Thursday, June 21, 2007

Plundered watch

I could not agree more with todays Editorial of Inquirer, so I am posting it here.

Last updated 02:14am (Mla time) 06/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Carol Araullo, erstwhile head of PlunderWatch and now chair of the mass-based Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, may have thought she was being merely practical when she told reporters during the oral summation phase of the Joseph Estrada plunder trial last week that she was no longer keen on the deposed president’s conviction. In truth, she was being extremely cynical.

Her idea of justice, apparently, is inseparable from her politics. Which is unfortunate, because we shared the group’s cause in its early days.

“We still believe that 'Erap' [Estrada] should be held accountable for the things that he did,” Araullo told reporters. “[But] the reason why you no longer see these groups calling for Mr. Estrada’s conviction is because the sins of the Arroyo administration are much graver. You have political killings, graft and corruption, electoral fraud.”

Well, yes, but does any of these expiate Joseph Estrada’s original sin? Does President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s alleged stealing of the 2004 vote, to give one example, make Estrada’s alleged crime, committed between 1998 and 2000, less criminal?

Apparently, the answer is yes, when the groups one is associated with, such as the Bayan Muna party-list group, strike an election-period arrangement with Estrada’s camp, in a (largely successful) national campaign against administration candidates. That’s the trouble when cases are politicized; the ends of justice are distorted by tactical alliances.

Last Friday, Araullo also questioned the very right of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to convict Estrada, revealing in the process a telltale conflation of the executive with the judiciary. “If President Estrada will be convicted, it should not be by this administration because it doesn’t have the moral ascendancy.”

Despite the use of the language of morality, the ascendancy assumption is 100-percent political. It is all about who gets the credit, and who shouldn’t. Consider her statement again; even if the evidence is there to convict, conviction “should not be by this administration.” That’s the trouble when cases are politicized; the ends of justice, even when already tantalizingly near, are forgotten in the single-minded pursuit of political objectives.

The assumption that the administration will dictate the terms of the decision is also an old one, and used often by PlunderWatch in its many statements over the years. But consider the irony. In 2002, it sought to have Estrada, his wife Loi and their son Jinggoy cited for contempt of court, for issuing statements that, the group alleged, impugned the very integrity of the judicial system.

The Sandiganbayan dismissed the suit, and ever since PlunderWatch has blamed the government lawyers prosecuting Estrada for failing to support the petition. We were “marginalized,” Araullo said in 2002. Ever since then, Araullo said, PlunderWatch has “lost the interest to mobilize” people to monitor the trial. And ever since then, the group has been issuing statements that, from one angle, can also be understood as undermining the justice system.

Araullo gave an example only last Friday: “The trial is only for political expediency. I don’t believe it will be expedient for the Arroyo administration to have a conviction at this time.”

So which, really, is which? No will to convict, or no right to convict? Even PlunderWatch is unsure.

Back when the group was pushing for Estrada’s conviction, Araullo said, quite eloquently: “The message we are sending about Edsa [People Power] is not justice. It is impunity. It is a message that says people who do wrong can get away with it. If we continue to let the likes of Estrada get away with what they’ve done, then Edsa would be useless.”

That’s the problem with politicized cases: watchdogs speak in absolutes (we won’t let Estrada get away with what he’s done), but end up acting in a manner that relativizes the ends of justice (we won’t let Estrada get away, except, of course, if Arroyo is in our sights).

If PlunderWatch has more evidence against President Arroyo, then by all means let it file another plunder case against her. But now, more than ever, the Estrada plunder trial bears close watching. It’s a shame that politics has kept Araullo and PlunderWatch away from it.