MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Supreme Court may have junked the disqualification case against former President and incumbent Manila mayor Joseph Estrada but Associate Justice Marvic Leonen insisted that Estrada should not have been allowed to run as Manila mayor in the first place and should never be allowed to run again in future elections.
“This case has distressing consequences on the Rule of Law. By reading an ambiguity in favor of a convicted public officer, impunity is tolerated,” he wrote in his dissent, copies of which were distributed to the media.
“Not having been unequivocally restored to a status worthy of being a repository of the public trust, there is no reason to lavish Joseph Ejercito Estrada by facilitating his reversion to elective public office,” he added.
Leonen and his two fellow dissenters, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, were overruled by the majority (11-3), which decided to junk the petition filed by Alicia Vidal, counsel of former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim, Estrada’s strongest rival in the 2013 mayoral race in Manila.
In its ruling, the high tribunal took into consideration the pardon given to Estrada in 2007 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in coming up with their decision.
“The majority characterized the pardon extended by Mrs. Arroyo to Mr. Estrada as absolute, thereby restoring Mr. Estrada’s qualifications to stand as candidate in the last mayoralty elections,” SC Public Information Office chief and spokesman Theodore Te had earlier said.
The majority ruled that the acceptance of Estrada of the absolute pardon removed the disqualifications arising under Section 40 of the Local Government Code in relation to Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code.
But in his dissent, Leonen said a reading of the pardon “as a whole, and an illumination… of the pardon’s supposed ambiguity, will lead to the same conclusion: Estrada was and remains to be disqualified.”
Leonen said it was a “grave error” of Estrada to insist that a “forgive and forget rule” applies to the pardon extended to him by Arroyo after his plunder conviction in 2007.
“Pardon does not erase the moral stain and the fact of conviction. It retains the law’s regard for a convict ‘as more dangerous to society than one never found guilty of a crime;’ the convict remains ‘deserving of punishment’ though left unpunished,” said Leonen.
The justice said there was “no categorical statement” in Arroyo’s executive clemency that said Estrada’s right to vote and be voted for elective public office are restored.
The dispositive portion of the pardon stated that Estrada “is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.”
Estrada had argued that his right to seek public office anew is considered a political right and “deemed subsumed” when pardon was extended to him.
But Leonen said Estrada’s use of “deemed subsumed” showed the former president himself acknowledges that the restoration of his rights were not “unequivocal or absolutely clear.”
“Estrada is noticeably compelled to resort to syllogism in order to arrive at the deductive conclusion that he is qualified to run. He rests his position on an inference… laden with fallacies,” said Leonen.
Leonen noted how Arroyo used the “generic and indistinct” term “civil and political rights,” instead of qualifying it as “full civil and political rights.”
“Not only did former President Arroyo choose to shy away from qualifying the restoration of Estrada’s civil and political rights as ‘full.’ She also chose to be silent on the restoration of the rights to vote and be voted for elective public office and on the remission of the penalty of absolute disqualification,” he said.
Leonen also said Lim is the qualified candidate who obtained the highest number of votes in the mayoral race in 2013, and should be proclaimed the duly elected mayor.
Leonen said the “ambiguous pardon” granted by Arroyo was a “template for our political elite at the expense of the masses who toil and suffer from the consequences of corruption.”
Leonen noted how Estrada did not spend a single day in an ordinary jail. “The person convicted of plunder now walks free among us,” he said, adding that Estrada should have “repented and suffered courageously the consequences of his past acts.”
“For in our hearts, we know that impunity, in any form, should be abhored especially when it gives advantage to the privileged and the powerful,” Leonen said. (MNS)