THE Supreme Court ruled in favor of former President Joseph Estrada in an election dispute over the mayoralty of Manila, but junked the petition of his son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, to stop the plunder case against him at the Sandiganbayan.
The high court voted 11-3 in upholding the the Commission on Elections decision declaring Estrada qualified to run for mayor of Manila in the May 13, 2013 elections and junking the cases filed by former Mayor Alfredo Lim and his lawyer Alicia Risos-Vidal, said SC spokesman Teodore Te.
Reacting to the decision, Estrada said in a statement “it is with gratitude and humility that we at the Manila City Hall received the news that the Supreme Court has dismissed the disqualification that was filed against me.”
“I am thankful that this decision put an end to rumors that were being dispelled by other camps that I would be ousted,” he added.
He said it is also important to note that the decision was reached by a large majority of 11-3, thereby authoritatively settling the issue and stating clearly that indeed I have absolutely been restored my civil and political rights.
“Now we can move ahead, cleared of this issue, to achieve its vision of reviving Manila to its former glory,” the mayor said.
Malacañang, on the other hand, distanced itself from the decision although it was earlier reported to have been lobbying the high court to rule against the Manila mayor.
“The Supreme Court has spoken on the disqualification case against Mayor Joseph Estrada. Let us note that this is a local government issue, so we do not have any comment on the matter,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
He also downplayed allegations made by Estrada’s son, Senator JV Ejercito, that the Aquino administration had a hand in the disqualification case.
“That’s pure speculation on his part. I won’t comment on that opinion. It’s his own speculation,” Lacierda said.
“That will be subject to whatever decision or action that Mayor Erap will take. But as far as we’re concerned right now, as in the here and now, there are still 521 days to go and we are focused still on a number of issues on governance. We’re focused on governance right now,” he said.
“If and when President Benigno Aquino III should decide to announce (the administration’s standard bearer), then maybe that’s the right time to discuss these things. But, again, it will all depend on that decision taken by Mayor Joseph Estrada,” Lacierda added.
SC spokesman Te said “the main issue considered by the Court was the characterization of the pardon extended by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to respondent former president-current mayor Joseph Estrada after the latter’s conviction for plunder.”
“The majority characterized the pardon extended by Mrs. Arroyo to Mr. Estrada as absolute, thereby restoring Mr. Estrada’s qualification to stand as candidate in the last mayoralty race,” Te added.
The court spokesman said Estrada’s acceptance of the absolute pardon removed the disqualifications arising from the Local Government Code and the Omnibus Election Code,” the SC official said.
The magistrates who voted to dismiss the petitions were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Ironically, Leonardo-De Castro, who wrote the majority ruling dismissing the disqualification case, was one of the Sandiganbayan justices who tried and convicted Estrada in 2007 on four separate charges of plunder and perjury.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen maintained that Estrada is disqualified from seeking an elective post.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza did not take part in the deliberation of the case because he argued the case before the SC when he was still solicitor general.
In April last year, the SC gave due course to the petitions filed by Lim and Vidal. who insisted that Estrada’s conviction for plunder and sentence to life imprisonment in 2007 disqualified him from running for public office.
They also argued that the executive pardon granted to him by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not restore his right to seek or hold public office.
Bur Estrada argued that Arroyo’s pardon was absolute and did not not hinge on the condition that he would no longer seek elective office as supposedly stated in the whereas clause of the clemency.
Estrada argued that the pardon had “effectively obliterated all the penalties attached to the conviction and restored Estrada to his full and civil political rights.”
On technical aspect, he argued that Lim lacked the legal standing to intervene in the case because he (Lim) does not stand to sustain any direct injury, or is denied a right or privilege he is entitled to, with Estrada sitting as Mayor of Manila.
Estrada claimed that the Local Government Code specifies that the elected vice mayor – in this case, Isko Moreno – succeeds to the vacated position and not the candidate who got the second most number of votes during the election in question.
But Jinggoy was not as lucky as his father because the court’s dismissal of his appeal paved the way for the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the trial of the plunder and graft charges against him.
In a decision penned by Carpio, the SC voted 9-5 to dismiss the petition filed by Jinggoy seeking to nullify the joint resolution and the joint order issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on March 28, 2014 and June 4, 2014 for lack of merit
On March 28, the Ombudsman issued a resolution finding probable cause to indict Estrada along with Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and several others for plunder and graft.
In its June 4 order, the Ombudsman denied Estrada and his co-accused motion for reconsideration of the March 28 resolution and ordered the filing of the charges before the Sandiganbayan.
But Jinggoy argued that the Ombudsman’ resolutions should be set aside because Ombudsman “grievously ignored, trampled upon and violated” his constitutional rights to due process when it first denied his request and then later on filed charges using affidavits which were “not disclosed to him.”
But Te explained that the Court dismissed the petition because Jinggoy failed to get the required number of votes to grant the relief he was asking for.
Those who concurred with Carpio’s ruling were Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.
Those who dissented were Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Lucas Bersamin and Jose Mendoza.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza also inhibited from the voting due to his previous participation in the case as solicitor general.
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