Karma or revenge?
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was about three months into her presidency when her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was charged with a capital crime, arrested, and placed in detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. Sixteen months into her successor’s presidency, she has been charged with a capital crime and ordered by the regional trial court judge hearing her case to be detained also at the VMMC.
Karma? At least, that is what a lot of people say and what even more people think. Which sounds okay, until one realizes that the implication is that if Arroyo had just let Estrada go scot-free in 2001, she wouldn’t now be under arrest herself. Which then implies that the moral is: scratch my back and I will scratch yours, live and let live, close your eyes to what others do, and they will close their eyes to what you do (and the hell with the rest of the country). Take your pick. And that doesn’t sound okay after all.
But it might still be instructive to go beneath the surface of the similarities between Estrada’ situation then and Arroyo’s now, i.e., both charged with capital crimes, both incarcerated (or to be incarcerated) in the VMMC.
Let’s start with the charges. Estrada was charged with plunder by the Office of the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly amassing illegal wealth of about P4 billion from kickbacks and illegal gambling payoffs. Arroyo is charged with electoral sabotage in the 2007 senatorial elections by the Commission on Elections before the Pasay RTC for allegedly instructing then Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan to deliver a 12-0 victory for her senatorial candidates by hook or by crook. While both are capital crimes (the second being courtesy of the 2007 Automated Election Law and Arroyo may be the first one to be so charged), I invite the reader to compare the gravity of the offenses and the benefits—if the accusations were true—that those offenses would have bestowed on the respective offenders.
Incidentally, the Sandiganbayan took three weeks (from April 4 to April 25, 2001) to ponder the charges before it issued a warrant of arrest against Estrada and his co-accused. In contrast, it took the Pasay RTC judge less than four hours from the filing of the charges to issue the arrest warrant against Arroyo and her co-accused. Which means that either the Sandiganbayan justices were slow readers or the RTC judge is a speed reader, or that the evidence against Estrada was relatively weak and had to be studied very well before probable cause could be ascertained and the evidence against Arroyo is so strong that it needs no thinking at all to determine probable cause. Or could it be that the Sandiganbayan was not being pressured into a quick decision while the RTC judge was? Take your pick.
Now let’s take a look at the quality of the main witnesses. In the Estrada case, one of the main witnesses against him was bank executive Clarissa Ocampo, who testified that Estrada was a foot away from her when he affixed his “Jose Velarde” signature to a multibillion-peso bank account under that name. There were also Chavit Singson, who testified about the jueteng and tobacco kickbacks he gave to Estrada, and the heads of the Government Service Insurance System and the Social Security System who testified about his instructions to them.
In the Arroyo case, the only eyewitness to the 12-0 win by hook or by crook instructions allegedly given by her to Ampatuan is Norie Unas, Ampatuan’s provincial administrator. Unas says that during a Malacañang affair before the 2007 elections, when everybody was promising Arroyo a 12-0 senatorial win, the latter took Ampatuan to one corner (“sa isang sulok”), and gave the fateful instructions which, conveniently for the present administration, he overheard. Compare the credibility of the witnesses in the Estrada case and the credibility of Unas, who is accused by the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre to have planned the post-massacre clean-up operations using the provincial government’s backhoe.
Another interesting comparison between the two cases has to do with the behavior of the prosecution. It is reported that in the Estrada case, the ombudsman (Aniano Desierto) had to be dragged, kicking and screaming (my metaphor) to prosecute—or so the private prosecutors, all volunteers, thought, so that they even wrote to then President Arroyo to complain (see the excellent analysis written by Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism one year after the end of the impeachment proceedings against Estrada).
In the Arroyo case, the Comelec figuratively rushed to judgment, filing the charges less than two days after they received the report of the joint DOJ-Comelec panel of investigators (although the report was signed only by the Comelec investigators). Which meant that they had to meet until midnight one day and again at 7:30 a.m. the next day so that the charges could be filed before noon. Their reason for the rush? Time was of the essence, because Arroyo, unless charged and arrested, might be able to “escape.” But they ignored the incontrovertible fact that Arroyo, since stepping down from her presidency, had left the country seven times and returned seven times.
In fine, it would seem that the similarities between the Estrada and Arroyo cases are only skin deep. So karma or fate has nothing to do with what has happened to Arroyo. Revenge, perhaps? Blind hatred? Abuse of power? In any case, count me out.
P.S. I didn’t vote for her.
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