Benjie Oliveros | Perpetuating Impunity in the May 2010 Elections

The Comelec, by providing Arroyo the opportunity to perpetuate herself in power through the representative-prime minister route and Estrada the opportunity to regain power, is keeping impunity alive.


MANILA — The decision of the second division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) junking the disqualification case against former president Joseph Estrada makes the May 2010 elections a historical aberration. For the first time since the people’s ouster of the Marcos dictatorship, a former president has been allowed to seek for the second time the highest position in the country.

To complete the absurdity, the Comelec has also allowed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to run for Congress.

Estrada’s lawyers argued that since he was not able to complete his term, and has, in fact, been president for only three years then the constitutional prohibition does not apply to him. They also argued that the ban is applicable only to an incumbent president who would want to seek “reelection,” and since he is not the incumbent, the prohibition does not apply to him. It is also this provision against “reelection” that Arroyo pounced on to argue that since she is running for Congress and not seeking reelection then she is eligible to run.

The problem with lawyers and political opportunists is that they try to make their wrong position appear right by looking for loopholes and inexact formulations in the law. They base their arguments on the letter and not the spirit of the law. Former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod, who was also a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that framed the 1987 Constitution, was right in saying that the Comelec’s second division erred in its decision because a president is not eligible for any reelection.

This constitutional prohibition is meant to prevent another president from doing a Marcos. The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was able to use the 1935 Constitution to declare martial law and manipulated the 1971 Constitutional Convention to make himself president for life.

If Estrada wins another six-year term, he would be doing what Arroyo did — rule for nine years. And as the Filipino people experienced with Marcos and Arroyo, the longer one stays in power, the stronger is the desire to keep it.

Marcos and Arroyo ruled the country for the longest time and they both maneuvered to extend it. The majority in the Lower House has recently declared its bid at amending the Constitution as a failure — after so many attempts during Arroyo’s nine-year term — but wait till Arroyo becomes representative, the next Congress would surely push for charter change again to entrench her as prime minister.

And power begets impunity.

Marcos and Arroyo are the most corrupt presidents in the county’s history and have tallied the worst record of human-rights violations. Estrada was ousted because of his ostentatious ways and was eventually convicted of plunder. He disregarded the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and unleashed a total war in Mindanao. Of course, Marcos’s and Arroyo’s record of cases of corruption and human-rights violations are worse than Estrada’s many times over, but what would make him different if he regains power?

The Comelec, by providing Arroyo the opportunity to perpetuate herself in power through the representative-prime minister route and Estrada the opportunity to regain power, is keeping impunity alive.

Likewise, if the Comelec manipulates the May 2010 elections a la Garci to make Gilbert Teodoro win, it would be perpetuating impunity. Teodoro never criticized Arroyo’s sins against the Filipino people — he is even participating in its coverup. Worse, he was defense minister in an administration that has been condemned internationally for its impunity in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

These would be the worst that could result from the May 2010 elections. That is, if there would be no declaration of a failure of elections that would enable Arroyo to keep herself in Malacañang a while longer, even for life. (

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