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Why not going to law school was the right decision

by Marissa de Guzman

If this trial has achieved anything, it has been to convince this twenty-something of two things: 1) that the rumors about Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's status mentis are patently true; and 2) that my much-criticized decision not to enter UP law school after being accepted was the right one.

Let me tell you why.

Calls for an Estrada resignation began nineteen months into his presidency. As early as the first quarter last year, civil society realized Joseph Ejercito Estrada was not the leader this country needed to move ahead and survive the financial crisis. What was evident even then was the President's lack of political will, policy, and vision to lead the country in the new millennium. Various groups organized themselves into Erap Resign movements in the hope that Estrada would listen to substantiated claims that he was not, is not, and will not be fit, capable, worthy of being President of the Philippines.

As early as January 2000, Estrada's lackluster performance, his apparent touch-and-go scheme of running national and international matters, his devil-may-care resolve in handling crises and problems, and the reckless abandon with which he leaves everything to chance in the face of sticky situations have turned off the Filipinos. We realized we cannot stick it out with a President who does not know what he is doing and who seemed to be comfortable and content in his perpetual state of uncertainty (some prefer ignorance).

To the public, he seemed unfit, unwilling, unprepared, uninformed and even unimpassioned to govern a country. Controversies hounding his presidency ranged from his incessant gambling and drinking sprees, his shameless womanizing, his lack of political will and program to get the Philippines out of crisis-state, and his obvious incapacity to be President. His thirty economic advisers only proved his inability to decide for himself and his ignorance on how to save the country from further crises. He was the President often caught drunk on the job. For how else can he explain his statements on some days which he would then refute and contradict the very next day? Often he would blame others, media mostly, for misinterpreting whatever he says. That seemed to be his security blanket, his last recourse for all his boo-boos. He was also the President who pardoned a criminally charged felon guilty of manslaughter for eating a priest's flesh and organs. This obviously enraged the nation. Realizing his mistake, his explanation was as President he always had a pile of paperwork on his desk waiting to be signed and maybe, most probably, this particular case slipped his better judgment. To the public, this was not sound, acceptable or logical explanation. At most, it was an excuse for a grave mistake. And it was a costly mistake the public could not bear the President to commit again.

From then on, rallies have been everyday staples. More and more people felt the country could not go on and prosper under the same leadership or the lack of it. People feared that if Estrada were to remain in office, the Philippines would dig a deeper hole than what it is already in.

The growing opposition had its peak in October at the time that a former close presidential ally and drinking buddy came out and charged the President as having received millions from jueteng money and from tobacco tax kickbacks. Having someone from the inner circle come out with the kind of information he had strengthened the people's resolve that the President indeed had to ousted.

And so by some fortunate twist of fate and with great pressure from civil society, Congress finally impeached Joseph Ejercito Estrada. People thought and hoped after that the President would voluntarily resign. Who would after all welcome a tedious trial, one that would put you to shame and further public scrutiny? But to everyone's great surprise and bewilderment, he proudly held his head high and remained in office pronouncing his innocence. This despite the charges on bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust, and culpable violation of the Constitution leveled against him. It has therefore been left to the Senate to decide whether Estrada would be ousted or not. In the hands of 22 Senators now acting as judges, we leave the decision whether the President is guilty or not.

But most people do not believe in the impeachment proceedings. People do not believe the Senate, which is home to the President's close allies, would convict Estrada. People have no faith in Senators to resort to better judgment, conscience and sound reason in deciding this case against the President. Time and again people have witnessed how Senators cling to party politics and blindly defend and sometimes even cover up for the President. This is why even before the trial began, a lady Senator close to Estrada has already predicted an Estrada acquittal.

An acquittal is not a far-fetched scenario. Estrada only needs eight votes to remain in office. He has more than eight allies in the Senate. And it is not cynical for people to think these allies would rally behind the President. Early showings in the trial have these allies coming off on television as members of the defense panel. In fairness, Senators seen to be against Estrada also show their true colors by almost lecturing and helping the prosecution from time to time. It is therefore without a doubt that the trial is merely a stage play or as Agriculture Secretary Eduardo Angara, a close Estrada adviser and friend reiterated, the trial is nothing but an important legal formality. It would still result in an acquittal.

And so this is why I miss the organized huge rallies. I think most of the ordinary Juan dela Cruzes think it is now up to the Senators to resolve this case. I think they feel they have done their parts and it is now the Senators' turn to pass judgment on an obviously erring President. I think most have fallen into the belief that the impeachment trial is now the main show and the rallies would be gaps or commercials to break doldrums. But this should not be the case. It must be obvious to all that Estrada will not be convicted in the Senate. He has to be convicted by civil society on the streets. We should keep up with vigilance and be armed with the greater resolve that this time the President has to listen.

Estrada must realize that people do not need an impeachment proceeding to tell us who is guilty and who is not. More so when the very proceeding does not even have clear and strict rules, guidelines and mandates. We do not even know if it is a criminal case being tried or merely a political case. We do not know why Senators acting as judges or jurors are allowed to speak, express opinions, and even ask witnesses. How could someone pass sound and fair judgment when he/she is an active party to the proceeding and is even allowed external information, counsel, and is further allowed to speak about the trial? And since it is not clear whether this is a criminal or a political case, we are not sure if evidence need be beyond reasonable doubt. This is why at this early stage, we have been bogged down by technicalities. Certain evidence cannot be admitted without condition unless all technicalities are met. This is something alien to the layman Juan. Even more problematic is the fact that it has become obvious the defense will try to win this on technicalities.

Consider the following claims of the defense panel:

Governor Singson's (the former presidential friend now star witness) ledger cannot be credible because it had addition errors. Emma Lim (Singson's secretary who collected jueteng money and delivered the same to Estrada) cannot remember all pertinent dates and therefore is not a credible witness since she has selective memory. Twink Macaraig's (a correspondent for Channel News Asia who interviewed the President on jueteng money and tobacco tax kickbacks) testimony cannot be admitted yet since her transcript of records are incomplete. Carmencita Itchon (another employee of Singson who helped in jueteng collections) cannot be believed because she is the sister-in-law of Singson, the star witness. And would you believe that Clarissa Ocampo's (officer at the Equitable PCI Bank who personally witnessed the President sign as Jose Velarde in certain bank documents) supporting documents to strengthen her testimony cannot be believed as well because Senator Enrile manifested that these were not notarized? Furthermore, Mrs. Ocampo's testimony and her bombshell on the President will be stricken off the record not because it has been proven to be a lie or error-laden, but simply because the defense contends this has no bearing at all to the case and does not correspond to any article of impeachment.

Ask any Juan dela Cruz today and he will tell you the impeachment is a big joke and at most a source of primetime entertainment. He will tell you he is exasperated a badly chiseled face of Estrada still looms in Malacanang. He will tell you Estrada ought to be ousted. Estrada no longer has the capacity to govern. People have no faith in him. People do not see how Estrada can continue to be President after this when he has lost the public's trust and support. We have called for his resignation. He ignored this. He was impeached. He did not mind. He has been personally witnessed to have signed as Jose Velarde which then makes him a principal in opening and maintaining a secret account hiding ill-gotten wealth. It is also a falsification of documents since his legal name is Joseph Ejercito. Yet he remains silent. He has the gall to remain in office and pronounce himself innocent. He has kept in his secret account a total of P1.2 billion since 26 August 1999 and yet his statement of assets and liabilities for that year amounted to only P35 million. His only comment was "Ewan ko sa kanila" (I do not know what is the matter with them).

There is no doubt that Estrada ought to resign. Not merely for his own sake. Not even to save his family further shame and embarrassment. He ought to resign to make true his promise of consecrating himself to the service of the Filipino people when he took his oath of office back in 1998. He ought to resign to appease the very people he claims to protect, serve, love - these very people who he now slaps and insults everyday as he remains in office. He cannot and ought not to hide behind the technicalities that block the truth from shining in this impeachment trial. He cannot and ought not make the Filipino people forget that there is a Jose Velarde who exists, who owns billions of pesos in a secret account, and who happens to be one and the same person as he is. He cannot and ought not to not think he can fool the Filipinos much longer. He cannot and ought not think we are all stupid enough to let all these pass and forgive an erring President who does not even have the gall and guts to stand by his actions, legal or not.

It is also high time people voice out their opinions and act on their beliefs and convictions. Cliché as it may be, we really have to fight for what we believe in. It is not enough that we keep judgments to ourselves and dismiss all that is happening as none of our business. We cannot be passive spectators in this. We cannot remain directly uninvolved and apathetic. We must realize that collectively, our voices would break even the coldest of Estrada's aortal chambers. If we want the President out then we need to tell him ourselves. He has to hear it directly from us. A united critical mass ought to be enough this time for the President.

When I hear people dismiss this case as useless because of utter helplessness, because they feel nothing good would come out of this either way, I get exasperated. I get angry. And often I end up sad. Sad that the country has gone down to this level where no legitimate and worthy successor is seen as fit for the Presidency. Sad that the people in their helplessness and open dislike for the vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are willing to let matters take their own course since an Estrada conviction would neither mean better times nor a successor who is light-years better than the present head of state. I get the impression that though they believe without a doubt that Estrada is guilty of crimes leveled against him and that he ought to be ousted, they lose the will to see this ouster through because it does not absolutely solve the crisis. Our politics would not shift and improve overnight. The economy would not bounce back automatically. Errant public officials would not all be out of office. Illegal gambling will still exist. And the vice president is probably not the best successor. But this is a wrong scenario to be trapped in. Just because we do not want who is next in line to the presidency does not mean we will just absolve the one in position of his crimes and that we will just accept and tolerate his evil ways and sins to the Filipino people.

We probably lost faith (some must never had any in the first place) in President Estrada a long time ago. We also seem to have no faith in Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who will most likely be the next President. We definitely have no faith in an impeachment proceeding that is befuddled by technicalities and clouds of doubt. I do, however, believe and hope that we have not lost faith in ourselves.

I would like to believe that we have not lost self-respect and allowed others to insult us to our face. I believe we will not tolerate anyone who lies to us and when found lying, still has the nerve to deny he was lying. I believe we will remain vigilant but just through all these. We will exact what is a rightful punishment for a grave offense committed. We will do so not because we still live in barbaric times of "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" but because we sincerely believe and have faith that justice is one of the greater virtues. And faith is the highest of all…

Marissa de Guzman is moderator of FOCUS ON THE PHILIPPINES, an electronic newsletter (focusing mainly on Philippine news and issues) of FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL SOUTH.

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