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Estrada v. Desierto

Summary Cases:


Political Question; EDSA 1 vs EDSA 2; Resignation; Conviction by Impeachment as a Bar to Prosecution; Presidential Immunity from Suit; Public Office is a Public Trust; Theory of Derivative Prejudice


Former President Joseph Estrada was elected during 1998 elections. Sometime in October 2000, however, several allegations of corruption and of receiving millions of pesos from jueteng lords were made against him before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. Some Congressmen moved to impeach Estrada which caused several sectors, former Presidents Aquino and Ramos to call for Estrada s resignation. Some senior advisers of Estrada as well as a number of his cabinet resigned from their positions. Impeachment trial commenced with Chief Justice Davide presiding.

The impeachment trial was put to a halt after the public prosecutors tendered their collective resignation before the Impeachment Tribunal caused by the decision of 11 Senators not to open the second envelope (an alleged secret account of Erap amounting to 3.3B Pesos in the name of Jose Velarde). An indefinite postponement of the Impeachment proceedings was granted by the Chief Justice.

The next day, EDSA 2 commenced with the PNP and AFP joining the crowd. In the succeeding days, a chain of resignations from the military, the police, and the cabinet ensued. On January 20, Supreme Court declared the seat for presidency as vacant, saying that Estrada constructively resigned his post. At noon, Chief Justice, whose authority was later unanimously confirmed by SC, administered the oath to Arroyo as President of the Philippines. That same afternoon, Estrada and his family left Malacañang and transmitted a signed letter appointing then Vice-President Arroyo as Acting President, citing Section 11, Article 7 of the Constitution, to the House Speaker and Senate President.

Several cases were filed against Estrada in the Office of the Ombudsman. Estrada filed with the Supreme Court a petition for prohibition which sought to enjoin the Ombudsman from conducting any further proceedings in cases filed against him, not until his term as president ends. He also filed a petition for quo warranto praying for judgment confirming him to be the lawful and incumbent President of the Philippines temporarily unable to discharge the duties of his office.


Political Question

1. The Court held that the cases at bar do not involve a political question and therefore falls within the

ambit of judicial scrutiny pursuant to the doctrine of separation of powers of coordinate branches of


2. Political question refers to those questions which, under our Constitution, are to be decided by the

people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of government. It is concerned with the issues dependent on the wisdom, not legality of a particular measure.

issues dependent on the wisdom, not legality of a particular measure . © Copyright Thinc Office


To a great degree, the 1987 Constitution has narrowed the reach of the political question doctrine

when it expanded the power of judicial review of this court not only to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable but also to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any

branch or instrumentality of government.

EDSA 1 vs EDSA 2

4. EDSA People Power I involves the exercise of the people power of revolution which overthrew the

whole government while EDSA People Power II is an exercise of people power of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances which only affected the office of the President.

5. EDSA I is extra constitutional but EDSA II is intra constitutional.

6. EDSA I presented a political question while EDSA II involved legal questions.


7. Using the totality test, the Supreme Court held that petitioner resigned as President - which was

confirmed by his leaving Malacañang.

8. Facts show that petitioner did not write any formal letter of resignation before he evacuated

Malacanang Palace in the afternoon of January 20, 2001 after the oath-taking of respondent Arroyo. Consequently, whether or not petitioner resigned has to be determined from his acts and omissions before, during and after January 20, 2001 or by the totality of prior, contemporaneous and posterior facts and circumstantial evidence bearing a material relevance on the issue.

9. In the press release containing his final statement,

(1) He acknowledged the oath-taking of Arroyo as President of the Republic albeit with reservation about its legality;

(2) He emphasized he was leaving the Palace, the seat of the presidency, for the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of our nation. He did not say he was leaving the Palace due to any kind of inability and that he was going to re-assume the presidency as soon as the disability disappears;

(3) He expressed his gratitude to the people for the opportunity to serve them. Without doubt, he was referring to the past opportunity given him to serve the people as President;

(4) He assured that he will not shirk from any future challenge that may come ahead in the same service of our country. Petitioner s reference is to a future challenge after occupying the office of the president which he has given up; and

(5) He called on his supporters to join him in the promotion of a constructive national spirit of reconciliation and solidarity. Certainly, the national spirit of reconciliation and solidarity could not be attained if he did not give up the presidency.

10. Resignation is a factual question and its elements are beyond quibble: (1) there must be an intent to resign and (2) the intent must be coupled by acts of relinquishment. The validity of a resignation is not governed by any formal requirement as to form. It can be oral. It can be written. It can be express. It can

to form. It can be oral. It can be written. It can be express. It can

be implied. As long as the resignation is clear, it must be given legal effect.

11. A public official has the right not to serve if he really wants to retire or resign. Nevertheless, if at the

time he resigns or retires, a public official is facing administrative or criminal investigation or prosecution,

such resignation or retirement will not cause the dismissal of the criminal or administrative proceedings against him. He cannot use his resignation or retirement to avoid prosecution.

Recognition of Presidency of Arroyo

12. The issue whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the claim of temporary inability of

former President Estrada and thereafter revise the decision of both Houses of Congress recognizing Arroyo as President is political in nature and addressed solely to Congress by constitutional fiat it is a political issue which cannot be decided by the Supreme Court without transgressing the principle of separation of powers.

13. Implicitly clear in the recognition by both houses of Congress of Arroyo as President is the premise

that the inability of former President Estrada is no longer temporary.

14. Former President Estrada cannot successfully claim that he is a President on leave on the ground

that he is merely unable to govern temporarily since such claim has been laid to rest by Congress and the decision that President Arroyo is the de jure President made by a co-equal branch of government cannot be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Conviction by Impeachment as a Bar to Prosecution

15. The Supreme Court rejects former President Estrada s argument that he cannot be prosecuted for

the reason that he must first be convicted in the impeachment proceedings. His impeachment trial was aborted by the walkout of the prosecutors and by the events that led to his loss of the presidency. Indeed, on February 7, 2001, the Senate passed Senate Resolution No. 83 Recognizing that the Impeachment Court is Functus Officio. Since the Impeachment Court is now functus officio, it is untenable for petitioner to demand that he should first be impeached and then convicted before he can be prosecuted. The plea if granted, would put a perpetual bar against his prosecution. It will place him in a better situation than a non-sitting President who has not been subjected to impeachment proceedings and yet

can be the object of a criminal prosecution.

Presidential Immunity from Suit

16. Estrada does NOT enjoy immunity from suit. Incumbent Presidents are immune from suit or from

being brought to court during the period of their incumbency and tenure but not beyond in accordance with the ruling in In Re: Saturnino Bermudez.

17. The cases filed against petitioner Estrada are criminal in character (plunder, bribery and graft and

corruption). Estrada cannot cite any decision of this Court licensing the President to commit criminal acts and wrapping him with post-tenure immunity from liability. The rule is that unlawful acts of public officials are not acts of the State and the officer who acts illegally is not acting as such but stands in the same

footing as any other trespasser.

Public Office is a Public Trust

18. One of the great themes of the 1987 Constitution is that a public office is a public trust.

of the 1987 Constitution is that a public office is a public trust. © Copyright Thinc

It declared as a state policy that (t)he State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption. It ordained that (p)ublic officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives. It set the rule that (t)he right of the State to recover properties unlawfully acquired by public officials or employees, from them or from their nominees or transferees, shall not be barred by prescription, laches or estoppel. It maintained the Sandiganbayan as an anti-graft court. It created the office of the Ombudsman and endowed it with enormous powers, among which is to (investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient. The Office of the Ombudsman was also given fiscal autonomy.Theory of Derivative Prejudice

19. The Court cannot adopt former President Estrada s theory of derivative prejudice, i.e., that the

prejudice of the Ombudsman flows to his subordinates.

20. Our Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure give investigating prosecutors the independence to make

their own findings and recommendations albeit they are reviewable by their superiors. They can be reversed but they cannot be compelled to change their recommendations nor can they be compelled to prosecute cases which they believe deserve dismissal. In other words, investigating prosecutors should not be treated like unthinking slot machines. Moreover, if the respondent Ombudsman resolves to file the cases against the petitioner and petitioner believes that the finding of probable cause against him is the result of bias, he still has the remedy of assailing it before the proper court.

bias, he still has the remedy of assailing it before the proper court. © Copyright Thinc