Is Erap’s presidential bid foredoomed?

The Manila Times

Apparently inspired by the “warm” public reception he has been getting wherever he went, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has stepped up his political tour around the country to feel the people’s pulse on his plan to run for president in the 2010 election.

“No one can dispute the fact that I still have the support of my people,” Erap recently said, citing the latest Pulse Asia survey placing him in the top three among presidential contenders. Vice President Noli de Castro was No. 1 in the poll, with Erap placing second with former Senate President Manny Villar.

The other presidential aspirants are Senators Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Mar Roxas, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Erap has said time and again that he would run for president if the opposition cannot field just one candidate. He sees no chance for the opposition to win the presidency in the 2010 election if all of its candidates run against only one administration rival, probably de Castro.

But suppose the opposition candidates finally see the light and agree on only one from among themselves to run for president. Will Erap make good his word to give way to ensure an opposition victory?

No one can tell what’s in Erap’s mind. He has the strongest motivation to seek the post he once held to vindicate himself from his ouster as president during the second EDSA People Power revolt in 2001. He was convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, but here is his chance to appeal his case to the electorate in his desire to redeem his honor.

Erap has kept telling the people that despite the plunder charge filed against him, his wife, Loi and son, Jinggoy, won as senator in the 2001 and 2004 Senate election, respectively. This is proof, he said, that he still enjoys the support of the people.

The truth is Erap, who had been given absolute pardon by President Arroyo, can give any administration candidate a run for his money. He was the rallying point in the last senatorial poll in which majority of the opposition candidates were elected, including military detainee Antonio Trillanes, who never had the chance to go out and campaign.

However, Erap faces a host of formidable problems, constitutional or otherwise, that could thwart his presidential bid. He is barred by a constitutional provision, which says, under Article VII Section 4 that “the President shall not be eligible for any reelection.”

Erap was elected president in the 1998 election, but his ouster in 2001 allowed then Vice President Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency.

There are a number of reasons for the disqualification of an elected president. One is to prevent the inclination of a sitting president to use public funds to promote his goal to seek a second term. Another reason is to “widen the base of leadership” by giving other qualified candidates to run for the office.

The constitutional ban is a contentious issue that can be subjected to a number of interpretations. What is prohibited is for a person who has been elected president to run for reelection. But if I remember right, Erap has maintained that he is not running for reelection but for a completely new election as president.

If the question is put to a vote by the Supreme Court today, there may be a chance for Erap to win his case on its merits. But there will be an entirely new judicial setting in 2009 when seven justices of the high tribunal will retire and be replaced with new appointees by the President.

In that event, the high tribunal will be composed mostly, if not entirely, of the President’s appointees. How will they vote if Erap’s presidential bid were questioned in the Supreme Court?

I am not saying that the President’s appointees cannot exercise their independence or vote according to the dictate of their conscience. There are many members of the high court who owe their appointment to the President but who voted against her interest in many high-profile cases in the past. They have remained steadfast in their oath of office, which is to serve the interest of law and justice.

The problem is the danger of some of the justices to succumb to the temptation of serving the interests of their benefactor—the President—against those of her perceived enemy—in this case, Erap—in a classic act of eternal gratitude. The irrationality of human behavior is such that it has often been the recurring cause of injustice.

This is Erap’s real-life dilemma. It looks like his presidential bid is foredoomed by emerging events and circumstances probably beyond his control.

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