Palace ready for Erap verdict

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Whether former President Joseph Estrada is declared innocent or guilty of the plunder charges against him, the Arroyo administration is stable enough to withstand any political tumult that the verdict may spawn, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday.

Ermita said a guilty verdict may prod Estrada’s loyalists into mounting street protests and possibly renewing destabilization attempts against the administration.

“But definitely, this administration will survive if a guilty verdict is handed down by the Sandiganbayan,” the Palace official told newsmen.

He said even if Estrada is pronounced innocent, that may also ignite discord because his followers may again agitate for his restoration to the presidency.

Whatever the judgment of the Sandiganbayan’s special division on the celebrated case, Ermita said the government has contingency measures already in place to cope with any civil unrest that may break out.

Ermita laughed off the loose talk that the Palace is flexing its muscles and trying to influence the Sandiganbayan’s decision to ensure a guilty verdict.

“That is absolutely speculative. You know very well that the Palace will not do that. The Sandiganbayan is a separate body and we respect the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

In the same manner, Ermita said Estrada, as a former president, should be given due respect.

He denied report that the Palace was behind a one-page advertisement that appeared in several newspapers yesterday calling on the people to respect any decision of the anti-graft court— whether guilty or not.

The ad cautioned any group from exploiting any decision to sow discord and destabilize the country.

“I would like to think that the reason whoever the proponent put up this one-page ad is precisely because of the possible threat to national security that may arise from the decision because Mr. Estrada has many followers,” Ermita said.

Ermita also shrugged off the speculation that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is considering the possible grant of executive clemency in case Estrada is declared guilty.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said it is very premature to discuss a possible presidential pardon because nobody knows what the verdict will be except the Sandiganbayan justices.

Apostol said that in case of a guilty verdict and the same applies to Senator Jinggoy Estrada, the former president’s co-accused, the former will not be automatically jailed because he can still file a motion for reconsideration and his bail will remain in effect.