MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Voting 11-3, the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday, January 21, junked the disqualification case against former president now Manila Mayor Joseph "Erap" Ejercito Estrada, saying he was eligible to run for the 2013 polls.
The High Court upheld a previous Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision dismissing the disqualification case against Estrada, also lodged by the same petitioner, lawyer Alicia Vidal.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro penned the SC decision. Then presiding justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, De Castro was part of the special division that convicted Estrada of plunder.
Concurring with De Castro are Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Those who dissented are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
Newly-appointed Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza inhibited from voting due to his previous participation as then Solicitor General.
While Estrada was convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan, the SC ruled that the pardon subsequently granted to him by then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo restored his civil and political rights.
The main contention of the case was the characterization of the pardon extended by Arroyo to Estrada, and the majority of justices characterized it as an absolute pardon, SC spokesman Theodore Te said in a news conference.
Watch the statement below.
Vidal said in an interview on ANC that she will file a motion for reconsideration with the High Court.
“They can still change their minds, We’re not closing any possibility. We’ll just hope for the best,” she said, adding that she was prompted to file the case to keep "convicted plunderers" from seeking public office.
The Comelec stands by its decision on Estrada's case, now upheld by the SC.
"We said that the pardon given to the former president was an absolute pardon because of the wordings at the end part [of the pardon document] which says you are restored of all civil and political rights," said Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Brillantes said the portion of the document cited by the Arroyo administration as basis for the perpetual bar on Estrada to seek public office – his statement that he would not run for any elective post after his release – was placed in the "whereas" part which "is not part of the resolution."
On the same day, the SC ruled on the petition filed by Estrada's son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, to stop the plunder case against him. The son, however, was not as fortunate as his father. (READ: SC denies Jinggoy's petition to stop plunder case)
Lawyer George Erwin Garcia, Estrada's counsel in the case, said the pardon granted to his client in 2007 had made him "a new man."
"Likewise, the wordings of the pardon is crystal clear," he told Rappler. "It's absolute. No need to interpret."
He added that those who doubted Estrada's eligibility to seek public office are driven by their own "personal interest or because [they have] no appreciation of reality."
On Tuesday morning, members of Koalisyon ng Kabataan Kontra Korapsyon (4K) staged a protest in front of the SC building calling for Estrada's disqualification.
4K Spokesperson Jun Peña recalled the time when Estrada publicly announced he would no longer run for a government post.
"Yung ganoong taong walang isang salita ay palagay ko ho hindi dapat pagkatiwalaan (I think that kind of person who does not keep his word should not be trusted)," he said.
Questioning the SC ruling, Peña asked: "Bakit ho ang isang convicted plunderer ay napayagan pang tumakbo? Bakit ho pumayag sila na maupo pa rin ang isang mandarambong sa opisina ng Manila City Hall? (Why is a convicted plunderer allowed to run? Why did they allow a thief in the office of the Manila City Hall?)”
Given the ruling, Peña said the members of his group would register their opposition to Estrada by not voting for him in the 2016 polls, should he seek any elective post.
On January 20, 2001, then Vice President Arroyo succeeded Estrada after he was forced out of Malacañang Palace. It was the culmination of the 4-day EDSA People Power 2 or EDSA Dos, sparked by developments in the impeachment trial of Estrada over corruption allegations.
Saying he wanted to regain his "stolen" presidency, Estrada made another presidential bid in 2010, placing second to President Benigno Aquino III. A disqualification case based on the same grounds was lodged against him then.
The Supreme Court, at the time, did not act on the case against Estrada. The present petition, however, was given due course.
Vidal also filed the disqualification case against him before the Comelec. The SC also allowed Estrada's 2013 poll rival and former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim to intervene in the case, a status granted to resolve more effectively the legal dispute.
In his memorandum before the SC, Estrada had argued that ousting him as Manila's chief executive "will result to massive disenfranchisement of votes which is contrary to majoritarian principles of democracy."
Estrada won as Manila mayor by a margin of 35,449 votes. (READ: Erap on disqualification case: Respect the voters)
Estrada added that the granting of pardon by any president is "in the interest of public welfare," and thus must be respected.
"It can be seen, therefore, that the primary purpose of the pardoning power of the President is to serve as a check-and-balance on the errors and excesses of either of the two branches of government, and at the same time it is a constitutionally chosen means of conveying mercy to individuals," his memorandum read.
When Arroyo granted Estrada executive clemency on October 25, 2007, she cited the policy of government to pardon convicts aged 70 and above, Estrada had already spent 6 years under house arrest, and Estrada had “publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office.”
Palace officials had also cited the results of an internal survey which showed that 80% of Filipinos support the grant of pardon to Estrada.
Estrada had said in an interview with the Philippine Star shortly after the announcement of his pardon grant that he did “not have any intention to run in any election” though also “joked” that he did not put this intention in writing. – with reports from Michael Bueza/Rappler.com