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Thursday, April 26, 2001

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Filipinos deserve justice, says Arroyo

By Amit Baruah

SINGAPORE, APRIL 25. The former Philippines President, Mr. Joseph Estrada, was arrested under dramatic circumstances from his posh Manila home today on the charge of ``economic plunder'' which carries the death penalty.

Thousands of police and Special Forces personnel battled with protesters outside the Greenhills home of the former President, who was ejected from office following mass protests in January this year. After court-appointed officials served the arrest warrant on him, Mr. Estrada was taken away in a black- tinted luxury vehicle to a detention centre at Camp Crane.

The former President, who looked composed, was treated like a common criminal by an administration which is completely opposed to his brand of politics. Mr. Estrada, asked to remove his trademark jacket, had his mugshots taken and was fingerprinted by police personnel. He was accompanied to the Camp Crane detention centre by his wife, Ms. Luisa Ejercito, and son, Mr. Jinggoy Estrada, who are the co-accused in the economic plunder case.

Mr. Estrada, whose arrest was ordered by an anti- corruption court, is accused of taking advantage of his official position and influence to amass more than $80 million in illegal wealth through a ``combination or series of overt and criminal acts''. He is also charged with illegally using an alias to hide his unexplained wealth and perjury for misrepresenting his assets in an official statement of assets and liabilities.

According to the government ombudsman, six other cases of economic plunder against the ousted President are also being studied. There is little doubt that the President, Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has pursued cases against Mr. Estrada in a systematic fashion. Since being ousted, Mr. Estrada has been kept on tenterhooks. Earlier, the country's Supreme Court had dismissed petitions filed by Mr. Estrada that he remained the country's President. The apex court had also stripped him of his immunity against prosecution. While the charges have been filed and the former President has been put behind bars, a close watch will have to be maintained on the judicial process itself. Whatever be the charges against him, Mr. Estrada, who was President only three months ago, deserves a fair trial.

In response to his arrest, the former President said he would fight the corruption charges levelled against him in court. ``I will face and answer all these charges filed against me by my foes...I believe that the truth and Constitution will prevail,'' Mr. Estrada said in a statement broadcast on radio and television. ``I was not given a chance to defend myself,'' he said, pointing out that a few hundred thousand people had driven him out of office while he had been elected by some 10 million people. ``I ask our people now to tell the powers-that-be to respect our Constitution and the rule of law,'' Mr. Estrada was quoted as saying.

For her part, the President, who served as deputy under Mr. Estrada, has hailed the jailing of her former boss. ``The Filipino people were victimised when Government funds were used for private purposes. They deserve justice, and this is what the decision of the Sandiganbayan (anti- corruption court) is all about. It is all about justice,'' Ms. Arroyo said in a statement.

Rejecting Mr. Estrada's charge that she bullied the judiciary into acting against the former President, Ms. Arroyo added: ``In the meantime, let the trial begin. The court is the proper venue, since the trial of Joseph Estrada is neither a political matter nor a class war.'' In a separate statement, Mr. Rigoberto Tiglao, spokesman for the President, told reporters that Mr. Estrada's arrest showed that justice was working in the Philippines. ``We consider this a historic moment. We showed that even the former highest official of the land could (be) held answerable for his action,'' Mr. Tiglao stated.

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Section  : International
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