The Commission on Elections on Tuesday allowed former President Joseph Estrada to run in this year's presidential elections.
"Let the people decide who will be the next President," the poll body's Second Division said in a decision junking the petition filed against Estrada last December.
"The two petitions for disqualification separately filed by Evillo Pormento and Mary Lou Estrada against former President Joseph Estrada are both denied for utter lack of merit," the Comelec said.
Incidentally, the decision was promulgated on the same day Estrada was forced by a popular street uprising to step down nine years ago.
The Second Division likewise denied the petition of lawyer Elly Pamatong to cancel Estrada's certificate of candidacy, saying the plea had wasted the poll body's "precious time."
In seeking Estrada's disqualification, the petitioners cited Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution which says: "The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time."
Pamatong, who was present during the promulgation, was enraged by what he claimed were corrupt commissioners. He was cited in contempt and detained.
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"I want to thank the Lord, I want to thank the Comelec commissioners for their sense of fairness," Estrada said, adding that his triumph was a "victory for the Filipino people." If appealed, the division ruling may still be overturned by the Comelec en banc and Supreme Court.
Since Estrada formally announced his intention to run again for President, many have debated whether he would be allowed to do so.
Citing the same Charter provision, Estrada asserts he is still eligible to have another shot at the presidency because he does not fall into two categories banned from doing so: incumbent Presidents and those who have finished their six-year term as President.
In 1998, Estrada was elected with over 10 million votes, the highest vote a presidential candidate ever had in Philippine history. After less than three years in power, he was toppled by the street uprising amid corruption allegations and before an impeachment court could rule on his case.
In September 2007, Estrada was convicted by the Sandiganbayan, the country's anti-graft court, for plunder, sentenced to a lifetime in jail and disqualified from seeking public office.
A month later, however, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo granted him executive clemency, thus restoring his political and civil rights, including his right to seek public office. He has since reiterated his eligibility to run, saying he was not covered by the reelection ban under the 1987 Constitution.
Election lawyer and Arroyo supporter Romulo Macalintal, however, contests Estrada’s argument, saying any Chief Executive is covered by the clause.
He also said the four-year cap under Section 4 applies only to those who have succeeded the President, not those who were elected to office.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court junked a petition by the Vanguards of the Philippine Constitution Inc. to disqualify Estrada.
The high court said the case should have been filed with the Comelec, the government body that has first jurisdiction over disqualification cases.
Estrada filed his certificate of candidacy last November 30 under the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino party. His running mate is Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.
He is running against Vetallano Acosta (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan), Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III (Liberal Party), John Carlos "JC" Delos Reyes (Ang Kapatiran), Joseph M. Ejercito Estrada (Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino – UNO), Sen. Richard J. Gordon (Bagumbayan), Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo "Jamby" A.S. Madrigal (independent), Nicanor Perlas (independent), Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr.(Lakas-Kampi-CMD), Eddie C. Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas), and Sen. Manuel B. Villar Jr. (Nacionalista Party) in the May polls.
A recent Pulse Asia survey said that although Aquino is still leading among the presidential bets, Estrada was slowly catching up.
From 11 percent, preference for the deposed leader rose to 19 percent, tying him with Senator Manuel Villar for second place. — with reports from Sophia Dedace/RSJ/NPA, GMANews.TV