Monday, February 8, 2010

Why former President Estrada Can Run Again

 (This is a repost of a June 2009 article posted at Jesusa Bernardo's column at AllVoices)

IS FORMER Philippine President Joseph Estrada eligible to run again for the presidency in 2010? The contrary arguments basically center on the 1987 Charter's provision (Article VII, Section 4) that says "The President shall not be eligible to run for reelection." The rest of the section that the anti-Estrada opinions chooses to downplay, if not ignore, however, clearly allows the former President unseated by a military-backed coup in 2001 another crack at the presidency.

Based on the rest of the provision, the circumstances of Estrada’s 2001 fall from power exclude him from the constitutional ban on reelection. The Philippine Constitution only prohibits a "person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years … to the same office at any time." Since the group of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the EDSA II crowd deposed Estrada 2 1/2 years into his supposed 6-year term, any reelection bid by the still very popular former President should be a legal non-issue.

For Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, a 2007 senatorial aspirant and bar topnotcher, a support to this argument is the fact that Arroyo, who 'legally' succeeded Estrada via a Supreme Court decision, was allowed to run in 2004. The reelection ban applies only to an incumbent President who completed at least four years of his/her term following his/her succession to the highest office in the land. Ateneo de Manila law professor Alan Paguia supports this argument, explaining that by 'parity of reasoning,' Estrada should have the right to run in as much as Arroyo was able to run in the controversial presidential elections of 2004. Even the staunch anti-Estrada columnist and sociology professor Randy David is of the opinion that the President, whom he helped deposed by way of his participation in the ‘Estrada Resign’ movement and the EDSA 2 mob back in 2001, has the right to run again for the presidency.

Additionally, it can be argued that Estrada has every right to run again because "The President" in the same provision refers to the sitting president, which in this case is Arroyo and not Estrada who served only from June 2008 until January 2001. He has repeatedly stated his intention to run for president in the scheduled 2010 elections if the opposition will fail to field a single candidate against the administration party.

The wordings and the spirit of the Constitution are crystal clear in so far as Estrada is concerned. While the phrase “The President” may be subject to legal interpretation as to whether it refers only to the incumbent or to include former Presidents, the qualifying part that follows clearly does not prohibit those who have failed to complete at least four years of term—as is the case of Estrada. The Jesuit priest, and 1986 constitutional commissioner Joaquin Bernas leads in those who hold the opinion that Estrada should not be allowed to run in 2010. Given what should be the apparent constitutional eligibility of the ex-President, one might as well call Bernas the lead figure in the campaign to ensure that the popular Estrada does not get gain the presidency anew.

The Jesuit educator has been described as a “legal luminary” of EDSA 2. One asks what could possibly explain the ardent efforts to thwart Estrada’s future candidacy. Why can’t Bernas and company simply just let the Filipino electorate decide who is and who is not eligible to run as president or to lead the country?

The answer is in the legendary charisma and continued popularity of Estrada. Despite his demonization in the traditional media during and after the EDSA 2 coup, he remains loved by the majority of the people, as shown by surveys and by how he gets mobbed in his sorties around the Philippines. He is concededly a formidable candidate come 2010. One could even say with considerable confidence that he is practically a sure winner.

It is not hard to deduce that the Arroyo camp is doing everything to prevent an opposition victory for fear that the next administration would run after their plundered wealth. Perhaps, however, the campaign to thwart Estrada’s candidacy comes more from the fear that any fresh presidential term will represent the repudiation of the ouster of a leader properly and democratically elected in 1998. A 2010 victory for Estrada would equate to the humiliation of the mutinous spirit of EDSA 2 and those who took part in it.


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