Thursday, October 25, 2007

Juggle out the bad guys too: a matter of wisdom

(This post was first made during the early phase of the trial of former President Estrada on plunder and other charges when he dismissed his defense lawyers and the “exile option” was at that time the subject of some serious debate. I considered myself then as a GMA sympathizer. What a difference six years make!)

Erap’s decision to dismiss his defense lawyers is a political ploy. It appears to be a sequel to the scheme being attempted to do a Ninoy (as some people are trying to draw certain parallel from it) by Erap’s seeking medical attention abroad for his knee problem as a prelude to exile, and eventually avoidance from criminal prosecution and possible conviction.

Erap is a far cry from Ninoy. Ninoy was never afraid to die for his principles. He was near death when given medical treatment during his hunger strike to protest his trial before a Kangaroo Court. When the Military Tribunal sentenced Ninoy to die by musketry, he at once asked that his favorite garb be brought in which he intended to wear as he was to face the firing squad.

Ninoy dismissed his lawyers in order not to legitimize the mockery of justice he was being made to suffer during the dictatorship. By contrast, if there’s anyone mocking the judicial process in the Erap trial, it is none other than the defense itself given the many dilatory legal sideshows it has initiated.

If I were the Sandiganbayan, I would just appoint those high-flying lawyers whom Erap has dismissed, as de officio counsels or, otherwise, cite them for contempt of court should they refuse to discharge their functions or fool around with their duties as officers of the court. That is one way of dispensing justice or, at least, chastening judicial irreverence.

On another plane, it would be naivety to agree to the suggestion that what’s at stake in the latest of this Erap saga is the judicial system of the country and nothing more.

There’s the sense that the Erap matter is just one of the many balls that GMA is delicately juggling at the moment, not to accomplish her projects, but simply to avoid a misfortune. Another tossed up is the marching song that US President George W. Bush wants every terror coalition choir member to be attuned to. The Philippines, which signed up early, is facing some fervent nationalist intonations even from GMA’s political allies. This nationalist sentiment could haunt the GMA government and the nation anytime Bush “unilaterally” changes the music.

Also up in the air is how to grate the surface of the slippery road to economic recovery with resources largely from wary foreign investors. The investors could be assuaged if only there’s some semblance of peace and order at least in the capital region. Otherwise, continued sluggish investment would translate into less meaningful poverty alleviation and other welfare initiatives for the increasingly agitated lumpen proletariat. A hopeless sense of further neglect on the part of the Great Unwashed could again precipitate a peace-and-order-breaching EDSA upheaval with the slightest stirring by demagogues or political opportunists, thus potentially jeopardizing even short-term economic recovery strategies. The situation, although not revolutionary, could become combustible, with even greater likelihood if Erap loyalists join the mix.

Present threats of instability from other firebrands not necessarily loyal to Erap could not be totally discounted as one of the balls that could be trifled with. The threat could come from the likes of the once fugitive or soon to be re-indicted Panfilo Lacson who has not been coy about his high ambition. Not lightly to be ignored are similar dangers that could come from some messianic colonels waiting in the barracks for the propitious time to perform their self-appointive roles or, on the darker side of fiendish chamber, from the polity-crippling tentacles of narco-politics.

As a matter of expediency and possibly humanitarian grounds, the proposition to exile Erap should therefore be seriously mulled over in the light of this juggling act that GMA is apparently performing on a tight rope. To leave the matter in the hands of a supposedly apolitical and unaccountable judiciary, the course the GMA government has adopted, is to ignore the reality that the resolution of the Erap cases has graver political, economic and other consequences than merely legal.

To keep the “judiciary out” and bring the “executive in” again, the following option is suggested:

1. Erap pleads guilty to his crimes as charged
2. Erap serves a minimum of one year of his sentence
3. GMA pardons Erap after serving one year
4. Erap goes on exile.

After Erap is out of the way, the GMA government then prosecutes Erap’s accomplices whom Erap should name before leaving, as part of the deal.

The less balls to juggle, the better are the chances of not missing to catch the rest.

For many interested parties including the plunder watchers and other people of like persuasion, they could always look at the foregoing proposition as a “win” situation. For one thing, a plea of guilty, a conviction and a token service of sentence on the criminal cases would be on top of the capital political penalty of loss of the presidency already meted out. Altogether, it should be as proximal as to the ideal satisfaction of the call for justice.

With the gadfly swatted out, the GMA government could now put its meager resources to better use than maintaining the expensive security measures for an ousted president pending the long drawn trial. Meanwhile, the Sandiganbayan or the Supreme Court might thus be spared from being embroiled in a predicament that certainly has more than strictly judicial implications.

If we want to show to the world that our legal or justice system works, maybe, we should first complete the dry run on the Marcoses and their relentlessly more pernicious accomplices. Many of them are back in our midst as untouchables after being driven into exile, and now doing business as usual. This privilege would be denied Erap should he leave the country as someone disqualified (because of the conviction) to re-enter elected public office while the government would be allowed to keep the alternative of prosecuting his partners in crime. For Erap, if he were not expecting a fellowship in Harvard, the option to simply enjoy fishing by Lake Tahoe would be available and quite beckoning. When knees start to buckle, isn’t it telling us that life’s too short?

One short note about justice. Justice like sovereignty is an abstraction. (Some serious questions about sovereignty have also come to prominence relative to the war in Mindanao and the Balikatan exercises). We uphold both through the notion of proper balance. In reality, however, the scale is not always perfect either in weighing, for example, the legal equality of sovereign states or in balancing the precedent wrong with the present response in the pursuit of a just society.

What seems to matter most is that when we put into play certain abstract principles we hold dear, we take into account the common good of the present as much as the future. Juggling the Erap ball out is a safe and wise way to comply with that goal.

4 Comments:

Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

The following comment of mine at mlq3's blog should help elaborate the main entry above.

__________

“Much as everyone saw the pardon coming, what I don’t think anyone outside of official circles expected was for it to be used so crudely, so patently politically: a historic verdict required a historic demonstration of presidential statesmanship; instead, it was a tool used to blunt the effects of embarrassing headlines resulting from the Senate hearing; and it was a brusque dismissal of those who, all these eventful years, stubbornly insisted on giving the President the benefit of the doubt because she had to be, somehow, better than her predecessor.” - mlq3

I share many of Manolo’s sentiments.

In the run-up to People Power 11, my wish had been for Erap to be held accountable to the impeachable offenses he was accused of and that if the impeachment process would be trifled with in the Senate the people should exercise the sovereign prerogative of the “last say” and remove him from office via People Power. Following People Power, I hoped Arroyo would then declare a revolutionary government; and to put a quick political closure on the matter, with her revolutionary powers brought to bear upon Erap, consider executive clemency after a bargained plea of guilty and force an ousted president into exile.

Had the above scenario been consummated, Arroyo would then have as much opportunity as Cory Aquino of (the still undying) People Power 1 fame, to start afresh. But the forces of conservatism had in fact an easier time prevailing upon Arroyo to revert quickly to the status quo ante, a course subsequently legitimated by the Supreme Court by declaring that People Power II revolution was inchoate, hence the Court’s rationale for intra-constitutional “constructive resignation” instead of regime change.

In lieu of far-reaching transformation following a people’s upheaval, the unfortunate choices thus made set the stage for just another gradualist or business-as-usual mode of governance, calcified by Arroyo’s pronouncement: “I have no grandiose ambition of being great, I just want to do my work well. I don’t want magic. I just want to be 100 percent right - morally right.”

GMA’s EXPLICIT promise was to restore moral authority in governance. She has shown her great resolve to fulfill that promise by swiftly paving the way for Erap’s arrest, an opportunity that somehow had eluded Cory as to Ninoy’s tormentors.

The ball at the plunder trial was actually on Erap’s court given the scope and weight of the evidence adduced during the impeachment hearings; that whether Erap would then be placed on house arrest, detained with special privileges appropriate to a former head of state, or allowed to exit via exile, the nation could have not gone wrong according GMA abundant discretion to exercise her presidential prerogative especially if weighed as a necessary precondition to the fulfillment of her IMPLICIT promise for social and economic reforms.

After People Power II and EDSA Tres the logical path for GMA would have been toward radical rather than gradualist reforms. True to her class interest, GMA has instead opted for incremental solution having thus eschewed any “grandiose ambition of being great.”

During the early phase of GMA’s administration and certainly before the July 27 (2003) mutiny, there was the sense that one of GMA’s route to achieve fundamental restructuring was in terms of reforming the wretched state of the electoral process; that if a “failure” of an honest and peaceful election would be perceived again as too likely to occur in 2004 owing to the same official neglect to reform the process, it could trigger to test anew the breaking threshold of the silent middle, which already evinced its agitated state in People Power II; and that a gradualist approach to this acute malady might end up inadequate to fulfill the explicit promise of moral uprightness, the contention being: Should a conciliatory approach to Erap’s case (a plea of guilty, presidential pardon and then exile) be pursued thereby saving the government precious resources, a redirected or rather intense effort towards electoral reforms could prove in the long term to be more salutary than the clamor for retributive justice.

In my tally sheet, I have placed essential electoral reforms ahead of poverty alleviation as a precondition for transformation.

The “Garci tapes” debacle alone totally dashed the expectation. For, not only did Arroyo fail to deliver on both her explicit and implicit promises, she in point of fact callously prostituted the first; and thus exposed and rendered a lame duck, realistically Arroyo could not be expected to deliver on the second except by extending her reign beyond 2010, the present constitutional limit.

The pardon option I had advocated before is philosophically grounded upon the following concluding remark in the main piece:

Justice like sovereignty is an abstraction. In reality, however, the scale is not always perfect either in weighing, for example, the legal equality of sovereign states or in balancing the precedent wrong with the present response in the pursuit of a just society.

What seems to matter most is that when we put into play certain abstract principles we hold dear, we take into account the common good of the present as much as the future. Juggling the Erap ball out is a safe and wise way to comply with that goal.


In Manolo’s plainer terms, I was then looking for “a historic verdict (requiring) a historic demonstration of presidential statesmanship” not used as a “tool” for personal political survival.

By now, Erap’s diehards should realize that Asiong Salonga is a myth. On the other hand, Arroyo and her handlers, instead of prophesying her lot by setting up a rather impalpable Erap precedent, would do well waking up too to the reality of an inevitable, maybe harsher, Marcosian finale.

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