify against who real Jose Pidal is, then maybe we could know the truth and convict him as well. They also found him guilty as the chief supporter and instigator of jueteng operations in the country, discounting even the allegations of Chavit Singson, a close jueteng lord accomplice, that Erap received P140 million bribe from him. Given all these arguments, the special courts seemingly displayed honesty and integrity in their landmark court ruling. They kept the promises they made when they swore to be the just arbiters of the law.

Justice was after all served. I just wish it could be served to all.

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