That Thursday evening, while the Filipino TV-viewing public watched Acting Executive Secretary Ignacio Bunye read the text of the proclamation granting executive clemency to deposed Pres. Joseph Estrada, we could not help but notice the numerous WHEREAS clauses that tried to explain, verbosely, why GMA decided to pardon Erap. So many Whereas this and Whereas that.
We think all these legalistic “reasons” boil down to only one: “Whereas we believe in the principle that there is honor among thieves…”
In opposition, we can cite hundreds of more principled reasons why Erap should not have been pardoned – at least not in this scandalously hasty manner and in so short a time after he was convicted by the Sandiganbayan and sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime of plunder.
We see no mitigating circumstances that would have morally warranted presidential pardon in Erap’s case.
Admission of guilt? Erap made none. Two former South Korean presidents, Chun Do Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, both admitted guilt and wrongdoing while serving in office, before they were granted executive clemency. In contrast, Erap has not admitted any guilt and is even boasting that history will prove his innocence.
Advanced age? There are many prisoners who have gone beyond the age of 70 who are still in the National Penitentiary, serving long terms. And yet most of them are required to pass through an excruciating legal process before they are given pardon. In contrast, Erap has not gone through the same process, and in fact has not spent a single night in the National Penitentiary.
Healing of political rifts? Erap’s pardon might have started the process of reconciliation between the hardcore pro-GMA and pro-Erap groups – and this isn’t even a certainty – but it is in fact causing a faster polarization of politics.
More bishops, businessmen, legislators, legal luminaries, enlightened military leaders, and local politicians now see the issues joined. Just look at the CBCP and Makati Business Club positions, regional kingpin Chavit Singson’s threat to bolt from the pro-GMA alliance, and Lakas-CMD chair emeritus Fidel Ramos saying that GMA’s days are numbered – and we will realize that GMA may have created more problems for herself than solved.
Some people are speculating that perhaps GMA pardoned Erap to distract public attention from scandals that have rocked her own government, and so escape the threat of another political maelstrom or impeachment move.
No, we think this is a too shallow explanation. There is a deeper one, and which had been more or less operative ever since one President had been succeeded by another President in this benighted Republic of ours.
And that reason is simply this: that an incoming President is expected to treat the outgoing President with leniency, and not besiege him/her with court cases, so that s/he will be assured of the same leniency when his/her time comes to make an accounting of corruption and abuse in office. In short, we are seeing here a perversion of the Golden Rule: “Do unto the outgoing President what you would like the next President to do unto you.”
In short, the “principle” of Honor Among Thieves.
It is a very basic defect of our political system – a defect that must be frontally addressed by the next People Power storm, which clouds we can already see on the horizon. #