Barely two months after her triumphant State of the Nation Address in July boasting of her economic achievements and laying the foundations for a robust Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has many reasons to fear for her own future.
One reason is the incarceration of former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada for plunder of about US$80 million from illegal gambling during his presidency, the second is the release from detention of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison in the Netherlands for insufficient evidence in the murder trial of two former allies, both occurring last Thursday (13 September).
Controversy is now raging over a possible amnesty for Estrada. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, spokesperson of Estrada's Partido ng Masang Pilipino, told the media that Estrada felt victimized by the “political decision” of the courts. As such, Estrada “is open to the idea of amnesty” for the sake of national reconciliation but is adamant that signing such an agreement with Arroyo’s government should not in any way signify his guilt over the misappropriation of money, or that he was being “pardoned”. Even National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has advised that freeing Estrada would be the safest course for thePhilippines rather than amnesty. Gonzales said, “In my view, the people will make their own verdict. I think President Estrada should now be freed. The question of guilt should no longer be discussed.”
Conversely, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol has declared that Estrada must make the first move if he wants to reclaim liberty. Apostol said, “Estrada must apply for amnesty. He must formally ask for it. If the Palace were to offer it to him and he refused, then President Arroyo would be embarrassed.” Given Estrada’s legendary popularity among the rural poor, Erap’s (Estrada’s nickname) conviction only makes the erstwhile wavering public support for Arroyo even weaker. Surveys showed that the people were more than ready to pardon their film-star hero. Incredibly enough, people wanted “wanted Erap acquitted, given a lighter sentence or pardoned if found guilty”.
Now that the Philippine courts have set a precedent of convicting former presidents, there is no telling that the same fate will not fall upon Arroyo in the near future. To be sure, Arroyo has been “accused of many wrongdoings” but has managed to escape unscathed as “she has the backing of the House of Representatives or because the citizenry has been overcome by ‘people power’ fatigue”. However, another of her enemies, the CPP, has said that the way Estrada has been treated is fuelling the public resolution to “punish” Arroyo for her alleged crimes. The CPP declared, “In convicting Estrada, Gloria Arroyo has succeeded only in heightening the people’s desire to punish her innumerable crimes of plunder and murder, and put an end to her regime and the entire rotten system of government in the country.” It added that the “people are growing extremely indignant and exasperated at the crimes of plunder and murder committed by Arroyo against the Filipino people”.
The threat for Arroyo from the CPP is very real. After the release from a Dutch prison of self-exiled CPP leader Sison, the government is bracing for armed attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA), particularly in Metro Manila.
Government officials are trying hard to provide evidence so that Sison will be convicted. “His release does not remove the fact that he had a hand in the killings here and we will continue our effort to strengthen measures to prove that he really was involved,” said military spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro. However, the government will let the Netherlands make all the moves. Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said, “It was an initiative of the Dutch country. The next move should come from it because they initiated it.” Therefore, the only way the Philippine government will act is if the widows of former communist leaders Arturo Tabara and Romulo Kintanar will re-file their complaint against Sison in the Philippines.
Palace to Erap: Seek amnesty first, don’t embarrass Arroyo (GMA News, 17 September 2007）
Businessmen still cautious after verdict (Inquirer, 17 September 2007)
Estrada open to amnesty, says ally (Inquirer, 16 September 2007)
Freeing Estrada is in RP’s best interest, says Gonzales (Inquirer, 15 September 2007)
Estrada verdict politically motivated (Inquirer, 15 September 2007)
Palace to Erap: Accept pardon, it’s like getting ‘acquittal’（GMA News, 15 September 2007）
CPP: Erap conviction whetting appetite to punish Arroyo (Inquirer, 15 September 2007)
Dutch not easing up on Joma (Inquirer, 15 September 2007)
Gov’t braces for NPA raids (Inquirer, 15 September 2007)
Philippines to bolster bid to prove communist leader's role in murder cases (AP, 14 September 2007)PNP wary of NPA attacks following Joma's release (GMA News, 14 September 2007)
Estrada conviction forebodes ill for Arroyo (Inquirer, 13 September 2007)
The final hiccup of an Eraptured life? (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)