Former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada has been given executive clemency by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his former vice-president, EDSA 2 nemesis, accuser, arrestor, jailor, and, ultimately, his political judge, in a seemingly improbable political somersault worthy of a Machiavelli. This, inspite of an earlier palace announcement of a national survey requirement before a presidential decision on the Estrada pardon. The decision was made so hastily that the Estrada family was unable to gather and issue a single statement.
The significant event that happened just before the announcement was the sensational revelation before the Senate hearing by Jose de Venecia III linking the First Couple directly to the ZTE broadband deal with a recital of specific dialogues and meetings known to him. This is a testimony that cannot anymore be ignored and should spark a new upsurge of public interest in the travails of the residents in the Bahay ni Kuya at Ate by the Pasig River. A dangerous interest undampened by the Glorietta “accident” and that can easily lead to serious political consequences.
To be sure, the Estrada pardon has been the subject of a long, off-and-on negotiation between the Estrada camp and Malacañang. They came to a stand-off with unacceptable positions by both sides.
Estrada has always held out for an unconditional pardon with no acceptance of guilt nor a requirement for public apology. The Palace is thus faced with the political nightmare of an “innocent” Estrada undermining the very rationale of GMA’s takeover of the presidency in 2001.
GMA wants to have a political hold on Estrada even after the grant of a pardon, thereby preempting possible revenge in the post-GMA period. The GMA camp wants a conditional pardon restricting Estrada from running in 2010. The nightmare here is an Estrada presidency avenging itself on its former vice-president, EDSA 2 nemesis, accuser, arrestor, jailor, and political judge.
What broke the impasse? Two things happened almost at the same time that, I think, opened the door to a hasty request for a presidential pardon and an equally hasty granting of it.
Estrada saw a failed motion for reconsideration and a Supreme Court sitting on his appeal, continued incarceration amid a political transition, and possible irrelevancy in the nation’s favorite game of politics. GMA, for her part, saw the first signs of a ruling coalition self-destructing, the specter of a successful impeachment, and the inexorable march towards a lameduck presidency.
GMA has only three options facing her in the waning days of her power: to reconcile with the opposition and agree on the rules for the post-GMA period (particularly on guarantees for her survival), to gamble and exact the same guarantees from presidentiable(s), or to maneuver to extend her term.
She tried the first option on her terms–it failed. She tried to play off the presidentiables against each other–they unified against her. She tried redoing the Cha-cha caper–she is failing. The political battlefield is littered with her various bungled initiatives. The strategy that saved her so far was the creation of diversionary issues marked by a cynical use of the short attention span of the mass media.
However, the clock ticks, and having ticked, moves on. Today, she stands in the endgame, with threats of a checkmate from within and outside her defenses. Her trusted people–one by one–had already left or are ravaged by time and the political war. The window of opportunity for a favorable outcome to her crisis–or even a merely survivable one–is fast closing.
The Estrada pardon is a decisive political stroke but its effectiveness is diminished by it being a forced move. It is also an ambiguous signal, indicating either a reinforcement of depleted political ranks or a genuine gesture of reconciliation. GMA has to do more to extricate from a closing attack and clearly signal her intentions–by undertaking specific actions for political reforms that can unite the body politic for the post-GMA period. Or embark on a perilous gambit that only a Marcos dared use before.
The Estrada pardon is a pragmatic political maneuver at this time, to buy time–nothing else.