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CHICAGO – I have been hearing reports that the Philippine Supreme Court is about to depose my friend, former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, and have him replaced by former Mayor Alfredo S. Lim.

I have my reservations about the management style of Mayor Estrada, but removing him from his elected position is not the solution to whatever his lapse in the manner he does his job as chief executive of the city. 

I heard that one of the reasons Estrada does not deserve to be the mayor of Manila is that when he ran for the position, he violated the terms of his conditional pardon granted to him in 2007. He “publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or public office” when he was granted an executive clemency by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with his conviction of plunder by Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) and his sentence of reclusion perpetua (life sentence).”

If you are a Filipino and you know your customs and traditions, you would agree with what Erap had done. According to Filipino customs, if you want to survive, kakapit ka sa patalim (grip at the knife) specially if you want to gain your freedom. 

A prisoner negotiating for his release can never be at equal footing with his custodian. No matter what is the condition a custodian imposes on a prisoner (like Erap committing not to run for public office), the prisoner will always accept the condition to enable him to regain his freedom.

If the Arroyo government were smart to restrict Erap’s freedom and future actions, it would have placed Erap under “probation” or would have made the pardon conditional. The condition could be: In case,  Estrada breaks his promise not to run for public office, he loses his civil and political rights.

With Arroyo’s order “restoring” Erap’s civil and political rights, it was exactly what the doctor had ordered – it was Erap’s go-signal to run for public office. When Erap ran for president in 2010, nobody stopped him. Well, somebody tried to stop him but it did not work because it was too late in the day.

Article 7 (Section 19) of the Philippine 1987 Constitution states, “Except in cases of impeachment, or as otherwise provided in this Constitution, the President may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, and remit fines and forfeitures, after conviction by final judgment.”

This presidential power to grant pardons is nearly unlimited and cannot be reviewed by any other branch of the government, including the Supreme Court. Pardons are not meant to correct a judicial error, such as a wrong conviction. Instead, pardons are intended for people who have atoned for their crimes and are thus being rewarded for good behavior, or for those who have completed their sentences. A pardon reinstates one’s freedom to have privileges, like carrying a gun or voting, or to apply for certain jobs, such as in law enforcement. In the case of Erap, the presidential pardon allows him to run for public office if he so wishes because then President Arroyo restored all his “civil and political rights.”

If Erap’s purpose to run for public office is to get back at his opponents, violate their human rights and enrich himself, I would be against it. But if he runs for office to help the poor and improve the living condition of the people using all the legal means within his power, I would support him.

Erap’s nephew, Laguna Gov. Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito, was ousted from office last May by the Commission on Elections for alleged overspending in his re-election campaign, while Erap’s son, Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, is behind bars on charges of plunder.

If the Supreme Court unseats Estrada as mayor because he violated the condition of his conditional pardon, a claim I consider flimsy, it would make the highest court of the land the biggest butt of jokes. It would also encourage Erap to make another run for the presidency in 2016!

Erap’s detractors should not worry because Mayor Estrada already learned from his mistakes. Because of this, he will be a more magnanimous, not vindictive, leader. 

But if the Supreme Court lets Erap finish his mayoral term, I believe Erap would just fade into the sunset with Vice Mayor Isko Moreno succeeding him as mayor of Manila.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A native of Sorsogon, Philippines, he and his family now live in Chicago. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.


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