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SC set to disqualify Joseph Estrada as mayor?

The rumor mills are rife with the speculation that the Supreme Court is about to issue its decision on the disqualification case against Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada filed by former mayor Alfredo Lim.

Estrada is disqualified from running for public office, Lim pointed out, because that was one of the conditions of his being pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Oct. 25, 2007, after he was convicted of plunder. It was Estrada himself, Lim added, who publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office. However, he ran again in 2010 for president, and lost, and subsequently for mayor of Manila, this time winning and unseating Lim.

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In his defense against Lim’s suit, Erap anchors his arguments on the last sentence of the first paragraph of the pardon’s dispositive portion: “He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.” One of these rights is the right to vote. And when a citizen is qualified to vote, he argued, he is also qualified to be voted upon—in other words, to be a candidate. In fact, Erap has already voted a few times since he was pardoned.

These are the third and fourth paragraphs of the six-paragraph pardon that are the crux of the disqualification case:

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“WHEREAS Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,

“IN VIEW THEREOF and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution, I hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of Plunder and imposed a penalty of Reclusion Perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.”

That last sentence, the Erap camp argues, restores his right to run for public office.

Those two paragraphs are actually confusing because contradictory. While the “whereas” clause says that Estrada “has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,” the dispositive portion says he is “restored to his civil and political rights,” and one of these rights is the right to vote and be voted upon.

Which is which then? Can he or can’t he run for public office?

No, he can’t, say Lim’s lawyers. Yes, he can, say his lawyers.

This is the issue that the Supreme Court has to resolve.

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Any lawyer will tell you that in a document that has “whereas” and dispositive clauses, the latter takes precedence over the former. It is the portion that makes the conclusion and gives the orders. The “whereas” clause only sets the precedent, but it is the dispositive portion that states what has to be done.

If that interpretation is correct, then Erap is qualified to run for public office, specifically for mayor of Manila. In fact, a regional trial court, a division of the Commission on Elections, and finally the Comelec en banc have dismissed, one after another, earlier petitions to disqualify him. That is why Lim ran to the Supreme Court, the court of last resort.

And it is said that “the law is what the Supreme Court says it is.” Even if it is wrong, we have to obey what the high court says. There is no higher court to correct it. The high court is the court of last resort. If it says that white is black, then black it is; if it says that a crooked line is straight, then straight it is. So if the high court rules that Erap is not qualified to run for elective office, he cannot. That is the cruelty of the law. Only history will judge the mistakes of the high court.

* * *

I do not understand why anybody would want to be mayor of Manila. It is bankrupt, deep in debt.

In August 2012, the Commission on Audit reported that the city has unpaid debts of P3.533 billion, or more than three times its cash holdings of P1.006 billion.

The COA also reported that the city has not fully paid its tax obligations to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and has not remitted employee contributions to the Government Service Insurance System, Pag-Ibig, and Philhealth.

In August 2013, The Manila Electric Co. sent the city a collection letter for P613.6 million, including P106.6 million in interest charges, for unpaid power bills.

On Nov. 13, 2013, Maynilad sent the city government another collection letter for P57.7 million for unpaid water bills. The water distribution firm warned that it would cut the water supply of Manila City Hall unless payment was made.

Last April 3, the BIR sent Mayor Estrada a collection letter for P684.4 million in unpaid tax liabilities, including income tax that the city had withheld from its employees.

Because of the reduced business activities in Manila, most of its businesses having moved to Makati, Bonifacio Global City and other districts in the metropolis, as well as reduced real estate taxes due to the drop in property values in the decaying city, the Manila government cannot collect enough taxes to pay for the salaries of its employees, for garbage collection, for crime prevention, and for other needs. Why would anybody want to be mayor of a city like that?

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TAGS: Alfredo Lim, Comelec, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, MANILA, Manila Mayor, Supreme Court
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