SUPREME Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the magistrate who was designated to write the decision on the disqualification case filed against Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, believes that the former president should be ousted from his post.
Leonen is convinced Estrada’s conviction for plunder made him ineligible to run for public office, according to a highly reliable source at the High Court.
In his draft ponencia, Leonen, the most junior member of the tribunal, maintained that even if Estrada was granted pardon by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he was barred from running for an elective post because the executive clemency that he received was not absolute.
Leonen, a constitutional law expert, had submitted his draft decision to the court en banc but some justices asked for more time to study the case. The tribunal will deliberate on the case on January 20, 2015.
The disqualification case against Estrada was filed by Alicia Risos-Vidal, the lawyer of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who also intervened in the case.
The Manila Times source said Leonen based his decision on his findings that the pardon granted by Arroyo to Estrada was conditional, not absolute.
The magistrate relied on the October 25, 2007 Executive Clemency that Estrada accepted and that stated that the former president “publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office.”
The source said the executive clemency granted by Arroyo only obliterated Estrada’s principal penalty and did not restore the former leader’s “political rights” thus he is barred from running for any public position.
Leonen cited the landmark case of Monsanto vs. Factoran, which also dealt with the pardon given to a convicted public official.
The provisions of Article 36 and 41 of the Revised Penal Code on pardon being bestowed by a sitting President to a convicted criminal was also discussed in Leonen’s draft ponencia.
Article 36 provides,“A pardon shall not work the restoration of the right to hold public office, or the right of suffrage, unless such rights be expressly restored by the terms of the pardon.”
Article 41 mandates that the penalties of reclusion perpetua and reclusion temporal “shall carry with them that of civil interdiction for life or during the period of the sentence as the case may be, and that of perpetual absolute disqualification which the offender shall suffer even though pardoned as to the principal penalty, unless the same shall have been expressly remitted in the pardon.”
The crime of plunder is punishable by reclusion perpetua.
In his draft decision, Leonen also discussed who should replace Estrada in case the SC ruled to oust him from office.
The magistrate opined that if the disqualification was the result of election offenses such as ballot switching, ballot snatching, vote buying and acts of terrorism, the successor shall be the vice mayor based on the law on succession under Section 44 of the Local Government Code.
If, however, the cause of the disqualification is based on the cancellation of the certificate of candidacy on the basis of eligibility of a candidate, the successor shall be the candidate who placed second during the elections in 2013.
The latest jurisprudence on such a case was in the Aratea vs Comelec and Antipolo where the second placer, Estela Deloso-Antipolo, was allowed by the SC to sit as mayor of San Antonio town in Zambales, not Vice Mayor Efren Aratea, because of the disqualification of Romeo Lonzanida, a convicted criminal.
Estrada was ousted from the presidency in 2001 over massive allegations of corruption. He was convicted for plunder by the Sandiganbayan Special Division on September 12, 2007. He ran for President during the May 2010 polls and placed second to then-senator Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Although a disqualification complaint was filed against Estrada by lawyer Evilio Pormento and Mary Lou Estrada, the High Court did not rule on the case because then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, the ponente of the case, said the complaint became moot and academic because of Estrada’s electoral defeat.
Estrada had asked the SC to dismiss the disqualification case, claiming that the pardon bestowed on him by Arroyo restored his civil and political rights.
The former President also stated that the High Court must affirm findings of the Commission on Elections on April 1, 2013 and April 23, 2013 that he is eligible and qualified to run as a mayor of Manila.