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Sep 25

The Long View: Referendum on Estrada

THE LONG VIEW
Referendum on Estrada
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Inquirer
Last updated 00:45am (Mla time) 09/25/2006
Published on page A15 of the September 25, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE LATE TEODORO M. LOCSIN SR. ONCE made an observation about power, and how holding it too long and without challenge dulled the mind, corroded the spirit and would eventually prove self-defeating. Not only that, questioning power, after it has been monopolized by a single person or a single group, was pointless because it is asking for too little, too late.

“The voice of moderation,” he wrote, “pleading for due process of law under an absolute despotism, arguing the possibility of persuading the tiger to change its stripes and cease to be a tiger, does not know the tiger. Asking the tiger and the lamb to lie down together in gentleness – as though it were possible – disarms the lamb and feeds the tiger. It is a form of pharisaism: doing evil with a good conscience. Ultimately, the tiger, grown dull and stupid from undisputed rule, fails to distinguish between friend and food and devours not only lamb but pharisee.”

The point is not to wait for a dictatorship or a one-party state to descend upon us, but to insist that not any of these two should ever be established at all. What Locsin Sr. wrote after a long life, his son, Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., underscored in a blunt privilege speech last week. The give-and-take of democracy, which provides “a sense of perpetual motion and perennial wide-open possibility, so that no one despairs of being permanently left out, every pig is able to hope for its moment at the trough, and every dog shall have his day.”

The best antidote then to the mind- and soul-numbing narcotic of power is a democratic system that assures everyone that no one, and no group, will ever hold on to power indefinitely. As Locsin Jr. put it, “To tell the people that with a parliamentary system our politics will be so stable, that they (people) will have to live with our faces in perpetuity, is to provoke them to the last extremity.” That extremity being rebellion or, at least, perpetual strife leading to exhaustion then death for the body politic. The human body does something similar when faced with starvation: it begins to consume itself, in a desperate gamble to function long enough to find food.

Here’s a question: can our country afford the continuing division? In her closest brush with statesmanship, President Macapagal-Arroyo said the country couldn’t afford to be permanently divided, and offered herself as a sacrifice. That period of sacrifice proved short-lived, and the division continues. The debate is now reduced to: which of three things – time, a new constitution, or bayonet – will put an end to that division?

The politically unconcerned or frustrated are relying on time to solve all things, with an eye to a mythical stepping-down in 2010. The administration hopes to keep itself in power through a new, oligarchic constitution. There are those who continue to dream of bayonets cutting through the political impasse, as the Thai army just did.

Since the Palace and its “pandering puppies of positivism” – as one pundit calls Ms Arroyo’s sycophants – have their winner-take all solution (which is no solution), and since whatever one says about the Estrada-oriented forces, they’re the only ones who’ve paid a real price (in mainstream politics, at least) for their opposition, then a way forward may depend on Joseph Estrada himself.

Some time ago I wrote that Estrada deserved a speedy resolution of the charges leveled against him. It seems clear, though, that the government can’t afford a verdict handed down either way (if Estrada is acquitted, administration allies will rebel; if he’s convicted, his mass base will be infuriated); so, paralyzed by the political dilemma presented by Estrada, its solution is to keep him in detention and drag out the trial. At this point, the country should have already known if it owed Estrada an apology or if he should stay in jail (where he could decide on accepting or rejecting a pardon). It still doesn’t, and I don’t see how our people will ever know – or whether, by now, anyone can still hold the opinion – that Estrada has gotten a fair trial.

Since Ms Arroyo can’t move on, Estrada should (and offer the country the chance to) move on, too. Forget the argument that Estrada is still President. His support for Fernando Poe Jr. proved that life is not like science fiction. Time cannot stop, it continues. But time is running out. The only thing that can stop Estrada from running for senator is a parliament, and the administration knows this.

Facing a people bitterly divided on the issue of officials who collaborated with the Japanese, President Manuel Roxas issued an amnesty which Congress approved. The amnesty covered people such as the head of the Japanese-sponsored republic, Jose P. Laurel. However, Laurel did not view it a particularly convincing resolution and tried to put closure to the issue, first by running for the presidency in 1949 and then by successfully being elected to the Senate in 1951. He considered it his political vindication, or at least, rehabilitation. For the same reason, when someone asked me my opinion on the election of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Loi Ejercito, I said the public had spoken in their favor – in an ultimate and unquestionable referendum on the charges against them.

Former President Estrada should do the same. He should run for the Senate. The government cannot stop him from campaigning from his detention house. And since his trial has become a hostage to the political survival of the government, he owes it to himself and his supporters – and a country still divided – to be judged according to the jury of millions. Though in the end I think the best justification for this route is a humanitarian one: which is, that Doña Mary Ejercito deserves the chance to see the people render an unquestionable judgment on her son.

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