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Arroyo’s pardon for Estrada is a mockery, say Philippine churches


Philippine church leaders did not applaud President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she invoked reconciliation and forgiveness, and pardoned former President Joseph Estrada, who was supposed to serve a life sentence for corruption.

"President Arroyo made a mockery of justice by making the more-than-six years of litigation of Estrada useless," the Rev. Simplicio Dang-awan Jr of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines told Ecumenical News International on 29 October. "The pardon gives the message that it is okay to plunder the government if you are powerful."

After six years of litigation, the Philippines’ Ombudsman last September found Estrada guilty of embezzling funds from tobacco excise duties, and of receiving millions of dollars in payoffs from illegal gambling. The court sentenced the former president to life in prison.

But on 26 October, Arroyo issued an executive clemency for Estrada, and cited among other reasons the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness.

"What Arroyo did is meaningless and baseless," Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon of Baguio told ENI. "Estrada says he is not guilty. So for what should he receive pardon? Estrada had refused a pardon because it would mean acceptance that he did something wrong. I don’t understand what made him accept the pardon anyway."

Catholic Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches has also lamented the six years of hard work and expense in trying to convict Estrada, "only (for it) to be put to waste by Arroyo".

Tobias called for the president’s resignation and said that by her actions, "Arroyo is telling us that she is above the law and that she can do everything (for political expediency)."

Catholic Bishops’ Conference president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo issued a statement on 26 October urging Arroyo to look at the "bigger picture" and to "avoid favouritism". The archbishop also pointed out that many prisoners were rotting in jail, "because they have no influence with the government, justice system and the media".

Toppled by "people power" in 2001 over allegations of stealing millions of dollars from government funds and of receiving millions from illegal gambling, Estrada, a former movie star, still commands a large following, and many in the political opposition still rally round him. From being a critic of Arroyo, Estrada is now seen as her ally, and he has defended the president from those calling for her resignation.

Now Arroyo herself faces accusations of theft, bribery and involvement in an irregular Internet broadband deal. Some analysts say she has set a precedent for her future executive clemency if she eventually stands trial after her term ends in 2010.

Ecumenical News International