By MARY ANN MANJA BAYANG
Gloria Arroyo has granted executive clemency to Joseph Estrada! Preposterous! Estrada was ousted from office because of allegations of bribery, plunder and corruption while occupying the highest public office of the land. Arroyo was catapulted to the presidency and took over the seat of Estrada. Under Arroyo’s administration, Estrada was aggressively prosecuted. He gets so many favors while on house arrest but was nevertheless convicted of the crimes he committed.
Comes now Arroyo granting absolute pardon to a deposed president found guilty of plunder. The crime of plunder is committed only by public officials, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives, business associates, or subordinates by amassing, accumulating or acquiring ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts in an amount of at least fifty million pesos.
So we have here a former president, who was elected to lead the Filipino nation, who was supposed to be the epitome of morality and legality, of justice and honesty but who, to the frustration and disappointment of the Filipino nation, turned out to be the embodiment of criminality, injustice and dishonesty. After he gets convicted, he is immediately pardoned and restored with all his civil and political rights. He got his own cake, he ate it too. He committed a crime against the Filipino people; he gets forgiven by no other than the very person who rode the bandwagon to remove him from office.
This is pure and simple mockery of justice and of public office. It is a violation of public trust. It is a clear picture of inequality in the eyes of the law.
In granting pardon to Estrada, Arroyo claims that he is already over the age of 70 and has served 6½ years in prison. How many inmates are currently jailed who are beyond the age of 70? We have a lot. But they are not being given the executive pardon. Estrada was sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison. What is 6 ½ years of house arrest? He was not even technically imprisoned during those years. He was not in an eight by six feet cell packed with thirty inmates and without air conditioning. He stayed in a very comfortable place, even more luxurious than the homes of seventy percent Filipinos.
What do these events portray to the public mind? These mean a few things:
1. If you are the president of the country, you can amass ill-gotten wealth, accept bribes and hot money. Anyway, if someone finds out and you get prosecuted and convicted, you will be given the absolute pardon.
2. If you are a former president, you will not be jailed in the regular prisons provided to the thousands of inmates coming from the population who you were called to serve as a public servant.
3. If you are a former president, you will be given a lot of considerations and amenities not available to anyone from the people whom you were supposed to serve.
This matter has set a very bad precedent – in the law, the public office and the justice system. Is there anymore trust left in the public office? Why did Arroyo do it? Because she wants to be treated the same way when the time comes that she gets prosecuted and convicted for all the crimes that she is committing now. #