From SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU Mon Nov 20 06:40:55 2000
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2000 10:47:46 GMT
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From: Eddie Salonga <eddie@LIVEWIRE.COM.PH>
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Subject: Kilosbayan: The President's page

Subject: Kilosbayan: The President's page

Impeachment trial or resignation?

Milosbayan Magazine, November 2000. Position paper of Kilosbayan, Bantay Katarungan and Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundations, 12 November 2000

The presidency and the oath of office

The presidency is the key office in the land. The highest office within the gift of our people, the presidency is occupied by a leader chosen to be the principal steward of the national interest. In our culture, the president is not just a political leader; he (she) is expected to be the role model for all of us and our children—in terms of moral integrity, competence, industry and dedication to the national welfare. This is why in the Philippines, the president (except during President Cory Aquino's time) has been described as the father of the nation, ang ama ng bansa. He sets the standards for all, particularly the youth of the land, the hope of the nation. Before assuming the presidency on June 30, 1998, President Estrada, in accordance with the Constitution, swore that -

“I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.” (Art. VIII, Sec. 5 of the Constitution).

Unfortunately, President Estrada has not lived up to this solemn compact with the nation. He cites his election in 1998 as a mandate that must be respected by all. But the events of the last twenty eight months since he was sworn into office on June 30, 1998, show that President Joseph Estrada does not appreciate the import of his oath of office and his responsibilities as the leader and father of the nation. Nor does he seem to realize the magnitude of his indiscretions. He has used the powers of his high office to bestow incredible benefits and unexplained gains to himself, to his family and to his mistresses. He has extended undue favors to his cronies who flaunt their connections with him as if to let the whole world know that the presidency had been bought by them for their benefit.

The charges and the facts

But nothing places the scandal-plagued president in greater danger of being driven out of office than the allegations of Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, his former drinking buddy and gambling partner, who has described Estrada as “the lord of all jueteng lords,” for receiving P400 million in illegal gambling payoffs over a 21-month period and P130-million cut from the tax returns on tobacco for his province (Ilocos Sur). In short, Estrada stands accused of having violated his oath of office, betrayed the public trust, a plunderer and a racket boss receiving huge bribes out of collections from jueteng—the poor man's game of chance in our impoverished country—and committing graft and corruption by getting presidential kickbacks from releases of public funds.

President Estrada has held himself out as the champion of the many poor but he and his partners in the illegal numbers game of jueteng are now viewed as having exploited and betrayed them with such vulgarity as to shock the whole nation. A town mayor with the usual take from jueteng should have been ennobled by the awe-inspiring leap to the presidency. But President Estrada, who was a mayor of San Juan, Metro Manila, for many years, before he was elected to the Senate in 1987 and became Vice President in 1992, may have established a new record in so short a time - no president in our history has gone down so low in terms of public esteem, in crudity and shameless exploitation of the many poor, who patronize jueteng, their favorite game of chance, hoping—against all odds—for a lucky windfall out of their meager, hard-earned savings. No president before Estrada has ever been accused of organizing and centralizing jueteng collections at the highest level and for his own benefit.

The supreme irony is that it was the poor people who had voted in droves for Erap Estrada in the May 1998 presidential elections.

There were several important religious leaders, along with their followers, and a good number of intellectuals who joined the poor and worked for him, believing perhaps that Erap Estrada's well-known vices - as a high-stakes gambler, an alcoholic guzzler and a notorious womanizer - would be cancelled out by his one professed virtue—his bias for the poor. They would be proved wrong. The sad lesson, which our people may never forget, is that the real character of a presidential candidate, his moral unfitness, his many weaknesses, his major vices and his lack of an ethical compass, will surely be manifested in his actual performance as president.

Gov. Chavit Singson, a self-confessed participant in the centralized gambling racket and in the embezzlement of public funds, revealed the extent of the participation of President Estrada to Senator Teofisto Guingona, Jr. the Senate Minority Floor Leader. In a brief privilege speech before the Senate on October 5, 2000, Guingona declared:

“I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, of betraying public trust. The people, especially the poor, reposed in him the trust that he would protect them from illegal gambling. Instead, it appears that shortly after he assumed office in (June) 1998, he entered into an arrangement with Messrs. Bong Pineda, Atong Ang, and Governor Luis Singson to further institutionalize jueteng. In October 1998, he designated Luis Singson to make the collections of the jueteng operations and to deliver a substantial portion of the amount personally to him. Since November 1998 to August 2000, Luis Singson delivered to him an average amount of Ten Million Pesos a month.

“I accuse Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, of graft and corruption. Documents show that shortly assuming office in (June) 1998, the President asked for a portion from the releases of funds allocated for Ilocos Sur under RA 7171, a law that sets aside a portion of excise taxes for the Virginia tobacco producing provinces. After the DBM released the amount of P200 million, the President received P70 (sic) million out of said release, contrary to law.”

Three days later, despite reported attempts by Estrada's close relatives and cronies (and by the President himself by phone) to dissuade him from publicly divulging the details of the payoffs, Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, in a TV-radio press conference in Club Filipino on October 8, stunned the nation with his shocking revelation—the president, for almost two years, has been receiving monthly payoffs from centralized jueteng collections nationwide, i.e., kickbacks amounting to 400 million pesos and P130 million from excise tax on tobacco for his province (Ilocos Sur).

Due to the gravity of the charges and the threat of a fellow senator - an ally of Estrada—to discipline Guingona should he fail to prove what he said, two Senate committees (Blue Ribbon, headed by Senator Pimentel, and Justice and Human Rights, chaired by Senator Cayetano) decided to conduct joint hearings on Sen. Guingona's privilege speech beginning October 11. This came one day after a House Committee on Public Order and Safety summoned Singson to testify but decided, by a narrow vote of 23-22, to immediately muzzle him after he identified President Estrada as the “the lord of all jueteng lords.” The Committee Chairman, Rep. Roilo Golez (Parañaque) was so shocked by the gagging incident he promptly resigned from LAMP, the party of the president.

The Senate hearings began, as scheduled, on October 11. Gov. Singson affirmed his October 9 revelations and, on questioning by the senators, made a more detailed narration of President Estrada's role in nationwide jueteng collections, in pocketing P400 million and in getting his P130 million cut from the tobacco excise tax. Because of Singson's candid admission of his sinful past and his straightforward disclosures as a member of Estrada's “midnight Cabinet,” in contrast with the apparent inability of the President to promptly refute the damning revelations point-by-point, the overwhelming majority of our people, in various poll surveys, found no reason to doubt the truth of Singson's extremely risky, self-incriminating revelations. Ironically, independent corroboration of Singson's testimony was made forthwith by two senators close to Estrada and some executive officials who admitted having received money from him as balato (a share in winnings from gambling), and by the disappearance of several key witnesses Singson had implicated (such as Bong Pineda, the jueteng lord of Central Luzon, who left for the United States; Ms. Yolanda Ricaforte, who left for Los Angeles on October 5, and arrived last October 23) and by the sworn testimony of two Land Bank managers about how three young people (from age 21 to 23) became recipients of the P130 million in excise tax meant for Ilocos Sur but diverted, apparently by order of Malacañang.

In a sense, the revelations of Gov. Singson were neither new nor surprising. The seemingly endless record of scams and scandals plaguing the Estrada Administration since its inception, particularly the BW stock scandal where the President intervened for Dante Tan, another gambling crony, by asking SEC Chairman Perfecto Yasay, Jr. to clear the former in an “insider trading” investigation, only served to strengthen “Chavit” Singson's revelations and led the shocked nation, already reeling from a rapidly deteriorating economy, to call for a more effective and immediate remedy than impeachment.

Last October 11, Cardinal Jaime Sin called on the President to resign by relinquishing his office and turning it over to his constitutional successor, since “he (Estrada) has lost the moral ascendancy to govern.” As if on cue, Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resigned last October 12 as Cabinet member but said she would remain as Vice President. Upon her arrival on October 17, she declared she would lead a “united opposition” and “reach out to different sectors to map out an alternative national agenda to restore propriety, stability and progress.”

In a press statement, some congressmen, counting on the expected support of seventy three (73) representatives, comprising 1/3 of all the members of the House, announced they would file an impeachment case against President Estrada, obviously in the desire to short-circuit the proceedings in the House of Representatives and get the Senate to act directly on the case.

Senator Raul Roco asserted that snap election was his preferred solution. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile recently filed a measure in the Senate supportive of snap election but most of his colleagues in the Senate opposed the idea. Some critics suggested that Vice President Macapagal Arroyo, who had been in the Estrada Cabinet and had supported Estrada, despite the fact that she had been elected as an Oppositionist (Lakas), should also resign to give way to a snap election. But the Vice President said No, she would not resign with the president, thus putting a stop to a snap election that might have been constitutional, under Article VII, section 8, which provides for an election “in case of the resignation of both the president and vice-president.”

President Estrada, who had been keeping quiet since the Guingona accusation of October 5 and the Club Filipino expose of Singson on October 9, announced his general disclaimer on October 12. He asserted he had not received a single centavo from jueteng, but made no specific denial of the detailed revelations of Singson, as was expected of him. Estrada also said he would stay on as president despite the call for his impeachment by his political enemies and critics and Cardinal Sin's call for him to step down. On October 15, the president declared that the Government will get out of gambling and that PAGCOR will be privatized - a peripheral remedy that is “too little and too late” and, more importantly, misses the central point: his further stay in office. A little later, the president, in the desire to appease his growing army of critics, stopped the operations of jai-alai, on-line casino and Bingo-2 Ball (which was designed precisely to legalize jueteng, under Estrada's gambling crony, Charlie “Atong” Ang).

In the afternoon of October 17, former President Cory Aquino urged a besieged Estrada to consider making “the supreme self-sacrifice, even if it means resignation.” Alternatively, said ex-President Cory, Estrada could take a leave of absence while the charges are being investigated, the Vice-President could take over in an acting capacity and should Estrada be fully exonerated in an investigation over which he had no control, “he can take back the presidency” (a course of action which the embattled president rejected). Otherwise, said the former president, Estrada will face impeachment—a “process from which we expect the worst. It will be long drawn-out; it will put truth at the mercy of numbers; and it will leave justice in the hands of those whose single overriding concern is their own reelection.”

The next day, October 18, forty one (41) members of Congress finally filed the impeachment complaint with the Lower House, backed up by groups of concerned citizens. The complaint alleged that President Estrada committed impeachable offenses by: (1) obtaining P400 million as illegal gambling (jueteng) protection money; (2) pocketing P130 million of tobacco excise tax; (3) giving his family and his extended families lavish lifestyles not commensurate with his declared wealth; and (4) exerting undue intervention and pressure on SEC Chairman Perfecto Yasay, Jr. in the BW scandal case. The hope was expressed that before the House Committee on Justice meets to discuss the complaint, the minimum number of 73 representatives signing it to warrant direct Senate action, would be reached. In the meantime, Chairman Pacifico Fajardo (Lakas, Nueva Ecija) of the House Committee on Justice inhibited himself, reportedly due to pressure from his peers who questioned his decision to hold executive committee sessions (behind closed doors) to determine the sufficiency of the impeachment complaint. As a result, Fajardo yielded the chairmanship to the Senior vice-chair of the Committee, Rep. Neptali Gonzales II (LAMP, Mandaluyong) who took over as Acting Chair. His first act was to schedule the hearings on November 6, 7, and 8, to determine the formal sufficiency of the complaint. Gonzales bolted the coalition in the first days of November and Rep. Oscar Rodriguez (Pampanga) took his place as Acting Chair of the Committee on November 6.

Meantime, Malacañang announced the appointment of the chief legal counsel to defend Estrada in the impeachment case—former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, a pre-martial law Estrada lawyer and currently Chair of the Board of PNB, now a private bank dominated by Lucio Tan, known to be Estrada's biggest campaign contributor in the 1998 presidential elections. Estrada, who had bewailed the overdose of due process, now claims that he is being denied “due process” and that he is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in the impeachment proceedings pending before Congress. The former Chief Justice pleads for “the rule of law” and describes the mounting clamor for the resignation of the president as “mob rule.” Says Narvasa: “There is already a universal belief that President Estrada is guilty. Do you do to a lawless criminal what is being done to the President?”

The analogy is seriously flawed. A peaceful, non-violent assembly of citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech by calling on the president to resign, cannot be equated with “mob rule.” As pointed out by a columnist, a former presidential legal adviser, betrayal of public trust, an impeachable offense under the 1987 Constitution—the No. 1 issue against Estrada—need not be proved in the same way that a crime committed by a common criminal must be proved - i.e., beyond reasonable doubt. President Estrada holds a position of public trust; a common criminal does not hold such a position of trust and responsibility. “Betrayal of public trust” was precisely added among the impeachable offenses in the 1987 Constitution because, as stressed during the proceedings of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, in the impeachment move against Marcos, it was difficult to get enough proof that he had committed criminal acts which are considered penal offenses; hence, the remedy was to add betrayal of public trust, “a catch-all phrase to include all acts which are not punishable by statutes as punishable offenses but, nonetheless, render the officer unfit to continue in office.” Ironically, ex-Chief Justice Narvasa's statement that there is already a “universal belief that President Estrada is guilty” amounts to an express admission by Estrada's chief legal counsel that his client has committed “betrayal of public trust.”

Regarding Estrada's invocation of “due process,” there is no dispute that due process, under Philippine law, applies to judicial and quasi- judicial proceedings, but not to an impeachment proceeding where “political justice” is administered. One basic requisite of due process is that the court or tribunal must be impartial and must independently consider the evidence, after due notice and opportunity to be heard. In other words, the judge or juror must be disinterested, not partisan or biased. But the stubborn reality is that in the current hearings on the jueteng scandal in the Senate, where an impeachment trial may be held, almost all the senators, who will sit as jurors, are partisan and biased, whether in favor of or against the President. What one great wit once said of the intellectuals of his time applies with greater relevance to the members of our present Senate, whose biases are as clear as the noonday sun: “Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

Before suspending the sessions for the All Saints' Day recess (October 27 to November 13), the House passed the National Budget (General Appropriations Act), and authorized all the House Committees, specifically the Committee on Justice, to function and conduct hearings during the recess. The House also urged the Senate “to observe inter- chamber courtesy and respect the Constitution by terminating all proceedings” in connection with the jueteng controversy, invoking the sole power of the House under the Constitution to initiate the impeachment. This sole prerogative, it was pointed out, could be infringed by the pending hearings in the upper chamber. The appeal was immediately turned down by ranking Senate officials who invoked their right to continue the investigation, “in aid of legislation.” In fact, last October 24, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the petition of the Pangasinan Chapter of the IBP questioning the current hearings in the Senate on the jueteng payola expose of Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson. In the first place, said the Supreme Court, petitioners as taxpayers have no legal standing (locus standi) as petitioners; in the second place-which is even more important—“the investigation is purported to be in aid of legislation which does not necessarily impinge upon the exclusive power of the House of Representatives to institute impeachment proceedings against impeachable officials of the government.”( GR No. 14532). In the meantime, the worsening economy has been eroding the chances of President Estrada to survive the mounting public demand for him to resign as soon as possible. As pointed out by some analysts, the economy may drag down Estrada and the whole nation with him. On October 31, the peso became “the worst performing currency” when it hit its lowest level during the month—P51.95 to the dollar. The attempt by Bangko Central to prevent the free fall of the peso has eroded the country's international reserves, even as it has raised interest rates to a level considered alarming by investors and borrowers alike. This could lead to the closure of many business enterprises and drive away prospective investors. The IMF has reportedly decided to withhold release to the Philippines of around $300 million for failure to meet the budgetary deficit target. The implications of the IMF action may well affect the releases of other institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The worst part of what is happening today is that it is the poor who must suffer from the effects of the economy's mismanagement: namely, more unemployment, more price increases and deteriorating delivery of basic services. At least twelve business groups joined the call for resignation toward the end of October. On November 6, the PCCI, the biggest business group, also asked Estrada to resign. The situation has become so bad President Estrada finally admitted the severity of the crisis and pleaded with the Opposition to stop efforts to oust him. He expressed his willingness to meet with former Presidents Aquino and Ramos and Cardinal Sin.

Also on Monday, October 30, President Estrada, in a nationwide TV-radio broadcast, offered the hand of reconciliation to his opponents, in an effort to save himself and his administration from imminent collapse: (1) he asked Vice President Gloria M. Arroyo to serve as head of the Economic Coordinating Council (the top but toothless agency which supposedly oversees the economy); (2) he has authorized DILG Secretary Alfredo Lim to “investigate the legitimacy of the acquisitions of the 5 or 6 houses” (the “grand mansions” for his mistresses), “with the view of causing their forfeiture in favor of the state if the evidence so warrants.” (normally the duty of the Ombudsman, but this matter is now under question in the impeachment complaint—hence, a duty that now devolves on the Senate); (3) he has ordered the closure of duty-free shops linked to smuggling activities and revoked an executive order that allowed a monopoly in port services—two business areas that the media have said are controlled by presidential cronies; (4) he ordered his relatives to divest themselves of board memberships and other interests in fund-raising groups; (5) he ordered the opening of Philippine air space to foreign airlines; (6) he ordered public bidding in the allocation of telecommunications frequencies; (7) he called the National Security Council to a meeting on Monday, November 6, and invited former Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos and Vice-President Gloria M. Arroyo (only Ramos indicated he would attend since he was the one who had proposed it); and (8) he promised free elections in May 2001. At the end of his speech, President Estrada said he would not resign; he would answer the charges against him point-by-point at the proper time—in short, in the impeachment proceeding. But in our law of evidence, based on common sense and experience, and in our culture, there is such a thing as admission by silence. Under Section 23, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, “any act or declaration made in the presence and within the observation of a party who does or says nothing when the act or declaration is such as naturally to call for action or comment if not true, may be given in evidence against him.” The rule, however, requires physical presence and the ability to make a prompt denial. But a prolonged silence, followed by a lame explanation, is regarded with deep suspicion in our culture.

His reconciliatory gesture was immediately followed by an ill-conceived show of intimidation on TV. The entire general staff, led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, and the PNP command, by Gen. Panfilo Lacson, pledged to defend the Constitution and the rule of law. What was made clear was that impeachment was the only constitutional process that should be respected; calls for resignation by organized groups of people will be considered in disregard of “due process of law.” The reaction to the President's speech was immediate: Vice-President Gloria M. Arroyo said she would not accept the position offered by President Estrada; ex-President Aquino and the Vice-President would not attend the meeting of the National Security Council. Opposition figures had one message to President Estrada: “Do not scare us.” The big rally on November 4, called by Cardinal Sin, would go on, despite inclement weather.

The massive erosion of support became clear from day to day: on All Saints' Day, November 1, four members of the Council of Economic Advisers quit the Estrada Administration: Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala; Vicente Paterno (brother-in-law of Finance Secretary Pardo); Washington Sycip; and Cesar Virata, former Finance Secretary. A little later, ex- Central Bank Gov. Gabriel Singson joined them. On November 2, Trade Secretary Mar Roxas who was very close to Erap, resigned followed by Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Nikki Coseteng, and Robert Jaworski all of whom bolted the LAMP coalition; House Speaker Manuel Villar, with 45 representatives announced their defection from the coalition. Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, acting chair of the House Committee on Justice, bolted the coalition. Rep. Ralph Recto and his wife Lipa City Mayor Vilma Santos-Recto resigned a day earlier. There are now at least 77 representatives who have affixed their signatures to the impeachment complaint. On November 6, the House Committee on Justice unanimously agreed to recommend Estrada's impeachment to the whole House when it meets on Monday, November 13. The House will transmit the impeachment complaint to the Senate for trial.

In other climes and cultures, such as in South Korea, Japan, England and the United States, high officials, including presidents and prime ministers voluntarily resign when their actuations, less scandalous than those of President Estrada, cause public embarrassment. But here, resignation is considered humiliating and must be resisted at all cost.

But as pointed out in the October 30, 2000 Statement of the UP College of Law faculty, “whether the President is guilty and must be removed is a legal question (sic) that the House of Representatives and the Senate will answer during the impeachment proceeding. whether the President continues to enjoy the confidence of his people is a political question that only the Filipino people can decide.”

Several proposals have been aired to cushion the shock of an Erap ouster, and thus provide a measure of relief to the embattled president. Senator Tatad, for example, proposed a sharing of presidential power with Vice President Gloria M. Arroyo (for economic affairs) and former President Ramos (presumably to help lure foreign investors). The vice- president rejected the Tatad plan immediately. Senator John Osmeña proposed the holding of a nationwide referendum to ascertain the popular will (as Marcos used to do during martial rule). It was not explained who would conduct the referendum this time. Would it be the Comelec Commissioners, a good number of whom are appointees of Estrada? Senator Enrile's snap election formula, favored by two other senators and by some Cabinet officials, including Agriculture Secretary Edgardo Angara, was shot down by majority of the senators and by many leaders of the Opposition, including Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The need for a graceful exit

The crucial question has been asked: should President Estrada seriously consider the idea of resigning, given the rapid deterioration of the economy and the ever-increasing pressure for him to resign from within the Philippines and elsewhere, what could happen to him? The prospect of having to face all sorts of criminal cases—from plunder to violations of the Anti-Graft Law, outright bribery and other violations of the Revised Penal Code and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713)—may prompt him to stay put, come what may. Unless some feasible formula is worked out with the President for a graceful exit, which is legally and morally acceptable to the leaders of the Opposition and to the nation, President Estrada may just decide to stay in office and prepare for the worst.

What must we do?

We cannot pretend to be blind and dumb in the face of this issue that now rocks the whole nation. If we choose to be silent, we become party to the very wrongs and injustices we fail to speak and do something about. Of the two constitutional remedies, impeachment or resignation, which should we choose, knowing that the whole nation is suffering, more than our poor people can afford to bear? We in Kilosbayan and sister organizations (Bantay Katarungan and Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundations) must act. What must we do?

There are several obstacles in upholding the impeachment procedure. President Estrada's advisers tell us he will respect the constitutional process of impeachment, as if this were the only remedy.

Under Section 3, Article XI of the Constitution, an impeachment complaint cannot be frozen; in fact, it was referred to the Committee on Justice. On November 6, the Committee recommended Estrada's impeachment to the whole House, which is expected to transmit the case to the Senate for trial.

Since more than 1/3 of all the members of the House have indorsed and signed the complaint for impeachment, which means that despite all the resources of the presidency, a substantial number have decided that a trial be held in the Senate, based on the Articles of Impeachment - which invoke such constitutional grounds as “betrayal of public trust,” “graft and corruption,” and “culpable violation of the Constitution,”—what will happen?

Under Section 3 of Article XI of the Constitution, the Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate. This provision may make it difficult to convict President Estrada due to the (1) the fact that, apparently, nine of the twenty-two senators are still for Estrada, on the basis of the latest count; and (2) the near-impossibility of finishing the whole impeachment process before the adjournment of Congress on February 9, 2001, to give way to the election campaign for the May 2001 elections for Congress and for local positions. There are many important bills that must be passed before the Senate can devote its undivided attention to impeachment - among them, the Budget and the Napocor Bill. The Budget must be passed by both Houses before Congress adjourns for the Christmas break on or around December 22, 2000. Likewise, the Senate must first approve the Rules of Procedure in the Senate Trial. Presumably, they may do this before the Christmas break. Congress will resume its sessions around mid-January 2000, when the Napocor Bill and other measures must be passed. The election fever and the schedule of resumption and adjournment will probably make it difficult to finish the whole impeachment process before the New Year. No wonder, this is the process favored by President Estrada and his advisers.

How about continuing the trial in the Senate after the May 2001 elections, in light of the fact that the Senate is a continuing body? Although possible in theory, the question, insofar as the Opposition is concerned, assumes at least three things: (1) the economy will not collapse in the meantime but will somehow recover; (2) the Opposition will win in the local and congressional elections and, preferably by a landslide in the Senate to insure conviction of the president by a two- thirds majority of all its members; (3) a stronger public sentiment than today in favor of President Estrada's ouster. The first assumption contradicts the last two. If the economy, by some miracle, recovers before the May 2001 elections, the Estrada Administration may win in the May 2001 elections and the public sentiment in favor of his ouster may subside.

As pointed out in the first Position Paper, only three presidents had been exposed to the possibility of being impeached—Elpidio Quirino in 1949, Diosdado Macapagal in 1963 and Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. These three attempts failed, for failure to get the required number of votes even in the first stage of the tedious, cumbersome process.

In the case of President Estrada, impeachment, in our view, will probably fail because there is not enough time for both houses, particularly the Senate, to deal fairly with this time-consuming process. Congress is set to adjourn on February 9, 2001. In short, the impeachment proceedings will probably be overtaken by events beyond the control of both President Estrada and the present Congress.

In the United States, three presidents had been impeached—Andrew Johnson, where the Senate trial failed by only one vote, Richard Nixon who resigned in 1974 instead of being convicted by the Senate, and Bill Clinton who was impeached by the House but absolved by the Senate in a proceeding that our Congress cannot possibly replicate.

What impelled Nixon to resign instead of undergoing impeachment trial? Several factors have been cited: the bad economy, the adverse public reaction reflected in poll surveys, the quality of the evidence (the White House tapes) that could not be disputed, and his loss of support among senators of his own party. In August 1974, Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president in 1964, went to the White House to inform President Nixon he would lose in the impeachment trial in the Senate because his own party had deserted him. On August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned. (See Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate by Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster, 1999, pp. 14, 470). A similar scenario may happen here. As of November 5, thirteen senators are now with the Opposition and may vote against President Estrada in the Senate impeachment trial.

On November 11, Estrada admitted, in a speech before the Foreign Correspondents Association (FOCAP) that his lawyer, Atty. Eduardo Serapio, had received the amount of P200 M from Chavit Singson, but he (Erap) did not touch it. It was deposited in a bank account and is still intact, in the name of a Muslim foundation controlled by Serapio and Raul de Guzman, Estrada's brother-in-law. But Erap could not give coherent answers to the questions of the foreign correspondents. In the afternoon, a prayer rally at the Luneta, attended by one million people, prayed for “unity and peace”-a rally (organized for Erap by El Shaddai, the INC, and by government bureaucracy) which did not come to grips with the nation's crisis.

If at least three more senators bolt the LAMP coalition, on or before December 22, 2000, the probability is that his own LAMP senators and advisers will persuade Erap Estrada to resign instead of being the first president in Philippine history to be convicted by the Senate in an impeachment trial. There are two consequences of conviction under the Constitution: removal from the presidency and disqualification to hold any public office. But the convicted official may still be “subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment according to law” (Section 7, Article XI.)

Why the call for resignation may prove more realistic

In light of precedents here and in the United States, the call for resignation by Cardinal Sin last October 11, 2000 may prove more realistic, less cumbersome, will probably resolve the people's dilemma in a faster way, and may prove less susceptible to all sorts of manipulations by those who have the resources of government. We have decided to join the call for resignation and work for it, without closing the door to impeachment in case President Estrada refuses to step down voluntarily.

However, a smooth, graceful exit for President Estrada, in case he resigns, must be worked out at the earliest possible time with the incoming president. It should be legally and morally defensible, otherwise the Vice President may suffer from the consequences of an indefensible compromise.

The factors that will affect the decision of the President on the question of resignation will depend on a number of events, a good number of which are beyond his control. Let us sum up these factors: (1) the rapid decline in the economy, such as the continuing fall of the peso; (2) the day-to-day plummeting of the stock market; (3) the sudden increase in the price of oil (due to the Mid-East conflict) and the prices of basic commodities; (4) the raging war in Mindanao, drawing the bulk of the Armed Forces and constituting a heavy drain on the faltering economy; (5) the massive erosion of popular support for the Administration as a result of the shocking revelations of Governor “Chavit” Singson which our people are willing to believe, partly because of the corroborative evidence mentioned earlier, among them: the admission of receipt of Pl million each by two senators (John Osmeña and Tessie Oreta) and by several executive officials (Jerry Barican and Lenny de Jesus) as “balato” from a mahjong gambling session; the three well-documented PCIJ exposes of the President's unexplained wealth, including the “Grand Mansions” for his mistresses, which remain unanswered by Malacañang; and Estrada's devastating admission on November 11; (6) the defections of members from the President's political coalition, including Senate President Franklin Drilon and other senators, and House Speaker Manuel Villar and around 45 other representatives; (7) the decision of five prominent economic advisers to step down, followed by the resignation of Trade Secretary Mar Roxas; (8) the mammoth prayer rally led by Cardinal Sin and former President Cory Aquino of November 4, 2000, which will trigger more street demonstrations and protests calling for resignation; and (9) the near- certainty of external pressures from the IMF and the World Bank (both have already sent warning signals) and from sources of bilateral aid, like the US and Japan. All these may result in the inability of President Estrada to continue governing a people that may have already lost their confidence in him. Unless the conditions of the country miraculously improve, President Estrada may have no alternative but resign, unless he wants to risk the ignominy of a conviction in the impeachment proceedings in the Senate.

Paradoxically, nothing will honor the presidency more than for Joseph Estrada to respect his high office by the simple act of resigning and leaving it, with humility and grace.

November 12, 2000