Erap will go to prison if unpardoned by Nov. 7

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — CONVICTED former President Joseph Estrada needs to be pardoned by Malacañang by Nov. 7 or he may become the first president inmate of the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa.

In an interview with reporters, Sandiganbayan spokesperson Renato Bocar said Estrada will be moved to Bilibid from his rest house in Tanay, Rizal, if his lawyers will not be able to produce the pardon papers on that date.

“If no pardon is granted by Malacañang by Nov. 7, a “mitimus” or court order would be issued by the anti-graft court for the Bureau of Corrections, directing the transfer of Estrada from his rest house to the NBP,” related Bocar.

The Sandiganbayan Special Division, chaired by Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro on Tuesday set the execution of judgment on Estrada at 9 a.m. of Nov. 7, when Estrada’s order of detention to Bilibid will be issued.

But Bocar said if President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo grants the pardon before Nov. 7, automatically the execution of judgment would be rendered moot and academic, and Estrada will not be transferred to the Bilibid.

If the pardon comes by that time, Estrada will be a free man, and can immediately go back to his Polk Street mansion in Greenhills, San Juan.

For Estrada’s release to take effect, Bocar said the anti-graft court needs to receive an official copy of the pardon from the President. It would then issue a release order to be given to the National Police before the deposed former president can be released.

Without these two documents, Estrada could not be released from the National Police’s custody nor from detention in Muntinlupa.

Bocar likewise noted that in case there is a delay in the issuance of the pardon, Estrada, through his lawyers, needs to file a petition for the deferment of execution of judgment before the Sandiganbayan.

If this is granted by the anti-graft court, Estrada could still stay in his Tanay resthouse even after Nov. 7, while waiting for the grant of pardon by Malacañang.

Meanwhile, chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol said that Mr. Estrada needs to stay away from the political limelight if Mrs. Arroyo will pardon him.

In what many observers said was a complete reversal of his earlier declaration, Estrada had requested Mrs. Arroyo to grant him unconditional pardon after withdrawing his appeal of the Sandiganbayan decision convicting him of the crime of plunder.

In a separate interview, Acting Executive Secretary Ignacio Bunye said that whatever the action of the Palace on Estrada’s request, it would be “consistent with justice and with our national interest.”

“I think he [Estrada] would just leave the politicking to his sons and even his wife. His commitment to serve the poor is evident and I think he would just do that once he’s free,” Apostol said.

According to Apostol, it is important for Mrs. Arroyo to have a clear feel of the sentiment of the various sectors of the society before deciding on Estrada’s request for unconditional pardon.

“Because public opinion is a factor also, she [the President] will rely also on what these concerned sectors would say,” Apostol said.

For his part, Bunye appealed to the public to give the Department of Justice and Malacañang enough time to study the matter.

“We know that this is a very sensitive and important assignment for our Acting [DoJ] secretary, so we believe Secretary [Agnes] Devanadera would give it immediate action,” Bunye said.

“But at this point, let us not speculate as to what the [DoJ’s] recommendation would be. We can only say in very general terms that the Justice secretary would come up with their recommendation that would be consistent with justice and consistent with our national interest,” Bunye said.

Devanadera had told the media that she would submit her recommendation to Malacañang “within the week.”