Estrada is cleared to run for Philippine presidency

By CARLOS H. CONDE
The New York Times
Published: Jan. 21, 2009

MANILA: The Philippine election commission cleared the way Wednesday for the former president Joseph Estrada to run for the presidency a second time.

The commission dismissed the last remaining petitions seeking to disqualify Mr. Estrada, although some analysts believe the decision contravened the Constitution. The Constitution prohibits a president from seeking a second term, but Mr. Estrada has argued that this did not apply to him, because he was driven from power in 2001 before he could complete his first term.

‘‘I am not running for re-election,’’ he said in an interview in October. ‘‘I am running for election.’’

The commission’s decision did not directly address the issue of constitutionality, saying instead that ‘‘it is the Filipino people who would act as the final arbiter of whether they would have Estrada sit as president again.’’

It did point out, however, that Mr. Estrada’s civil and political rights had been restored when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardoned the former president after he was convicted of corruption charges in 2007.

The Supreme Court has never issued a ruling on Mr. Estrada’s eligibility to run again for the presidency.

The commission’s ruling came on the ninth anniversary of the second ‘‘people power’’ uprising that led to his ouster.

In a statement, Mr. Estrada took note of the occasion, saying the date ‘‘is significant to me personally because it was exactly on this day nine years ago, Jan. 20, 2001, when the honor to serve the Filipino people as president was stolen from me.’’ He added that ‘‘today, the opportunity to serve has been returned and it seems as if I am being told that I need to complete the mission that my administration started in 1998.’’

Migrante, a political party of overseas Filipino workers that the commission had barred earlier from seeking sectoral representation in Congress, criticized the commission for favoring Mr. Estrada.

‘‘This only concretizes our stand that justice for marginalized sectors in the commission is very slim,’’ said Connie Bragas-Regalado, the party’s chairwoman.

The commission also disqualified a party of homosexuals, although this decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

One of the country’s most popular actors and politicians, Mr. Estrada was elected president in 1998. But allegations of corruption led to an impeachment trial that ultimately sent people to the streets. Mr. Estrada served only two years of his six-year term.

While the ruling Wednesday can be appealed, to the commission and ultimately the Supreme Court, it is unlikely that a new decision could come soon enough to meet the deadline to start printing ballots early next week. National and local elections are scheduled in May. At least 10 candidates are running for president.

Mr. Estrada’s supporters praised the decision, with a spokesman saying on Wednesday that it gives his candidacy a certainty that he hoped would be reflected in coming polls. In previous surveys, Mr. Estrada placed third, behind Senator Manuel Villar and Benigno Aquino III, the son of former president Corazon Aquino.Also on Wednesday, the commission ruled that President Arroyo, whose term ends in June, can run for a congressional seat in her hometown of Pampanga Province, rejecting a petition filed against her that cited the same constitutional ban used against Mr. Estrada.

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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