THE guilty verdict handed by the Sandiganbayan on plunder charges against former Philippine president Joseph "Erap" Estrada felt almost anti-climactic. Like many others, I too expected the verdict, especially with the overwhelming documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts like those of former EPCI banker Clarissa Ocampo, showing who was the true owner of the Jose Velarde account.
In the same manner that we expected the guilty verdict, we should also expect a presidential pardon. Not right now, because that would only raise the hackles of many civil society groups and interested parties, but perhaps in the near future. (I, for one, am not opposed to a pardon.)
There are two possible scenarios I could think of. Maybe the pardon can be handed down before the Presidentita GMA steps down. By then, we would probably be too wrapped anyway in electing a new set of monkeys into office, we would be busy to even notice it. And I still think that despite what she projects to be, the Presidentita wants to go down in history books as someone who was still compassionate and understanding. (Who knows, she could also be setting a precedent in case someone files a graft case against her and her family.)
Or she could probably endorse the presidential pardon to the next President, who will probably come from the Opposition camp anyway. (Hmmm...let's see...Manny Villar? Mar Roxas? or ick, Loren Legarda?) Anyway, memories of Filipinos are short, and we are generally a forgiving lot.
Whoever the next President will be can only look to the US as guidance. In 1974, then US President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his misconduct surrounding the Watergate scandal, except that Ford did so before Nixon's case even went to trial. It was a controversial decision but Ford made a compelling and sympathetic argument, which Americans eventually were able to live with. (Read Ford's explanation here.)
A presidential pardon in Erap's case could work too except that I doubt that he could reinvent himself the way Nixon did, who went on to become a prolific author, speaker, and well-respected elder stateman. Maybe Erap could resurrect his film career and make a movie based on his trial or have someone ghostwrite his memoirs. A few chapters devoted to his paramours would make the book an instant best-seller.
Seriously, this country needs closure in the political arena. There are just so many issues still hanging out there that are keeping us as a nation from moving forward, e.g. the Ninoy Aquino murder, the Marcos millions, the Hello Garci scandal. (It's a good thing that Marcos has finally been buried because that too, was one closure we needed.) The guilty verdict on Erap and a subsequent pardon could be the start of a turnaround for us.