Pardon for Estrada would undercut justice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am

Little more than a week has passed since ousted Philippine president Joseph Estrada was sentenced to life imprisonment for plunder. But his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is ready to consider granting him a pardon. She may have good reason for thinking about such a move, but in the interests of the rule of law and good governance, the decision of the nation's anti-graft court must stand.

Corruption is the bane of the Philippines, being pervasive at all levels of society. Estrada was convicted of a charge considered even more serious: plunder. Pardoning him would make light of a scourge that the country knows must be eradicated, but which its leaders are only tackling tentatively.

Mrs Arroyo had a hand in Estrada's removal from office. That the former actor who took the presidency in 1998 with a record victory margin still garners considerable support is problematic.

Her family, associates and government also stand accused of fraud in numerous cases that are either being investigated or are before the courts. The amounts involved in some are even more than Estrada was found guilty of taking.

In such circumstances, forgiving the former president for his transgressions would win her a modicum of favour with a large sector of the electorate. Opposition politicians trying to have her impeached would also look sympathetically on such a decision.

But the worth of such thinking is of political value only. Mrs Arroyo claims to have the good of the nation at heart and a pardon is good only for her, not the Philippines.

The case took six years of investigation and legal procedures. It is not over - the Supreme Court has still to review the decision.

Throughout, the process has taken place under the law of the land - the constitution. To swiftly follow the ruling of the country's foremost judges with a pardon would be to undermine the rule of law in the Philippines.

Mrs Arroyo should resist pressure to absolve Estrada of wrongdoing. This way, she can ensure that tackling corruption has the highest priority and faith in the judicial system is maintained.