Today, Joseph “Erap” Estrada was found guilty of plunder, acquitted of perjury, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was ordered to stay at his resthouse in Rizal “until further orders.”
On one hand, it can be argued that the guilty verdict is a step in the right direction; a direction against corruption and toward a legal system where the rich, powerful and popular are subject to the law just like the rest of us.
On the other hand, what I find especially troubling, is public opinion surrounding the result. Some people predicted Erap would be acquitted, or found guilty of a lesser charge, although they believed he was guilty of plunder. Others predicted Erap would be found guilty of plunder although they believed he was innocent. The most common (and troubling) sentiments, however, was that the pursuit of Erap’s case is more about justifying GMA’s place in the presidency than an attempt to find justice; the case is simply a game of the rich and powerful and no matter the verdict, the average Filipino will remain poor, hungry and uneducated.
These sentiments reflect the average Filipino’s opinion that: government allocates “justice” on a “weather-weather” basis, government and politics consist of interactions between the rich and powerful, ignoring the poor, and government has little or no affect on the average citizen’s life.
Erap’s conviction, however, gives us a chance to change this sentiment.
Erap’s case and conviction have been highly publicized while a plethora of corrupt and extralegal practices continue to pervade our government. Why has Erap been singled out? Because his case is so public and thus would serve as the best warning to other corrupt officials? Because he is an enemy of GMA? Probably both.
In any case, let us use this opportunity. We should not take Erap’s conviction as reassurance that our judicial system is squeaky clean (just as the overwhelming victory of GO candidates over TU candidates in the last election does not mean that the administration did not commit voter fraud). Instead, we should take Erap’s conviction as inspiration that there is hope our judicial system has the potential to work. Accordingly, the best way to see that this potential is filled is to pursue graft, corruption and plunder charges against other high-ranking officials in government.