Estrada tells loyalists to remain calm
MANILA, Philippines -- Deposed Philippine president Joseph Estrada, facing arrest on charges punishable by death, has appealed to die-hard supporters to renounce violence if he is jailed.
The disgraced former movie actor, insisting on his innocence on his 64th birthday, said he was ready to be served an arrest order and that he had no intention of fleeing the country.
"I am ready to face all the charges against me. I always submit myself to the rule of law," Estrada told a local radio station. "I have no intention of escaping to a foreign country.
Asked about published reports that his followers planned to march to Manila to foment civil unrest, he said: "I am trying to dissuade them ... I want to fight off these charges in a peaceful way."
The country's top prosecutor, Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, said the evidence against Estrada was "overwhelming" and considered the plunder charge he faced "the case of the century."
Estrada, accused of corruption and of economic plunder, was to spend his birthday visiting slum colonies around the capital where he apparently still commands strong support.
In the balance
At the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, justices pored over 35 folders of prosecution evidence, including bank records, to decide if Estrada had any case to answer and if he should be arrested.
Economic plunder, defined by law as the amassing of wealth in excess of 50 million pesos ($1 million) by a public official in connivance with others, is a non-bailable offense which carries a penalty of life imprisonment to death.
No one has been convicted of the crime in the Philippines.
More than 1,200 people have been sentenced to death since the country restored capital punishment in 1994, seven of them by lethal injection.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has shown resistance to the death penalty and commuted several death sentences to life terms since she took power after Estrada's overthrow in a "people power" revolt in January.
Besides plunder, Estrada is facing charges of perjury and illegal use of an alias. Four charges of graft and a fifth that he violated the government code of conduct were withdrawn but may be revived.
The graft cases against Estrada charge that he took more than 500 million pesos in bribes from illegal gambling syndicates and earned 189 million pesos in commissions from the purchase by two state pension funds of shares in a gaming firm.
He and several associates, including his wife and a son, are also accused of pocketing 130 million pesos in excise taxes intended for tobacco farmers.
Estrada, in the radio interview, said the move by the prosecutors to drop some of the charges showed they had no case against him and accused them of turning the law into a circus.
He said the prosecution had rushed the charges to discredit him and his party's candidates in the May 14 legislative elections, where his wife, Luisa, is running for a Senate seat.
His lawyers have stressed that Estrada was never given due process because the ombudsman denied him a preliminary investigation.
Estrada lawyers will file a motion before the court on Monday to throw back the cases to Desierto's office.
Estrada also protested against the "indignities" he was subjected to on Monday when he surrendered to the court after it had ordered his arrest on a lesser graft charge.
"They did it to humiliate me. I was not given the courtesies due a former president. They want to show to the people that I was being treated like an ordinary criminal," he said.
The court has not said when it will decide on whether or not the former president would be arrested on the plunder charge.
Prosecutors said the court had 10 days from Wednesday to make a decision.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Cases withdrawn against Estrada may be revived
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