Tony Lopez, in his column essay provocatively entitled Set Erap Free, asks: Why do we have so many bad presidents? Why is it that only one has been imprisoned?
Yes, why indeed when all indications point to the conclusion that Estrada was hardly sui generis?
Because Estrada had the temerity to flaunt all standards of political decency. He was guilty of underestimating the political value of hypocrisy, which has served his predecessors and successors quite well.
Hypocrisy is very useful in a democracy. With hypocriisy, public officials don't get hauled off to jail, and the people don't get sleepless fidgeting and thinking about how abominable the government is. Estrada had to go not so much because he was corrupt but because he flaunted the values of our constitutional democracy so openly. Had he successfully hang on to office, those values would have lost significant hold on the consciousness of the young people who may someday assume public office themselves.
Our other officials are probably equally or more corrupt. But as a polity we can afford to ignore them because we do not quite know about their corruption for sure. We can give them the benefit of the doubt. With Estrada, however, the impeachment trial showed us almost every sordid detail (Edgardo Espiritu left out the smuggling part though). His betrayal of the public trust loomed large in the imagination of the nation; to ignore them would be tantamount to repudiating the values of a liberal democratic government that EDSA 1 secured.