Thursday, September 13, 2007 [ 10:14 AM ]
MERE PASSING OF BURDEN
As all of us should know by now, former President Joseph Estrada was declared by the Sandiganbayan yesterday guilty of the crime of plunder and was sentenced a penalty of reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years in prison. (Former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa defined the difference between life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua here) Part of the decision is the acquittal of the former president in the crime of perjury and the acquittal as well of Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Atty. Eduard Serapio in the crime of plunder as co-accused of Erap.
Yet again, the country is divided, maybe not equally but divided just the same on whether the decision made by the graft court is right or wrong. Obviously, it has been rightly predicted that an acquittal on all charges is unlikely to happen because it will heavily put in question the already tarnished legitimacy of the present administration. But unlike what the media made it looked like, yesterday’s decision is not the end of it. Though it is the end of the 6-year long trial in the Sandiganbayan, it’s not yet the end of the legal process.
Whether the Erap lawyers decide first to file a motion for reconsideration in the Sandiganbayan (something that Sen.Miriam Defensor-Santiago said is not possible anymore because the decision was already “beyond reasonable doubt”) in the end it will be the Supreme Court who will have the final say on the matter. Of course, the Sandiganbayan knows this and it seems that they just decided to pass on their burden to a court of higher credibility.
Though they may look audacious in convicting the former president in the heavier crime of plunder, what they did was just to pass the ball to the higher court. Although there were accessory penalties given to Estrada, the court still was not brave enough to allow his detention in Muntinlupa. This is even after the declaration of Atty.Rene Saguisag that his client is willing to be detained in a regular prison. Not to mention how Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro kept ignoring Atty.Dennis Villaignacio’s attempt to insist that Muntinlupa is ready to accommodate the former president. So what’s the difference?
The situation of Erap before the decision is not so much different after the Sandiganbayan’s decision was made. He will stay in Tanay, Jinggoy is back to the senate and his lawyers are back on the court to defend their client. It’s just the same. The only difference is that this time, it will only be Erap alone who will wait for the final verdict and the decision lies on the Supreme Court. With the way I look at it, we’re back in square one just with a different court and a lesser number of accused.
HERE is a pdf file of the full decision of the Sandiganbayan I got from Manolo Quezon’s blog.