Global Policy Forum

Estrada Arrested on Corruption


By Adam Brown

Associated Press
April 25, 2001

An angry crowd stoned police as they cleared a path to escort ousted President Joseph Estrada from his home in the first arrest of a Philippine leader over corruption. Thousands more of Estrada's backers protested later Wednesday outside the base where he was fingerprinted.

Estrada, who defiantly maintained his innocence and insisted he never gave up the presidency, left home accompanied by his wife – a Senate candidate – and son Jinggoy, also arrested Wednesday on plunder charges. The offense carries the death penalty, although it is considered unlikely to be imposed.

The former action film star was taken just miles away to Camp Crame, the main police base where he was fingerprinted and had mug shots taken while a special cell was being prepared.

About 8,000 supporters gathered outside the camp, tearing up election posters of administration candidates. They took iron railings from along the highway and brought traffic to a standstill.

The chief anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, ordered Estrada's arrest hours earlier on plunder. Prosecutors claim he pocketed $82 million in kickbacks and payoffs during 31 months in office. Under the brutal midday sun, police were forced to climb over the Estrada compound's fence to unlock the gate so they could deliver the warrant. Police used truncheons and plastic shields to disperse protesters along the narrow streets to his house. Vowing to block his arrest or go to jail with him, they pelted police with stones, chunks of concrete, bottles, garbage – and insults.

"We will not even allow him to surrender. We are ready to die for him," said Jojo Ibay, 38, who had been outside Estrada's house for three days. Defiance turned to dejection as Estrada entered the back of a van driven by a policeman. "We are only housewives and poor people," Evelyn Ramientos, a 48-year-old homemaker, said, near breathless from sobbing. "We are very sorry but we cannot protect (Estrada) when police come with this force. Our president is now in jail."

National police chief Leandro Mendoza called for calm. "Police forces are being mobilized to thwart any attempt by some groups to take advantage of the situation by sowing disinformation, chaos and violence," he said.

Investors cheered Estrada's arrest, driving up the main index of stocks by 1.3 percent . While Estrada's arrest is generally expected to boost investors' perception that the government is determined to crack down on corruption, analysts expressed caution because of possible violence over the case.

Estrada's downfall began when accusations of corruption led to a six-week Senate impeachment trial. It was aborted in January when senators voted against opening a sealed envelope that prosecutors claimed would tie Estrada to a multimillion-dollar bank account. The vote sparked huge protests demanding his resignation, and he left the palace through the back door on Jan. 20. The Supreme Court ruled that he effectively resigned then, stripping him of presidential immunity.

Last week, Estrada posted bail after the court issued an arrest warrant on the charges of perjury and graft. Arraignment was scheduled for May 17. Prosecutors want to withdraw some of the eight charges so they can focus on plunder, a non-bailable offense defined as systematic theft from the state of $1 million or more. Estrada said he was confident of winning the case and berated the government for harassing him and his family. "I will face and answer all the charges against me. I believe that in the end truth will triumph and that our Constitution will prevail," Estrada said in a taped message broadcast by DZRH radio. He also reiterated his claim that he left the palace only to avoid bloodshed and was technically on leave. "I stand firm that the assumption to power of the new administration is against the Constitution," he said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who made clean government a top priority in a country where corruption is endemic, denied any harassment. "Justice is the key issue here," she said. "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, as he and his supporters are wont to say." Estrada's backbone of support is among the poor. Police said it was possible he might be transferred outside Manila to avoid clashes.

Sandiganbayan President Justice Francis Garchitorena said Estrada would get no special treatment in jail. "The only concession that has been given to him is that he will be in a cell of his own," he said. "He will not be detained in officers' quarters, that's for sure."

Chronology of Philippine political crisis

Key events of Philippine President Joseph Estrada's corruption case:

Oct. 9, 2000: Gov. Luis Singson says he provided longtime friend Estrada with more than $8 million in payoffs from illegal gambling and $2.7 million from tobacco taxes.

Oct. 12: Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resigns from Cabinet post as secretary of social welfare, citing allegations against Estrada. She later takes opposition leadership.

Oct. 18: Opposition groups file impeachment complaint against Estrada with House of Representatives. Thousands of protesters demand he quit.

Nov. 2: Dozens of lawmakers resign from Estrada's ruling party, along with trade secretary and five senior economic advisers.

Dec. 7: Senate impeachment trial begins by examining a check signed ''Jose Velarde,'' an alias that prosecutors say Estrada used for hidden bank accounts. They say Estrada signed the check to buy a mansion for a mistress.

Dec. 11: An aide to Singson testifies she delivered $100,000 in payoffs from an illegal numbers game to Estrada's personal secretary.

Dec. 22: A bank senior vice president says she saw Estrada sign a false name to documents withdrawing $10 million.

Dec. 30: Five synchronized bomb attacks kill 22 people in Manila, days before the trial is to resume.

Jan 16: Senators vote 11-10 to keep key bank documents secret, angering prosecutors and causing Senate President Aquilino Pimentel to quit in protest.

Jan 17: The prosecution resigns, and the trial is suspended indefinitely. Tens of thousands of Filipinos take to the streets.

Jan 19: Military chief Angelo Reyes, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado and other top officials resign, join anti-Estrada protesters.

Jan. 20: About 75,000 protesters march close to the presidential palace, demanding Estrada quit. Estrada leaves; Arroyo sworn in.

March 2: The Supreme Court rejects Estrada's claim that he never resigned and is immune to criminal prosecution.

April 3: The Supreme Court rejects the appeal, reaffirms ruling stripping him of immunity.

April 4: Estrada is indicted on accusations that he pocketed $82 million in kickbacks and payoffs during 31 months in office.

April 16: Estrada turns himself in and posts bond after an anti-graft court issues an arrest warrant on two charges.

April 25: Estrada arrested after anti-graft court issues warrant for non-bailable offense.

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