[This blog has a new domain: http://philippineaffairs.com/]
After six years, the long wait is finally over. The guilty verdict has been finally reached upon and announced by the special division of the Sandigan Bayan (people’s tribunal). Former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada has been found guilty of plunder, beyond reasonable doubt. The reading of the decision was a historic event. For the very first time in Philippine history, a former president has been convicted of a crime.
However, was it just a political decision, as some would insinuate? Was the court truly independent? The slow pace of the judicial process has been a fanfare for the media for the past six years. Surprisingly, the media never lost interest in the case. It was surprising, considering that the Philippine media and the Filipino audience have very short attention span. Was it then a public trial? Perhaps, the attention given on the Erap trial was an aberration. However, Erap’s case was special. It was the biggest criminal trial that the Philippine judicial system has ever handled. This is because the person involved is, to some extent, an extraordinary man. He once held the highest office of the land.
I am fully convinced that Erap is truly guilty. I am glad that the decision has set a precedence on the trial of former high officials of the land (no other public office could be higher than the president’s office). Erap’s crime was an extraordinary crime not because of the staggering monetary amount that was involved. It was extraordinary because it was committed by someone who was given the sacred trust of the people. Well, perhaps Erap was just too careless and clueless (many other government officials commit similar crimes but they were never caught).
Erap’s conviction was not a mere political decision. It was a decision that was based on merits of the evidence presented. The judges reached their unanimous decision not because of political or public pressure. It might have appeared to be a public trial, but how could the public have sympathy with Erap if he appeared to be merely on vacation in the whole duration of the trial?
The expected riot in the streets never materialized. Perhaps, even the Erap supporters were not totally convinced that an injustice has been committed. A chapter in Philippine history has ended. Hopefully, we could move on.