Byline: BRENDA P. TUAZON
Former President Joseph Estrada yesterday reminded public rally participants not to set aside the rule of law but instead allow due process to take its course and hasten the repair of constitutional violations committed in EDSA II.
The "political travesty of 2001" must not ever happen again, he said in a meeting with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
"I do not like to happen to her what happened to me in 2001 when the coup conspirators, in their thirst for power, threw out the Rule of Law and allowed the Rule of Force to prevail," he said.
The popular opposition leader said EDSA II's parliament of the streets signaled the "death of democracy" that brought the country to what and where it is today -- "painfully divided and wounded."
At the same time, he urged the Arroyo administration not to block the public search for truth, but instead allow the Senate inquiry on the $ 329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal to proceed by not restricting vital witnesses from appearing before the Senate.
There is need to "put a closure to all these issues continually dividing the people," he said.
Blocking public efforts to flush out the truth, Estrada said, will only reinforce a strongly growing public perception of guilt among those in the corridors of power and their relatives on allegations of "kickbacks in the hundreds of millions in American dollars."
"During the impeachment proceedings against me, I never tried to block Congress to elevate the same to the Senate, nor did I stop any witness from attending the Senate hearings," Estrada said.
He recalled his determination to face the impeachment trial, firmly believing he had nothing to hide. Nor did he order the police to stop or water-hose rallyists and protestors, fully aware that citizens have a right enshrined in the Constitution to air their grievances, he said.
During the open forum, Estrada was asked whether he didn't find it hypocritical to be crusading against the Arroyo government's corruption allegations when he himself was convicted of corruption.
"Of course not," he said. His conviction, he said, did not mean he was guilty of government allegations of corruption.
"I was convicted on trumped-up allegations of plunder by a kangaroo court specially created to convict me, and whose judges were handpicked, and not raffled as provided by the Rule of Law and the Constitution, and whose members were later rewarded with promotions to the Supreme Court," Estrada said.
At the same time, he said, "68 per cent of Filipinos, in a survey, do not believe I was guilty of those trumped-up charges."
If the people believed in those allegations, Estrada contended, "I do not believe my wife, former Senator Luisa 'Loi' Estrada, and our son, Jinggoy, would have been voted by the electorate as senators."
Moreover, Estrada added, there would have been no plunder charges filed against him had he acceded to the requests of Malacanang, sent through then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, to sign "a document that I had resigned from the presidency."
"It was offered twice, and twice I rejected, because I have always believed that flight is guilt."
Asked about his accomplishments as President, Estrada cited his peace and order campaign that got rid of kidnapping and carnapping cases, as strictly implemented by then Philippine National Police chief, now Senator Panfilo Lacson.
"At that time, the country's crime rate was at its lowest and General Lacson and I were profoundly proud that our people then felt safe in their homes," he said.
His greatest accomplishment as President, he said, was over-running the 46 rebel military camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), including Camp Abubakar, the rebels' biggest military command.
According to Estrada, his military offensive then was meant to accelerate the peace efforts of wartorn Mindanao, but he has become disheartened over reports that all of the recaptured rebel camps had been returned to the MILF, "thus putting the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform in vain. …