Return of the native

After Edsa Dos, I expressed the opinion, mainly in private, that having stepped down, and having avoided bloodshed, Joseph Estrada should be left alone in Greenhills and left to wallow in his riches. Ouster, under the circumstances, was enough. When Edsa Dos forces insisted he should be thrown in jail, again, I expressed reservations on the basis of the country remaining deeply divided, and on the principle that you do not kick a man when he is down. When the pressure to charge him and try him proved irresistible, I cautioned that pending the trial, he should still be allowed to stay in Greenhills, as humiliating him would not serve the interest of justice.

What happened of course was that he was clumsily arrested, and treated in such a manner as to provoke the Edsa Tres revolt. A revolt the forces salivating over his humiliation proved powerless to prevent or even counter. The reformist instincts of the President were swiftly abandoned at that point, when it proved her Civil Society allies couldn’t protect her; instead, the military and the operators shielded her and the inevitable slide to 2003 (her decision to run again), 2004 (the manner in which the campaign was conducted), 2005 (the divorce between the President and what remained of the reformists within her government) and 2006 began.

After having gone against her instincts and ordering the arrest of Estrada, the President always proved ambiguous about the trial and a conviction: from day one, she’d preferred exile as a solution. If that proved impossible, she would be persistent in offering a pardon. Meanwhile, she expressed no dissatisfaction with the trial being dragged out, since a quick resolution of the case wouldn’t do her any good (in the absence of a willingness, on Estrada’s part, to recognize her legitimacy by accepting a pardon from her), and while a drawn-out trial also served Estrada’s purposes (either postponing an inevitable conviction or keeping him in the limelight as some sort of self-styled prisoner of conscience), neither side seemed capable of figuring out what a possible compromise could be.

And so, earlier this year I proposed that Estrada cut the Gordian knot and run for office. It offered up a possibility for the public to resolve something the court was proving unable to do. Estrada preferred to continue posturing from his Tanay rest house. After the election, when it became clear Estrada’s endorsement was not as powerful as people had expected, and when the President for her part, saw the public mood (nationally-speaking) was completely against her, the trial began to move toward a resolution. On the day the verdict was handed down, both Estrada and Arroyo loyalists discovered they stood larger in their own minds than in the eyes of a public that shrugged off Estrada’s conviction. Both saw themselves in the mirror, and didn’t like what they saw: they saw themselves as sliding, inexorably, too, into the has-been column of the political divide.

With neither side having shown themselves as particularly devoted to the law, I felt that the whole thing should be done with, and Estrada pardoned. I did end up qualifying that opinion with a further opinion that a pardon shouldn’t include his taking home the loot. The opinion of Prof. Popoy de Vera struck me, which was, that the Filipino concept of justice is restitution and not retribution -as he later told me, besides that was the public view that Estrada shouldn’t keep his loot, and having been disgraced, he should bow out of politics.

The pardon, as it’s emerged, involves exactly that, and suggests at whom the pardon is aimed, in p.r. terms: the Estrada constituency among the masses. The pardon contains a pledge (whether meaningless or not) that Estrada will not seek elective office, and that he forfeits the properties and monies ordered confiscated by the court.

Estrada, for his part, had angled for nothing less than a full, sweeping pardon. the President, on the other hand, anxious as she was to grant that pardon, had to be able to throw some sort of bone to her constituents and so, made a counter-proposal: Estrada should accept a conditional pardon, the only condition being his being unable to keep the loot (which Estrada, after all, had unblinkingly claimed was never his). What seems to have finally clinched the deal was something personal and not political -the widely-held assumption that Estrada’s mother doesn’t have very much longer left to live.

Add to that the unappetizing prospects, for the Estrada, of continued detention (however pleasant it is, but from his perspective still an intolerable situation), his being unsure of whether he would secure the overturning of the verdict on appeal, and the chance that a future government might not be anxious to pander to him the way the President has, and you can well imagine why Estrada would want to settle things now, and forget any chance to achieve a proper vindication. Add to this, finally, the pending transfer of Estrada to New Bilibid prisons: being fingerprinted in an orange jumpsuit, shaved of his Elvis-style pompadour, having to endure a jail cell.

You can imagine, too, that the President, beset on all sides by problems of her own making, and who never wanted things to reach this point, anyway, would want to settle matters, too, and her willingness to take one more gamble by saying she’d allow his being sent to Bilibid.

And so, they sealed the deal.

I am not surprised by the pardon, and I’m generally inclined to look at it the way Torn & Frayed does (he opposed amnesty, though I think amnesty would have been more politically acceptable all around), but I think it does leave a little room for further interpretation.

It tells us that the President has more to gain in terms of good will from the Estrada constituency than she has to lose from Edsa Dos forces who will be angry, upset, and shocked, but who in the end lack what matters most to the President: numbers, in terms of votes, and a willingness to make those numbers count, whether in terms of public protests or going to the polls.That political math has been clear since May, 2001: and the losers here are the Edsa Dos veterans who are shocked and appalled, only now, not least because the folly of their support for the President has been exposed, not to the President but to themselves. As far as Estrada’s supporters are concerned he made the best out of a raw deal.

But it also tells us that Estrada is permanently incapable of saving anything beyond his own hide. In the end he had to kneel and beg for mercy from a President he’d never recognized as legitimate; he would not risk vindicating himself in the courts, the ultimate demonstration of his disbelieving his own rhetoric. He can always say what does it profit a man, if he is unable to bury his mother as a free man? As far as that goes, he’s right; but he would have been allowed to bury her anyway, but he could not allow himself to endure the prospects of the Supreme Court upholding his conviction, or worse, his being hauled off to Muntinlupa to endure the kind of imprisonment regularly endured by his constituents.

In the strange, because almost mystical, way our society manages to see rays of sunshine, public opinion had finally welcomed Estrada’s conviction as closure to the great divisions of 2001. His supporters could proclaim him a willing martyr; his critics could view it as vindication. Estrada and Arroyo both managed to deny that closure to both, and that’s the reason there’s public dissatisfaction. at least withing Edsa Dos and some Edsa Tres circles, with the deal.

One comment I heard, from some Edsa Dos veterans, was, “and he didn’t even spend a single day in jail.” I understand some Estrada supporters were upset, too, because their idol caved in and left them twisting in the wind, proclaiming the illegitimacy of an administration from which Estrada himself decided to seek a pardon only a legitimate president can grant.

What this has achieved is that it has simply reshuffled the deck chairs on the Titanic. The President removed the chains keeping steerage from joining the First Class passengers on the deck of the sinking ship. Those astute enough to realize the ship’s doomed long ago fired the distress rockets and clambered into lifeboats.

In a nation where symbolism trumps substance, Estrada never had to suffer for his rhetoric, the President never gave the legal process to reach its final conclusion; there wasn’t even a token effort at proving justice could be tempered with mercy; instead, mercenary calculations were passed off as executive mercy. But, as Amang Rodriguez so famously said, “in the long of time, we shall success.”

Much as everyone saw the pardon coming, what I don’t think anyone outside of official circles expected was for it to be used so crudely, so patently politically: a historic verdict required a historic demonstration of presidential statesmanship; instead, it was a tool used to blunt the effects of embarrassing headlines resulting from the Senate hearing; and it was a brusque dismissal of those who, all these eventful years, stubbornly insisted on giving the President the benefit of the doubt because she had to be, somehow, better than her predecessor.

What happens next? It remains to be seen whether Estrada will be grateful to Arroyo, and whether a new Arroyo-Estrada alliance is in the making. I can only hope so. It relieves the opposition of the burden of having to maintain an uneasy peace with the Estrada forces, and finally offers up the prospects for the veterans of Edsa 1 and 2 to reunite.

Then again, it may also give Estrada a new lease on political life. But the damage has been done; a free man, Estrada is free to return to engaging in his vices in full public view, and to prove himself ungrateful and incapable of doing anything for those who loyally stood by his side since his fall from power.

If Estrada were to run for the presidency again, he would lose. But he can begin investing, quite heavily, in the political futures of his sons. What that future is, remains to be seen. now he is just another ex-president. He has achieved his aims, and how minimal they turned out to be. There is nothing left for him to do, not least because who, now, will follow him after his kneeling before the President?

And as for the President, it’s back to the War Room because so many other fights still need to be fought, and any relief she obtains always proves increasingly temporary. Tuesday and Wednesday night, apparently, neophyte congressmen were brought to the Palace for their egos to be stroked. Last night, a larger meeting of all non-opposition congressmen was held at the Palace, ostensibly to survey the political situation, but possibly to consider the party line concerning the President’s cash gifts, since the governors already came up with their own excuse.

Jove Francisco chronicles how reporters found out about the pardon, which wasn’t expected to be announced until Friday. Reporters apparently take their cue from how the President color-codes her dresses: if she’s in blue, you know she’s in crisis mode. Also, Jove mentions a gathering of the Cabalens in the Palace, which made for a surreal scene:

I heard some people who witnessed the event comment that the event was a bad idea. That it won’t help their cabalen-PGMA any bit. Imagine, here’s a President who has been distancing herself from the payola issue, and then here are Mayors saying stuff like “they need the controversial cash gifts” … inside the palace mismo. In bad taste, at sino man daw nag isip, – malamang di nag iisip. Ill advised, ika nga.

As for the goings on in the Palace bunker, word is that Sec. Bunye’s assumption of the role of Acting Executive Secretary is in preparation for his assuming the role in a more permanent capacity, which is why two deputy presidential spokesmen have been appointed; Sec. Ermita, according to scuttlebutt has been given a one-way ticket to America, and before he left, he told his people to start packing their things.

The reason the announcement of the pardon was moved to Thursday, instead of Friday, when the Palace prefers to make big announcements so it has the weekend to survey the scene and gage public reaction, is chronicled in turn by Uniffors. It’s a great read. And explains why the Palace dispensed with its only make breaking news as the weekend starts rule of thumb.

For a roundup of blogger’s reactions to the pardon, see

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

364 thoughts on “Return of the native

  1. tagabukid on, “Iba na ang guilty”

    Even murderers are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you think Gloria is guilty, impeach her. But majority in the congress donot think she is. Their vote is more important than yours. If they are wrong, you should run and be a congressman, so you can impeach a president.

  2. the cat on “but if you really talk to the engineers they are just there for “assembly work” not the 5 year course they studied for. There is no “technology transfer.”

    This is the good point to illustrate that one cannot expect the Philippines to suddenly jump and become a technology hub, much less expect a government to be just like that. Technology is private domain, not government. If Bill Gates chose to get employed in Digital Equipment Corp, we would not know today Microsoft. The driver should be the Filipino engineers who have the technical knowledge but have no guts to go personal business.Again to Gloria haters, don’t blame the government.

  3. dodong,

    Problem is, the engineers with probably Bill Gates potential are mostly working as OFWs. So if the government does not lay the groundwork conducive to the “private domain” its a case of “which comes first the chicken or the egg?”
    Its a matter of policy, re Industrial Reforms, this is basically government initiated. How long have we had the Export Processing Zones, since the time of Marcos? From that time to now would have been sufficient enough to jump to technology hub, as other countries have done in less time.
    Its not just a matter of hating Gloria, its hating what she has been doing and failed to do, as the presidents that came before her as far as this area is concerned. If its as simple as “hate Gloria” it would have been easier, its “hate lack of satisfactory results.” As result-oriented individuals I believe we deserve the right to expect the same (or more) from our leaders.
    Its a matter of management. Its a matter of leadership, “lead us to where?” Genuine leadership shows, nobody can fake it, the people will notice it – and its getting obvious.

  4. and dodong,

    If ever you will hold a leadership position in the future, the job description is summed up as “ITS ALL MY FAULT.”

  5. ramrod on, “So if the government does not lay the groundwork conducive to the “private domain” its a case of “which comes first the chicken or the egg?”

    So why Henry Sy and Henry Zobel businesses flourish? No private domain in the Philippines? Henry Sy started a small shoe store in Quiapo. You don’t have to go to industrial reforms, instead just talk of simple, actual, real business in the Philippines that works and Filipinos can understand. No need of chicken and egg mentality.

  6. ramrod on, “As result-oriented individuals I believe we deserve the right to expect the same (or more) from our leaders.”

    You cannot be result-oriented bad mouthing the government on business sector when you have not contributed to the Philippine business society. That is funny. You should try create business and employ Filipinos. When you failed in that endeavor, then come back and bad mouth the government.

  7. ramrod, “Its a matter of management. Its a matter of leadership, “lead us to where?”

    Right. Pretty much obvious. Majority of Filipinos like you wanted to be lead into( where?). Hehe. That is the root cause why Philippines is LABOR economy and less of BUSINESS economy. Look at the western economy, the driving force is the business sector. Again, Filipinos rather go passive, be an employee and have the audacity to demand wage increase because of high prices. Excuse me that is not going to work.

  8. “If ever you will hold a leadership position in the future, the job description is summed up as “ITS ALL MY FAULT.”

    You cannot tell, huh because you never been there. I tell you from my experience, subordinates always complains.

  9. ramrod on, “Its not just a matter of HATING Gloria, its HATING what she has been doing and failed to do”.

    After Gloria, the hating cycle continues. Because you are waiting for messiah to uplift your standard of living. That is not going to happen. Typical of Filipino character, passive and hateful. No wonder politics is the number one activity of Filipinos. Opps, don’t go ballistic. To put in the proper context, if Filipinos strive on business to generate opportunities for others as well, instead of becoming utusan (therefore hateful) the discussion would be different.

  10. dodong,

    Right now I’m with one of the biggest global conglomerates based in Europe. The things I’ve seen will probably make you faint. Efficiency at its best, benefits and compensationa at the 100 percentile, yes we even have gyms in the plants and administrative offices. I do not believe in messiahs, except Jesus Christ of course, if ever I believe in the unlimited potential of any individual to uplift himself and even surpass the foreigners you worship so much.
    It is my belief that the Philippines can reach this level, the governments of these countries were not sitting down, thses literally paved the way for business to flourish. Not “help each other to the taxpayers money.” If you ever are in the Philippines you should talk to the businessmen themselves like I do and you’ll see the whole picture. I never did years before because I was abroad.
    As I said, I believe we deserve better, we are contributing to the Philippine economy directly in the billions. I doubt you can say the same…But then again, you are free to say anything you want, talk is cheap…

  11. Henry Sy?

    Are you at all familiar with his business? Are you aware of how he conducts business?
    Do your homework, look closely at the things you are interested in…

    Have you ever wondered why people like me insist on something better when I could easily just whisk off my family to another country like so many others? Do you have any idea what love og country is? Have you ever served your country? I have, click my handle so that you will know me bettter. Are you even a Filipino citizen? Are you an OFW deligently sending money to folks at home? Are you even a taxpayer?
    If not just blog on and enjoy what you’re doing, at least it’ll keep you from getting bored. You continue what it is you’re doing…

  12. “even surpass the foreigners you worship so much.”

    That tells how proud you are of the defense conglomerate that provides the benefits to you that most Filipinos dream about. Very impressionalistic. That entitles you to ask the same of your Philippine government? There is a wide disconnect here.

    Your conglomerate is run by profit objectives. Philippine government is hemorrhaging of infightings on limited resources, thanks to destabilization of useless peoples power. No comparison. Do your homework. Do business in the Philippines so you can implement the benefits (to Filipinos) that you have enjoyed, am sure you should have no problems because you have the insights of learned & experienced person working in a very efficient and effective defense conglomerate.

    Another misconception is your remittance in billions. It does not translate into government revenue to be used to pay cost and services of running the government.

  13. “defense conglomerate”

    i assume of european eads…now i know of the swedish-finnish forest product company with 30+% gp…not bad…

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