Lawyers shout: Erap cannot run!

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — MAJORITY of lawyers present in yesterdays’ Fernandina forum who debated whether former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada can still run for re-election or not answered with a resounding “No!”

This, as noted election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and former UP school of law Dean Pacifico Agabin, presented their respective legal bases during the debate.

Shortly after the debate began, everyone was taken by surprise when Estrada himself showed up to participate in the debate.

From among the more than 30 lawyers who were present in the full-packed Gabaldon Room of Club Filipino, the result of random survey conducted by this reporter showed that 18 were firm in the belief that Estrada cannot run for re-election while only seven said he can and three were undecided.

The lawyers that thumbed down Estrada’s re-election bid were also blunt in rejecting the arguments presented during the debate, stressing that “the Constitution is very clear and there is no room for interpretation.”

Agabin’s arguments

Agabin took the floor first. His arguments on the preposition that Estrada can run again included, among others, that the term President provided under the Constitution refers to a “sitting President,” meaning the incumbent; that Estrada did not resign but was forced to resign because of EDSA People Power II, and the former president was not aware of the consequences of his action when he left Malacañang at the height of the EDSA People power II.

Agabin also claimed that since Estrada did not finish his full six-year term so the provision under Section 4 of Art. VII will not apply to him.

Macalintal’s position

Macalintal said that the Constitution should be respected since it is the primary law of the land. He also cited the legal maxim that “if the law does not distinguish there should be no distinction” to dismiss the claim the term President refers only to the incumbent.

He also rebuked the claim that Estrada did not resign, citing the Supreme Court decision that he has constructively resigned as clearly indicated by his action when he called for snap election; that he expressed desire to clear his name; that he is leaving Malacañang to let the healing process begun; that he expressed gratitude for the people for giving him a chance to serve; and that he urged his supporters to support the government.

He also rejected the claim that Estrada is not aware the consequences of his action, stressing the law provision of “ignorance of the law excuses no one.”

He added that Constitution is clear that resignation should not be considered as interruption of service of office.

On the claim that Estrada did not complete his full term, Macalintal said that the said provision is not applicable to Estrada’s case since it refers to person who succeeded as President.

Section 4 of Article VII read in part that “No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.”

“The Constitution is clear. Kailangan pa bang i-memorize ‘yan!” Macalintal said, drawing a loud laughter from the audience.

He added that for those who understand no explanation is needed but for the non-believers no amount of explanation will convince them.

Estrada asked Macalintal whether his case could be considered as a political question citing the disqualification case against movie king Fernando Poe Jr. who ran for president during the 2007 presidential election.

Macalintal said the SC ruling in Poe’s case, although has political color, is not applicable since the issue in that case involved question on citizenship while the issue in his case is a question on qualification.