Palace sets rules for Erap’s amnesty deal

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — CHIEF presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol yesterday called for granting convicted former President Joseph Estrada absolute presidential pardon because of his age—provided he no longer files a motion for reconsideration to ask for a reversal of the court ruling against him.

But Estrada’s lawyer Rene Saguisag insisted that Estrada was not considering a pardon because that would amount to an admission of guilt.

He said Estrada’s legal team was now working to file a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

Apostol said Estrada could not be covered by the ongoing amnesty proclamation of the Arroyo administration since the program did not include criminal acts—even if the 70-year-old former president could be granted absolute pardon by Mrs. Arroyo.

“What we are pushing for him is to grant him absolute pardon, [because] he’s already 70 and he’s eligible for that once the court’s decision becomes final. We can set in motion the pardon, but he should wait for the [obligatory] 15 days to lapse, after which the Sandiganbayan ruling will become final and executory,” Apostol said.

“His case will not fall under the amnesty proclamation because that is for political offenders only and not for plunderers. It is hopeless for his supporters in the House of Representatives to push for that because he is not a communist or a member of certain groups who committed political offenses,” he added.

Estrada earlier ordered his lawyers to file a motion for reconsideration to urge the Sandiganbayan to overturn its ruling, but Apostol said this would only delay the process of granting him pardon.

“If it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court, then that would drag on. So our appeal is for him [not to file any] motion and allow the court’s decision to become final and executory. Then he could negotiate with our President. Then our President would start the process for him to avail of pardon,” Apostol said.

The Sandiganbayan special division that tried Estrada’s plunder case gave the former president until Sept. 27 to file his motion for reconsideration.

Talks of a possible pardon for Estrada were fanned by the visit of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to Estrada’s Tanay, Rizal, rest house last month, before the decision was handed down.

While Gonzales denied a deal was being negotiated in anticipation of a guilty verdict, one of his close associates in the administration- aligned Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas called for Estrada’s pardon a week after the meeting in Tanay.

PDSP co-founder Romeo Intengan said granting presidential pardon to Estrada “makes sense” if the Arroyo administration is really serious in reconciling with the opposition.

Meanwhile, Saguisag said the former president’s lawyers were now rushing to beat the 15-day deadline for the filing of a motion for reconsideration before the anti-graft court.

“We will first file [the motion] before the Sandiganbayan because we believe the court will reverse the conviction,” Saguisag said, adding that a similar motion might be filed before the Supreme Court as well.

He said Estada remained “upbeat” despite the conviction.

Meanwhile, two Mindanao lawmakers identified with the administration appealed to Estrada to seriously consider patching up his differences with the Arroyo administration.

Misamis Occidental Rep. Herminio Ramiro and Misamis Oriental Rep. Danilo Lagbas said Estrada could show that he had the country’s best interest at heart by accepting the court’s verdict.