Kidding Aside: Is Erap Elligible to Run for President?

The Constitutional inquiry as to whether former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada can run for another term after other persons shall have served in his former office and not being the incumbent President, has become important over the looming 2010 elections.

There are two views in this issue. One view is that former President Estrada can be re-elected since it is not done immediately following his first term. Another view is that he is forever disqualified because Section 4 of Article VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides in part that ‚Äėx x x¬†¬†the President shall not be eligible for any re-election¬†x x x‚Äô.¬†The phrase¬†any re-election¬†can be interpreted to mean one of two things. It may either be the immediate re-election of the incumbent to the same office or the election to the same office at any time.

The three interconnected words that has to be considered in the above quoted provision are President, reelection and any.

Erap can run. The primary source from which to ascertain constitutional intent or purpose is the language of the constitution itself. The presumption is that the words in which the constitutional provisions are couched, express the objective sought to be attained (J.M. Tuason & Co., Inc., vs. Land Tenure Administration, G.R. No. 21064, Feb. 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 413)  The words should be read and considered in their natural, ordinary, commonly accepted and most obvious signification, according to good and approved usage. For words are presumed to have been employed in their ordinary and common use and acceptation (People vs. Kottinger, 45 Phil. 352, 1923). The rule is expressed in the maxim, generalia verba sunt generaliter intelligenda, or general words shall be understood in a general sense.

Dictionaries whether general or legal may be consulted as an aid in determining the meaning to be assigned to words or phrases (Kuenzle & Streiff vs. Collector of Customs, 32 Phil. 510 (1915).

An applicable definition by Merriam-Webster Online of a President reads: an elected official serving as both chief of state and chief political executive in a republic having a presidential government.Hence, when the word President is used, it can only refer to the incumbent or the present occupant of the office of president. Those who had served the same office in the past should have the modifier former in their title.

The word President is then linked to the term reelection, which Merriam-Webster Online defines as to elect for another term in office. Otherwise stated, reelection ordinarily connotes a person in office running for the same office like an incumbent president being a candidate again for the presidency.

Then there is the modifier any of reelection. The use of any here with reelection, should be understood in the context of a president being reelected more than once consecutively or in succession. The classic and unprecedented example is U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or who was reelected thrice. He was first elected president of the United States in 1932. He was later reelected in 1936, reelected again in 1940, and reelected for a third and last time in 1944.

However, definitions given by lexicographers are not binding (Luzon Stevedoring Co. vs. Trinidad, 43 Phil. 803, 1922)

Verba legis. The line of argument in favor of Estrada’s candidacy is enforced by the literal meaning or plain-meaning rule. As a general rule, the intent to be ascertained and thereafter given effect is the intent expressed in the language of the statute (Regalado vs. Yulo, 61 Phil. 173, 1935). If it is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation. It is expressed in the maxim, index animi sermo or speech is the index of intention (Bustamante vs. National labor Relations Commission, 76 SCAD 652). The rule rests on the valid presumption that the words employed correctly express its intent or will and preclude the court from construing it differently (Espiritu vs. Cipriano, GR No. 32742, February 14, 1974). Verba legis non est recedendum or from the words of a statute there should be no departure. Hence, what is not clearly provided in the law cannot be extended to those matters outside its scope (Baranda vs. Gustilo, 165 SCRA 757, 1988).

Agabin argument.¬†According to Atty. Pacifico Agabin, Former President Estrada can run because, inter alia, Estrada did not resign but was forced to resign because of EDSA People Power II, and the former president was not aware of the consequences of his action when he left Malaca√Īang at the height of the EDSA People power II. He further claims that since Estrada did not finish his full six-year term, the provision under Section 4 of Art. VII will not apply to him.

In Lonzanida vs. Commission on Elections (311 SCRA 602), the petitioner was elected three times as mayor but lost in an election protest  and was ousted during his third term. Interpreting the three-limit in the Constitution and the Local Government Code for local officials, the Supreme Court held that he was not disqualified from running for the same position again because his third election was nullified and he did not fully serve the third term. (Nota Bene: This ruling is not necessarily decisive of the question as it applies to the term limits of the President)

Macalintal argument.¬†¬†Atty. Romulo Macalintal cites the legal maxim¬†ubi lex non distinguit, nec nos distinguere debemus¬†or where the law does not distinguish, we should not distinguish‚ÄĚ.

Erap cannot run. Apart from the language of the constitution as the primary and intrinsic aid to constitutional construction, courts likewise resort to such extraneous aids as the history or realities existing at the time of the adoption of the constitution, proceedings of the convention, changes in phraseology, prior laws and judicial decisions, to shed light on and ascertain the true intent or purpose of the provision being construed.

It has been held that the most important single factor in determining the intention of the people from whom the constitution emanated is the language in which it is expressed. The imperfections of language, however, as a vehicle for conveying meanings result in ambiguities that must be resolved by resorting to extraneous aids for discovering the intent of the framers. One of the more important of these is a consideration of the history of the times when the provision was adopted.

Simply put, well settled is the rule that where words or phrases employed are susceptible of several interpretations or where there is ambiguity in its language, there is no better means of ascertaining the will and intention of than that which is afforded by the history of its enactment. Drawing from the long years of Former president Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, there must only be one term for a person who has already been elected president.

Ratio legis. Following the rule that the intent or spirit of the law is the law itself, resort is had to the principle that the spirit of the law controls its letter, and a thing which is within the letter of the law is within the law unless it be within the intention of the lawmaker, and the law should be so construed as to effectuate its intent or purpose, advance the remedy, suppress the mischief contemplated by the framers (U.S. vs. Go Chico, 14 Phil. 128, 1909). The maxim expressive of the principle is ratio legis or interpretation according to the spirit or intent of law.
The intent is the vital part, the essence of the law, and the primary rule of construction is to ascertain and give effect to that intent. The intention must be enforced when ascertained although it may not be consistent with the strict letter of a law when it leads away from the true intent and purpose and to conclusion inconsistent with the general purpose. Intent is the spirit which gives life to a law.

Which is which? Will there be a literal, strict or liberal interpretation? Will it be accorded with restrictive or expansive meaning? The objective must be to arrive at a reasonable and sensible interpretation that is in full accord with the intent. A construction should be rejected that will cause injustice, result in absurdity, defeat intent or spirit, preclude accomplishment of  purpose or object, render certain words or phrases surplusage, or make the provision nugatory.

CC # 26558. Other than the constitutional restraint, Former President Estrada is barred from seeking public office because of his previous criminal conviction although already pardoned. Among the effects of penalties imposed on Estrada are (1) deprivation of the public offices and  employments which the offender may have held, even if conferred by popular election, (2) deprivation of the right to vote in any election for any popular elective office or to be elected to such office, (3) disqualification for the offices or public employments and for the exercise of any of the rights mentioned and (4) loss of all rights to retirement pay or other pension for any office formerly held. (Article 30 of the Revised Penal Code)

A pardon (by the President) shall not restore the right to hold public office or the right of suffrage except when any or both such rights is/ are expressly restored by the terms of the pardon (Article 36 of the Revised Penal code). Such exception was not the case. The order of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to release Former President Joseph Estrada read as follows:

“Whereas, this Administration has a policy of releasing inmates who have reached the age of seventy (70),

“Whereas, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has been under detention for six and a half years,

“Whereas, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,

“In view hereof and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution, I hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of plunder and imposed a penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.

‚ÄúThe forfeitures imposed by the Sandiganbayan remain in force and in full, including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayan in pursuance hereof, except for the bank account(s) he owned before his tenure as President.‚ÄĚ

It must be noted that Former President Estrada agreed on the terms of pardon when he signed it.

Kidding aside. When Former President Estrada was not able to think of intelligent answers to difficult questions in the 2nd ANC Leadership Forum, he just parried by using kidding aside. Well we might just all do the same when he (miraculously) qualifies to run for President and wins.


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