The lowest depths of political opportunism

President Arroyo has granted pardon to former President Estrada, a convicted plunderer whose ouster via People Power II paved the way for her assumption to the presidency in 2001.

Mrs. Arroyo has a moral duty to explain to the public the reasons for her grant of pardon for Estrada. She owes us an explanation because her signature sent all the efforts of the citizenry, the prosecutors and the judiciary down the drain. She took away from us the rare chance of seeing a deposed president sent to the National Bilibid Prison as what befalls the fate of persons convicted for plunder. That would’ve have been a sight to remember, a sight that will send shivers down the spines of those who will dare mimic Estrada and his antics.

This is not about reconciliation, a word that I expect Palace spin doctors will abuse to the hilt in the next few days. But there’s reconciliation and reconciliation. There are fakes and there’s the genuine article. Fake ones result in national shame. Genuine ones, like the reconciliation in South Africa at the end of apartheid, bring nations to levels of greatness and widespread admiration. It is doubtful that this is about reconciliation. There’s “politics of survival” written all over it, and it the handwriting belongs to GMA.

Make no mistake about it: I was critical of Estrada during his entire presidency and won’t ever forget his war on Mindanao, the economic mismanagement and the immoralities while he held public office. But he is no longer the main issue. The eye of any brewing storm of protests must target the one who signed the papers setting him free. It appears that Arroyo has sensed a strategic defeat for her allies, with no one in her coalition capable of winning the 2010 elections. She needs a graceful exit free from the shame of criminal proceedings that met Estrada after fleeing the Palace on Jan. 20, 2001. She perhaps thinks that an Estrada pardon will ensure this.

Arroyo’s grant of pardon for Estrada projects a very bothering and uninspiring image of the Philippines before the world. Arroyo portrays the country as some place where crime actually pays. Impunity whether in political killings or plunder remain unchecked. There is no sense of accountability in the highest offices of the land. Of course, we are safe to assume that these are less important or unimportant than Arroyo’s survival until 2010.

Arroyo forgets one important thing in her calculations. She forgets about the Filipino people. She forgets that anyone and I expect many of us will not hesitate filing charges against her once she loses presidential immunity from suit. We will make sure she will be made accountable for all the damage, actual and moral, that she has wreaked on the nation. The post-Arroyo regime may be uninterested in filing cases against her (in the same way that she floated exile for Estrada just days after becoming president, and dragged her feet on the filing of plunder cases), but there will surely be citizens’ initiatives to bring her to justice.

Whether this latest act of super-opportunism by Arroyo will lead to her removal from office, it will be the people who will ultimately decide.

Photos courtesy of Asiaweek and CNN websites.

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