Today's Punto
Today's Punto
The path from power
By Bong Lacson

Apr 10, 2018

FROM THE presidency to prison. Has this become the new normal in the dynamics of political power?

Three stories in a single broadcast of BBC News one night made it appear conclusively so. Merely chanced upon though, while surfing channels in Room 24-02 of Berjaya Times Square Hotel in Kuala Lumpur last Friday.

One. Brazil’s top court turned down the preventative habeas corpus request of the charismatic former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to stave off a 12-year jail sentence while he appealed a corruption conviction last July.

After holing himself in the ABC Steelworkers Union building surrounded by his supporters and resulting to a standoff , Lula turned himself to the federal police Saturday.

Two. Forced out of office only last February, South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma has been haled to court on a 16-count charge of corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering rising out of a 1990 arms deal. He faces a stiff prison sentence when, not if – as some analysts projected – convicted.

Three. Found guilty of charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power, former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was handed a 24-year sentence – for the 66-yearold, effectively for the rest of her life.

The daughter of the assassinated former President Park Chung Hee holds the honor of being her country’s first female leader, as well as the infamy of being first president to be impeached from office.

Lula in Latin America. Zuma in Africa. Park in Asia. The universality of the corruptive essence in power all too manifest there. Yeah, Lord Acton to the dot. Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

From the pinnacle of political power to the abysmal shame of prison. But it was not always like this. As a matter of course, It used to be even the reverse of this.

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela spent the greater part of his adult life in prison before claiming his destiny to stand as his country’s first black president, and the first elected in the post-apartheid fully democratic state.

As dissidents, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa underwent multiple prison stays before rising to the presidency of their countries, post-Soviet Czech Republic and Poland, respectively.

Mandela. Havel. Walesa. Not an iota of shame, but all integrity, courage, and honor of the highest order obtained in their prison-beforethe- presidency route. The very antithesis to the Lula, Zuma, Park way.

The latter three though can find some soothing consolation, indeed, a working template for extrication – redemption is too noble for application here – in contemporary Filipino political experience.

Joseph Ejercito Estrada was ousted from the presidency through a people’s revolt in 2001; charged, tried and convicted for plunder; and sent to prison – okay, confined to his farm in the mountains of Rizal province. And then pardoned by his successor Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo in 2007.

In the 2010 presidential elections, the convicted plunderer Estrada came close to winning back the presidency, landing second to eventual winner BS Aquino III. He has since sat as duly elected Manila mayor.

Tells you as much of Erap’s charm – no, charisma is too sacred a word to apply here – as to the gullibility – no, idiocy is too strong a word – of the Filipino voters.

In turn, Macapagal-Arroyo was charged with plunder for allegedly diverting P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence funds intended for charity use for her personal gain during her term as president.

Even as she won the Pampanga 2nd district congressional seat after stepping down from Malacanang, and re-elected to the House in 2013, GMA spent most of her first two terms on hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. She was released within the first month of Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of the presidency, the Supreme Court on a 11-4 vote junking the plunder case.

Only in the Philippines?

For the disgraced presidents, there’s no harm in trying. Absolutely. As in power and its concomitant corruption.

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