Political spin in plunder cases

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Thursday, June 19, 2014


ON APRIL 25, 2001, former president Joseph Estrada was arrested in his residence in Polk St., San Juan Metro Manila after the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant for his arrest for the plunder charge he was facing. It was an event that would lead to an attempt to oust the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a week later or on Labor Day, May 1, in what its participants call “Edsa 3.”

Erap was a popular political figure and 2001 was an election year. In fact, his arrest was made while the campaign period for the elections was playing out. The political opposition promptly used the arrest as a campaign issue. Campaign resources were used to transport people and gather them for political rallies and other protest actions.

The speeches made during the mass gatherings held after Estrada’s arrest made sure to transform what was basically a judicial proceeding into a political circus. The goal was to fire up Estrada’s supporters. And it worked, not in the context of winning the elections but in summoning the mob to launch a power grab.

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That power grab failed but Edsa 3 showed that politicians charged in court can derail the resolution of their case by wrapping judicial proceedings with the blanket of politics.

Fast forward 2014.

The Sandiganbayan has still to issue warrants of arrest for the respondents in the plunder charges filed against Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong Revilla Jr. together with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and around 30 other personalities for the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

But the scheme to attach political color to what is essentially a purely judicial matter has long played out. Even before the Department of Justice (DOJ) could charge them with plunder with the Office of the Ombudsman, Enrile, Estrada and Revilla pushed the discussion away from the merits of the case and into speculations on political motives.

The claim is that the Aquino administration is putting down possible opponents of the ruling Liberal Party in the 2016 polls. This line has been used by Revilla, who is supposedly intending to run for president, and Estrada, who has been reported earlier to be running for vice president. Enrile has been largely silent for the past several months.

Unfortunately, this strategy is working, although up to a certain extent only. It is working in the sense that it has muddled some people’s appreciation of events relating to the PDAF scam. They now find it difficult to separate the political issues from the judicial process.

But the success of the strategy is limited because I doubt if the three senators could whip up from their supporters the same kind of rage that Erap was able to conjure from his followers during “Edsa 3.” I don’t even think the three senators would benefit from it politically. It wouldn’t make Estrada and Revilla win higher posts in 2016.

By the way, Revilla may be arrested today after the Sandiganbayan first division junked yesterday his motions to determine probable cause and to defer the issuance of an arrest warrant. The junking of his motions meant that the plunder case proceeding against him will be heard and a warrant of arrest will be issued.

Revilla would be the first of the three senators charged with plunder with the Sandiganbayan for the PDAF scam to be arrested. Enrile and Estrada are still waiting for their turn. Hopefully, since the judicial proceeding is moving on, efforts to put a political color to the prosecution of the three senators will also weaken.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 20, 2014.

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