COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
The Sandiganbayan’s handing down of its verdict on the criminal charges filed against deposed President Joseph Estrada turned out to be the non-event of the year. A few spectacles proved to be more telling; like the government’s security preparations verging on paranoia or Chiz Escudero’s loyal defense of his political boss while being interviewed at Transparency International in Al Jazeera Live, or the former president becoming wary of being airlifted back to Tanay.
Just late of last year, we witnessed the sentence of 40 years imprisonment handed down to U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith for rape after only a year of court proceedings. The verdict marked a triumph of the justice system in our country against great odds. In any event, that landmark case gave us an assurance that justice can be worked out in the Philippine court. This is a step towards political stability and the rule of law.
Now this plunder case against deposed President Joseph Estrada which has dragged on for six years again gives us a show for the rule of law, even though how petty the guilty charges appear compared to the scams and corruptions going on in public service. The gravity of the offense is not much on how much money was taken (the Filipino people are used to being robbed) but more on the accountability of public officials, especially with Estrada occupying the highest post of the land.
This accountability of public officials I hope should be a rallying call for everyone concerned in the succeeding years to come and not let Estrada’s case be a “mere show of crime and punishment” to wash our collective guilt. For, let us say, if Estrada was able to receive P545M in illegal gambling payoffs in a matter of twenty-two months then who started receiving these big payoffs after him and way long, long before him. Jueteng is not dead.
It has to take Joseph Estrada for us to have a whole spectacle of this show of crime and punishment. He has been game enough in the whole process – no histrionics, no destability ploys, no dead witnesses, no escape moves or evasions. The public is being made to believe that we can prosecute without fear, stand as a witness without fear, and convict a man in power without fear.
But then again, Joseph Estrada is still subconsciously seen as an actor who happens to be president of the republic. You can observe this during the impeachment trial where it seemed so easy to be standing witness against the man; mostly even by women who took turns testifying against him. No fear that they’ll end up cold turkey if it were another man; a fascist landlord perhaps, a political kingpin, a top military or police official, or a big drug lord for that matter.
It has to take Joseph Estrada for us to learn and savor a nuance of the rule of law. That being done; now let the real criminals, murderers and robbers of this nation be tried and hanged.