GMA frees Erap

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Convicted president Joseph Estrada is a free man.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo granted pardon to the 70-year-old deposed leader following a recommendation by the Department of Justice (DoJ), Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a press conference on national television.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno has been instructed to deliver the order to Estrada at 9 a.m. Friday at his rest house in Tanay, Rizal, said Bunye, concurrent executive secretary.

The process of serving the pardon starts when the former president accepts it and would take about three hours to arrange, Bunye said.

As soon as Estrada accepts the pardon, the order would be transmitted by Puno to the Sandiganbayan and once the anti-graft court has formally noted the order of acceptance, it would be returned to Tanay after which Estrada would be released.

Reading from the order signed by the President, Bunye said the pardon was granted after Estrada publicly agreed not to pursue any other elective office.

It is also part of Arroyo’s policy of releasing prisoners who have reached 70 years of age and in recognition of Estrada’s six years in detention, much of it under house arrest, Bunye said.

With the pardon, “Estrada has been restored his civil and political rights,” Bunye read.

But Bunye said the forfeiture decision imposed by the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court remained in force, “including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayan … except for the bank accounts he owned before his tenure as President.”

The President’s order in full:

“Whereas, this Administration has a policy of releasing inmates who have reached the age of seventy (70),

“Whereas, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has been under detention for six and a half years,

“Whereas, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,

“In view hereof and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution, I hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of plunder and imposed a penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.

“The forfeitures imposed by the Sandiganbayan remain in force and in full, including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayan in pursuance hereof, except for the bank account(s) he owned before his tenure as President.”

Bunye made no mention of the political pressure being exerted by Estrada supporters for release following his sentence of life imprisonment earlier this year for massive graft.

Bunye said the President’s decision was based on a Department of Justice recommendation, which contained the same reasons given in the “whereas” clause of the order.

Asked what had prompted Arroyo to act swiftly on the recommendation, Bunye said the President found sufficient reasons to grant Estrada pardon.

“The power of the President under the Constitution is absolute once the conditions for the grant of the pardon are there, the principal condition being that the sentence has already become final then that can set into motion the process of granting executive clemency,” Bunye explained.

In granting the pardon, Bunye assured that the President had considered all factors, including those opposing it.

The pardon came amid allegations by some groups that the move was a “political accommodation” to Estrada.

The chief government prosecutor and lawyers who won the plunder case against Estrada also opposed the move by the Palace, saying “the timing is not good” and “too early.”

But Malacañang officials said granting pardon to Estrada was a reconciliatory move that could finally pave the way to unity.

Estrada, who was sentenced to life in prison by the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court on September 12 for plunder, told the anti-graft court on Monday that he was dropping a motion for reconsideration on his verdict and would seek “full, free, and unconditional” pardon from Arroyo.

The President was reportedly elated when she was told of Estrada’s decision.

The Sandiganbayan Tuesday granted Estrada’s motion to waive his right to appeal his conviction. Dropping the appeal makes the court’s decision final and paves the way for the process of initiating a presidential pardon.