Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Erap convicted of plunder: A tragedy

I have been monitoring the developments after President Joseph "Erap" Estrada was convicted of capital offence of plunder. He is the first one ever brought to court and convicted. Erap will have to serve a lifetime sentence (40 years maximum) for the crime, the death penalty being abolished by Congress.

I tried to read the Sandiganbayan court's decision online but as expected the site hosting it exceeded its bandwidth. Nonetheless the case should set a precedent and lawyers, deans of law schools and legal scholars have begun to dissect the ruling. While the lawyers will look at the merits and demerits of the ruling and also looking at the apparent weakness of the defence, the case has reopened the debate on what should have been settled by the courts and that is whether the form of Erap's abandonment of the Palace at the height of the EDSA II ruckus constituted a resignation.

Resignation requires a written notice at best or at least an emphatic "I quit" as all employees know. In fact the declarative "I quit!" is enough to tell your boss you are not under his/her authority anymore.

In the case of Erap's abandonment of his post the Supreme Court relied on circumstantial evidence to define what a "constructive resignation" is. Hilario Davide's Supreme Court went beyond what the English Parliament did in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when it handed the crown to the Protestant William of Orange.

But in England then as is now Parliament is surpreme and is the elected representative of the Commons. It cannot be bound by the court but is reigned in by convention and public opinion. Constitutional experts say with jest and gravitas that Parliament can hand the succession to a dog! This is to say that Parliament may pass an act to determine the succession something that Henry VIII's Parliament did so many times. When asked about whether to recognise the Princess Elizabeth as heir to the throne, Thomas More was said to reply "The King in Parliament tells me so."

The Supreme Court (a servant of the Constitution) did what the Constitution as our sovereign does and this is to determine the succession. This new state of affairs we have here is that we may have a court that is bound by nothing not even the Law it is sworn to uphold. This is the point of many commentaries on the Erap resignation.

Is the Supreme Court our sovereign? It does not even represent you and me. It is nothing but a servant of the Constitution like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

While there is a case to convict Erap of plunder (he was a complete disaster as President), the verdict is played on the larger tragedy of a weakened Constitution thanks to Davide's Supreme Court and the fascistic tryst of Gloriana using dubious means to subvert the constitution.

The impeachment trial should have been brought to its conclusion for the sake of the Constitution.

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