Arroyo spurns chance to bolster anti-graft fight

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2007, 12:00am

If ever there was an example of indecent haste, it is in the rush to pardon former Philippine president Joseph Estrada. It is an affront to the nation's people and to the rule of law comparable with his grave breach of trust while in high office. A special anti-graft court sentenced the actor-turned-politician only last month to life in jail for plunder of the people's property during his 21/2 years in power.

The ruling, handed down by a panel of eminent judges, reflects the seriousness of such a crime in a country plagued with corruption at every level of society.

Yesterday Mr Estrada was walking free at his home in a Manila suburb, and boasting that his pardon from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not involve an admission of guilt.

If he believed he had not had justice, he still had legal rights as a convicted person that remained to be exhausted, such as a motion to the court that sentenced him for a reconsideration or an appeal to the Supreme Court, before exploring a pardon or a general amnesty by congress.

Mrs Arroyo's decision to wait no longer before forgiving Mr Estrada is being openly linked to the fact that her family, associates and government are accused of fraud in numerous cases either being investigated or already before the courts. She also stands to gain favour with supporters of Mr Estrada, who won the presidency by a record margin in 1998.

The pardon could therefore turn out to be good for Mrs Arroyo too. Claims that she has acted for the good of the nation ring hollow. Having had a hand in Mr Estrada's removal from the presidency by unconstitutional means, if for good reason, she had a duty to restore respect for the office.

The case against Mr Estrada was conducted under the law in accordance with the constitution. A pardon, let alone an indecently hasty one, undermines the rule of law in the Philippines.

It sends the wrong message. By resisting the pressure and temptation to forgive Mr Estrada, Mrs Arroyo could have reinforced the fight against corruption and faith in the judicial system.