MANILA -- A former leader advised the camp of ousted President Joseph Estrada not to rejoice much as the poll body's decision dismissing his disqualification case can still be appealed and eventually overturned.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) earlier ruled that Estrada can continue his bid for the presidential seat once more in the coming May elections, junking the disqualification cases filed against him by lawyer Evilio Pormento, Elly Pamatong and Marilou Estrada "due to lack of merit" and "for failure to comply with rules."
But another former President, Fidel V. Ramos, said in an ambush interview Wednesday that while the Comelec ruling must be respected and accepted, it is not yet final.
"That's good but we must understand there are more steps to be taken and I'm sure whoever petitioned for his original disqualification by the Comelec will take the next step, so it's not yet over," he said.
Ramos said the dismissal of the disqualification case does not also mean or guarantee victory just like the results of recent surveys.
His statement was echoed by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who said the poll body's decision may still be appealed in the Supreme Court (SC) which is the "final arbiter" of the case.
The same division also junked the disqualification case filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is running for congresswoman in the second district of Pampanga, also by Pamatong, citing that there is no law that prohibits a former president from running for Congress.
Estrada, who personally appeared in the promulgation hearing and was accompanied by his son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, senatorial bet Jose de Venecia III, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, and FPJ Movement For Peace & Democracy (FPJMTD) President Rez Cortes, thanked the poll body for its decision Wednesday.
"I want to thank of course the Comelec commissioners for their sense of fairness. I would say that this is not my victory alone but the victory of the Filipino people and our democracy," Estrada said.
The Pwersa ng Masa (PMP) standard bearer also said the poll body's decision has lifted the cloud of doubt hanging on his presidential bid.
"Now the people know that it is all systems go for my candidacy in the May elections," he said.
The petitioners said Estrada is banned from running in the presidential elections due to a constitutional ban on former chief executives from seeking reelection.
Estrada's lawyers, however, argued that the ban applies only to those who have served as president for more than four years or the full term.
Estrada served for only two-and-a-half years. He assumed office in June 1998 but was removed from office after Edsa 2, a military-backed revolt in January 2001.
In September 2007, he was convicted by the Sandiganbayan, the country's anti-graft court, for plunder, sentenced to a lifetime in jail, and disqualified from seeking public office.
A month later, however, President Arroyo granted him executive clemency, thus restoring his political and civil rights, including his right to seek public office. He has since reiterated his eligibility to run, saying that he was not covered by the reelection ban under the 1987 Constitution.
"In the Constitution, only those incumbent presidents and who completed his tenure of office of six years are disqualified," Estrada said.
Erap's running mate, Makati mayor Jejomar Binay, also welcomed the Comelec decision even as he said the disqualification petition lacked merit.
"The decision should put to rest all questions on President Erap's eligibility to run and his determination to serve the masses as the next President of the republic," Binay said.
On the disqualification case against Arroyo that was also junked by the Comelec Wednesday,
First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said the poll body's ruling proves that the charges are baseless, citing that it is Pamatong himself who is a "nuisance".
The President's husband also branded Pamatong's complaints as a form of "harassment".
Macalintal, who is the election lawyer of President Arroyo, said the dismissal of the case was expected citing the lack of merit of the complaint.
"There's no basis to disqualify President Arroyo. The Constitution does not prohibit an elected president to run for other position, except president; If Comelec could allow Erap (Estrada) to run again for the same position, what more reason President Arroyo should be allowed to run since she is seeking a different position," he said.
Macalintal likewise expressed confidence that other disqualification cases against Arroyo would also be dismissed in the future.
For his part, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said everyone should respect and accept the Comelec decision instead of criticizing or questioning the poll body's credibility.
Ermita admitted that the Comelec decision affirming Estrada's candidacy would have both negative and positive effects on the candidacy of administration presidential bet, former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., as well as in other candidates.
He said Estrada supporters who were earlier hesitant to vote for him due to the disqualification cases may now continue their support for the former president or opt to just vote for their previous choice prior to the decision of the Comelec. (JMR/AH/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)