Impact of the Sept. 12 Erap verdict on the Philippines

James Ryan Jonas

Will September 12 be a Black Wednesday for the Philippines?

Fifteen years ago, on September 16, 1992, Wednesday, Britain was forced to withdraw the Pound currency from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) following its uncontrollable decline due to pressure by currency speculators. Total losses caused by the day's events were said to reach more than £3.4 billion. That day has since been known as Black Wednesday.

Tomorrow, September 12, Wednesday, the Sandiganbayan is set to announce its verdict on the six-year-old plunder and perjury cases filed against former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada. Whether Black Wednesday will materialize tomorrow — with the Philippine stock market heading for a nosedive — depends more on the response of pro- and anti-Erap groups and also of the Arroyo government, and not on the verdict per se.

If Estrada is convicted, will pro-Erap groups stage a repeat of "Edsa III," complete with violent protests and renewed threats to oust Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Such chaos is abhorred by the market and this can cause stocks to plunge again.

If, on the other hand, Estrada is acquitted, will more social unrest erupt considering Erap is already free to move around, easily capable of rallying people against Arroyo?

Business groups stated that they are not concerned with the actual verdict but are just hoping the public would accept whatever the decision would be. But should Estrada be found guilty and eventually pardoned by Arroyo, the business community "would be disappointed because this would mean that the government is not willing to follow through on the prosecution of a big fish," says the Makati Business Club executive director.

A few newspaper columnists are predicting a conviction, citing the conflict between Edsa 2 and an Erap acquittal as primary reason. SunStar's Anol Mongaya wrote:

As of the moment, people are asking if he will be convicted. As I said in a past column, an acquittal is out of the question. I don't think the courts will risk overturning the basis for this administration's emergence with Edsa 2 in 2001.

The opposition previously accused Malacañang of using full-page "ERAP: Guilty or Not Guilty? Kailangan bang may gulo?" ads in newspapers to supposedly condition the people's mindset as to the expected conviction, but a week before the verdict, they too seem to be playing the same game.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, son of the accused former President, said they they have received reports that Erap will likely be found guilty of plunder:

We are prepared for whatever verdict the Sandiganbayan will come out with. But we are expecting the worst, because according to some reliable sources we have talked to and who have given us vital information, there is no way that my father can get an acquittal even though there is no evidence against him. 

The entire United Opposition (UNO) appears to be in the same ballgame after it announced last week the results of a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey they commissioned showing that 65% of residents in Mega Manila doubt that Estrada will get a "fair" verdict. The survey also showed that 77% of those polled have "already forgiven" Estrada regardless of whether he is found innocent or guilty of the graft charges filed against him. It should be noted, however, that these surveys were conducted in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna — known strongholds of Estrada.

Whether the stock market will suffer a Black Wednesday tomorrow is just one of the many economic, political, and social implications the Estrada verdict has on the Philippines. At the end of the day or, more precisely, at the end of this six-year-old trial of the century, if Filipinos would deem that justice was not served or that there was no proper closure in this turbulent chapter of our history, then everyday is just going to be a Black Day for Juan de la Cruz.

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James Ryan Jonas teaches business management, investments, and entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is also the Executive Director of UP Provident Fund Inc., managing and investing P3.2 Billion ($56.4 Million) worth of retirement funds on behalf of thousands of UP employees.