At a time of great crisis, in the middle of a calamitous month, during a continuing emergency that has traumatized millions of Filipino families, pardoned plunderer Joseph Estrada formally declared his intention to contest the presidency anew. Why should the people vote for him again? Because, he said, ?This is the last performance of my life and I will not fail you.?
The country is reeling from the devastation wrought by two catastrophic floods, and Estrada thinks the coming elections are about him and the movie of his life? The country is deeply anxious about the prospect of a Machiavellian extension of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s hold on power, and Estrada thinks the crucial 2010 elections are nothing but an opportunity to burnish his public image? The country is suffering from years of morale-sapping corruption scandals, and Estrada thinks the make-or-break elections of May 10 are merely about his own personal vindication, over his conviction in yet another morale-sapping corruption scandal?
It is difficult to shame a shameless, runaway ego, but we should do it anyway. For shame, Mr. Estrada.
It is clear that the Supreme Court will have to decide on the legality of Estrada?s bid for reelection; a suit before the high court is the only option. For the tribunal to take its time until after the elections is, of course, itself already a decision, but we are confident that, just as the high court acted on the citizenship case filed against presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004 with a real sense of urgency and great dispatch, the Supreme Court too will attend to the inevitable legal challenge with all deliberate haste.
Until then, we will have to suffer from Estrada?s insulting double-talk.
At the Plaza Amado Hernandez in Tondo, Manila, last week, before some 10,000 supporters, Estrada denied the very basis of his conviction two years ago on two charges of plunder. ?I have not stolen a single cent from the country?s coffers,? he said, repeating a favorite line.
Technically, he has some basis for deluding himself. He was convicted on two counts: for centralizing the illegal numbers game of jueteng right in Malacańang, in the process pocketing over P545 million between November 1998 and August 2000; and for coercing the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System into buying stocks in the controversial Belle Corporation, in the process earning himself a commission of over P189 million. These acts of plunder did not directly involve ?the country?s coffers.? Jueteng is illegal gambling ?owned? by private sector financiers who are merely ?protected? by government officials; the two insurance agencies are essentially independent institutions. But the public record, accessible to anyone who is the slightest bit interested, shows, beyond a doubt, that he did betray the public trust.
?If I had sinned against you,? he said at the political rally, ?I would not have the nerve to stand before you.? This is not a test of probity or uprightness, only a measure of his nerve. After all, Estrada has said time and again that his ?conscience is clear? when it comes to the issue of his many mistresses, his complicated families. (It was the mansions he built for his women, while he was living the high life as president, that first focused public indignation on his administration.) Indeed, the pivotal testimony of banker Clarissa Ocampo, that he had signed as Jose Velarde, he has not even dared to refute; he has only said that he was doing it on behalf of a crony?but his conscience was clear.
In Filipino, he also told his supporters in Tondo: ?I swear to run in the coming elections so I can again be of service to the masses as president of the Philippines.? We have seen what service to the masses means, in Estrada?s world: the midnight Cabinet, the constant carousing that his chief of staff later deplored, the factionalism that divided his administration and sometimes paralyzed its decision-making processes, the voracious deal-making, the institutionalization of jueteng.
Now his supporters, including ex-senator Ernesto Maceda, grown old but still so much the same, are using the intellectually dishonest argument that the public should be allowed to decide on Estrada?s eligibility. Dishonest, because eligibility in a public vote is precisely the issue.
There is, truly, no shaming the shameless.
(The editorial yesterday noted that ex-President Joseph Estrada was convicted of plunder in part for ?pocketing over P545 million between November 1998 and August 1990.? The second date was a typographical error. The phrase should read: ?between November 1998 and August 2000.? Our apologies. The Sandiganbayan?s plunder decision can be read at http:// sandigan3.googlepages. com/index. html.)