Reflections on a Verdict of Plunder

Gomez is a trustee of Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror September 18, 2007 edition, p. A10.

I had turned on the television expecting a show—something dramatic. Days before, news programs were trumpeting the impending event. Media coverage juxtaposed former President Estrada’s supporters with the 6000 policemen that were going to be deployed in the metropolis. Were these forces going to be pitted against each other? Was there going to be another EDSA 3?

Or had some backroom compromise been worked out? In Philippine politics, one never knows. During the impeachment trial, “Erap’s” allies in the Senate had avidly blocked the prosecution’s moves in order to defend the former President. It seemed at the time that they were staunchly for him. Period. Right or wrong.  But, when election time came around and the administration of his arch-enemy held the kitty for campaign funds, they had no compunction about shifting their loyalties and running under her ticket. We have seen this type of political behavior not once, but many times, and I felt a sense of a satisfaction and even pride in the Filipino that roundly rebuked it by not voting them into office.

The cameras in the courtroom faced front, focused only on the judges and the clerk of court that read out the dispositive portion of the verdict, “beyond reasonable doubt, guilty of the crime of plunder.”  I wanted to see “Erap’s” reaction. Had he expected it? Was he shocked, angered or saddened by it? I wanted to hear him say something in his own behalf. But, while the court briefly took up the question of his place of detention, the former President was only able to advise the court, through his lawyer, Atty. Rene Saguisag, that he was not seeking any special treatment and was willing to be detained at any facility that the court saw fit for him to serve out his sentence, “reclusion perpetua.”

Having watched the impeachment trail, I am not of the belief that the former President was innocent of the charges brought against him. But, emotionally, the guilty verdict gave me no satisfaction. I found myself experiencing a deep sense of compassion for his plight. For in this case, justice was meted out in the midst of rampant and blatant injustice. It is a selective justice and others whose crimes surely far outweigh his have gone scot-free and are able still to pursue and carve out their interests at the expense of the public they are sworn to serve.

One commentator opined that the guilty verdict means that nobody is above the law, no matter how rich they are. No one?  Or just not this one?  A friend wistfully opined that the guilty verdict could be a precedent, to take other public criminals before the bar of justice. That would be a good thing—meting out justice to all those who deserve its censure. Unfortunately, I have little faith that such will be the consequence of this plunder trial. There is little indication that those who plunder our wealth and abuse the privileges of public office are wont to take this event as a warning to avoid wrongdoing. Based on their past and present behavior, it appears more likely that they will dispense more largesse to their accomplices and seek to perpetrate their positions of privilege and in order to avoid future accountability.

In the course of the six years that he has been imprisoned, I have not seen him cower nor be cowed by the extreme political pressures brought to bear against him and his family. Marcos and Imelda certainly did not have to go through as much. Even if I was at EDSA 2, former President Estrada has earned from me, a not insignificant measure of respect.

I have begun to understand what it is the Filipino masses saw in him. Better- educated individuals have scoffed at him with statements like, “He should learn that reel life is nothing at all like real life.”  Aside from taking a dig at his lack of academic achievement, the statement implies that even if Erap was a hero in the movies, he is mistaken if he thinks he can be a hero in real life. And yet, I am beginning to wonder if this man who is much loved by many and much maligned by a few, does not, after all, possess some qualities that are the stuff of heroes. Certainly, few of these much better- educated clowns holding public office have a sense of principle that outweighs their greed or fear of potential losses.

I have watched former President Estrada put up the good fight. He did not try to buy himself back into power, compromise his opposition or deal himself into the good graces of this administration. Although he will pay for it dearly, I think he should persist in this path. By doing so, he has nurtured and will continue to deserve the adulation that millions of Filipinos have for him.

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