Sources say majority of justices will not disqualify Manila mayor
MANILA Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada will virtually get the green light to run again for public office in 2016 once he hurdles a disqualification case lodged against him at the Supreme Court (SC).
Legal pundits aired this opinion on Tuesday, a day before SC justices rule on the case seeking to unseat Estrada as Manila mayor.
Unimpeachable sources at the High Court told The Manila Times that Estrada has “the sufficient number of SC justices who will allow him to stay as city mayor of Manila.”
“If Erap is not disqualified, he can run again for president in the May 2016 elections.
As to the issue whether a former president is constitutionally barred to seek again the presidency is another story,” the sources said.
They pointed out that the issue at the High Court is whether Estrada can seek elective office after his conviction for the crime of plunder.
The sources said the country’s former leader will likely remain as Manila mayor because as many as nine justices may rule in his favor.
Estrada had expressed confidence that the tribunal will not invalidate his victory as mayor of Manila in the 2010 elections.
He said he received from then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo an absolute pardon, which fully restored his civil and political rights.
The former president added that the SC must affirm findings of the Commission on Elections on April 1, 2013 and April 23, 2013, which recognized his eligibility and qualifications as mayor of Manila.
Alicia Risos-Vidal, the lawyer of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who also intervened in the case, filed the disqualification case against the Manila mayor.
Estrada won in the May 1998 elections as president and was ousted on January 20, 2001. He ran again for president in the May 2010 polls and placed second to then-Sen. Benigno Aquino 3rd who won the presidency.
To win the case, Estrada needs the votes of seven justices since there are only 14 magistrates who will participate in the voting.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza has recused himself because he handled Estrada’s case when he was the Solicitor General before it was elevated to the SC.
Under the rules, once the SC voting is tied at 7-7, a re-voting shall be made. If the votes are still tied on the second voting, the petition against Estrada shall be dismissed.
The sources said there are at least seven justices who are inclined not to disqualify Estrada.
Two of them have submitted their dissenting opinions to Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who wants to unseat Estrada.
Leonen was designated to study whether Estrada should be disqualified, and he opined that the Manila mayor should be disqualified because of his conviction for the crime of plunder by the Sandiganbayan.
He also opined that the pardon bestowed on him by Arroyo was conditional.
But Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, who submitted a dissenting opinion to the SC en banc, said Estrada should not be disqualified because the pardon bestowed by Arroyo was an “absolute pardon.”
He added that Estrada’s “civil and political rights” have been fully restored.
Associate Justice Arturo Brion has also circulated his dissenting opinion against the Leonen draft, the sources added.
A source said Estrada has a big chance of winning the disqualification case because as many as nine justices may decide in his favor.
Meanwhile, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno told The Manila Times in a phone interview that he is confident that the SC will junk Estrada’s disqualification case.
Moreno said the pardon that Estrada got from former President Arroyo was absolute.
“My law professor, former Justice Edilberto Sandoval, said when the pardon is absolute, it is as if you were born again. Meaning, you have acquired the right to vote and be voted upon,” he added.
Estrada and Moreno won against the tandem of former Lim and Lou Veloso in the May 2013 polls.
Estrada’s son, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito also expressed hope that the High Court will decide based on the merits of the case, saying “there seems to be a concerted effort to get rid of us.”
Ejercito cited the case of his cousin, former Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito, who was disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for campaign overspending.
The senator said he is facing a similar case at the Comelec.
“It is too much of a coincidence, it appears that there is an effort against us because despite the thousands of cases filed before the Comelec, it is our case that is being given priority,” he added.
With Jaime R. Pilapil and Jefferson Antiporda