The long drawn out trial of Joseph Ejercito Estrada finally came to an end last Friday when the prosecution and the defense panels summed up their arguments on the P4.1-billion plunder case against the former president.
The oral summation was not really necessary and was in fact an oddity in the Philippine legal system. But then again, the case is historic. It’s not every day that a former President of an Asian country has been tried—and jailed, although that multi-million mansion complete with ponds and hectares of vegetable farms can hardly be called jail at all—for plunder, or anything for that matter. Besides, the all-star cast of lawyers, government officials, politicians, and relatives needed to perform for their audience. Lest we forget, this is the Philippines where everyone hams it up for the almighty television camera.
Some sectors in media who thrive on tabloid trash also needed something, anything new they can splash on the front pages. Truth is, since the War of the Bektases has fizzled out from a screaming match into a sniffling bout, there hasn’t been anything remotely licentious or controversial lately that could be turned, twisted and mined into a full-blown scandal.
I think people are already up to here with all the salacious details of the cheating in the last election. People already have more information than they could possibly process and have started to tune off.
So the trial is finally over. Can we now heave a sigh of relief and achieve closure on the whole Estrada imbroglio? I doubt it. As a people, we are so good at kicking leaders out of office, but sadly, our record at making them account and pay for their transgressions is dismal. Besides, it is the verdict that really counts anyway.
If Estrada is convicted, he will go down flailing and screaming at the supposed injustice and oppression that continues to be inflicted on him and his family. He will once again profess his innocence to high heavens. Not that there’s anything surprising there. He has been at it in the last seven years anyway.
In fact if there is something that I find truly exasperating and frustrating in the whole scheme of things, it is the sight of a defiant Joseph Estrada and his family. Despite the mountain of evidence, despite having been caught verbally incriminating himself, Estrada has continued to protest and claim innocence all the way through.
If Estrada is acquitted, then heaven help us, we’re in for the second coming of the so-called hero of the masses. And just like in the movies where the long suffering and unjustly accused hero returns triumphant in the end, Joseph Estrada will swagger into the political ring with guns blazing and fireworks exploding. He already hinted that there will be hell to pay, that there will be retribution.
Either way, public opinion will be divided among those who think Estrada is a victim and those who believe he is as guilty as hell. In the immortal words of a newly-elected lady governor (her opinion was solicited regarding the alleged marriage to another woman in the United States of her erstwhile rival), “damage you do, damage you don’t” (damn if you do, damn if you don’t).
But in addition to what we already know, which is already more than enough might I remind everyone, is there anything that we have learned so far from the much publicized trial?
It took more than six years to repeat the same arguments and present the same pieces of evidence that were already submitted in the impeachment case. I know that it was a separate legal proceeding, but the delay was telling of just how easy it was to manipulate the way the wheels of justice move in this country, particularly when it involved people in power.
Lest we forget, most of the delay was caused by the defense panel who hemmed and hawed and threw every possible wrench into the process just to delay the case. And yet, the Estradas were the ones protesting too much about the continuing oppression and injustice being done to their family.
We’ve lost count of the number of times the Estradas and their lackeys made dramatic appeals on television about how the former President was supposed to be languishing in jail and suffering because justice delayed is justice denied. This we know: the Estradas are truly masters in the art of reframing issues to get on the good side of the people. Some call it charisma. I prefer to call it by its real name: emotional manipulation. And some people have transformed it into a science.
Another thing we have learned is that the so-called “Plan B” does work. Plan B is a defense tactic that was played up to the hilt in that old television series “The Practice.” It involves finding someone, anyone, to stick the blame on. The idea is to liberally spread the muck around so that the accused will look less guilty precisely because everyone else is. In fact, it works better if someone powerful can be dragged into the fray to be accused of being guiltier of the same charges being leveled against the plaintiff.
If the ruse is successful, the ultimate copout can be trundled out: “a crook should not be judged by another crook.”
This is in fact the reasoning being forwarded by some militant organizations that have suddenly become like the proverbial three monkeys—see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They say that the reason why they have suddenly become selective in their advocacy against corruption and therefore not demanding a guilty verdict in the case of Estrada is because the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which they say is more corrupt than the accused, does not have the moral ascendancy to judge Joseph Estrada.
Silly me, I thought ideologies and principles were absolute concepts; things you can’t modify for the sake of expediency.
And at the very end, when all the arguments have been submitted and half the people in that room have already fallen asleep from sheer boredom, when the contending parties have presumably run out of words to regurgitate, what was the most appropriate way to mark the event? One would think that they would end it with a prayer or a moment of silence, or at least on a very grave and serious note that would send everyone home in a reflective mood.
But no, they decided to ham it up for the camera. They had a photo session where everyone involved, including the justices, posed and flashed their pearly whites for the camera.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we do it in the Philippines.