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NOVEMBER 24, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 46 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Newsmakers

BREWING IN THE BACKGROUND
Given the way the dice are rolling these days, Philippine President Joseph Estrada is maintaining a defiantly jaunty air. But there may be more bad news for him on the way, and the cause could be his own speechwriter. New evidence suggests that a crack may be forming in the president's contention that he ordered the return of more than $8 million in payoffs from the illegal numbers game jueteng. His problem started with evidence to a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing into the affair by Edward Serapio, an ally of the president and corporate secretary of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation, where the money ended up. He said Estrada knew nothing of the payment until August — four months after it was allegedly handed over by provincial governor Luis "Chavit" Singson. Serapio said the president promptly told him the money was tainted and should be returned. In reply to questioning, Serapio said he met with foundation trustees to pass on this message. Their decision, he said, was that it was best not to use the money, but not to return it either.

One of the trustees at that meeting, Serapio said, was Danilo Reyes, a presidential speechwriter and a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Public Administration. In an interview with Asiaweek last week, Reyes denied such a meeting had taken place. He says Serapio never told him the money came from jueteng until he approached Serapio after the matter became public knowledge Oct. 5. Nor did Serapio say the president had asked for the payment to be returned. Reyes says Serapio informed him of the existence of the money in June, but told him the donors wanted to remain anonymous.

By the time Estrada boarded his jet to attend a meeting in Brunei of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, he had good reason to breathe a sigh of relief at being out of Manila. Two days before he left, the House of Representatives agreed to impeach him in the Senate on corruption and other charges, making him the first Philippine leader to face trial this way. "I have something in common with Bill Clinton," Estrada reportedly quipped to aides. The following day, some 100,000 people marched in cities across the country demanding his resignation. The former movie star says he won't step down, and can't wait to set out his defense in the impeachment hearing. Will Reyes's claims dampen his enthusiasm? The trial is likely to start Dec. 4 and finish by Feb. 8, when Congress adjourns. Latest head counts suggest the president has plenty of support among the 22 senators (there are two vacancies) to deny his opponents the 16 votes they will need for a two-thirds majority to remove him from office.

Passage
NAMED Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, 63, to be Malaysia's Chief Justice of the Federal Court, on Nov. 9. As the first practicing lawyer to hold the post, the highest legal position in the country, Dzaiddin is said to have a reputation for fair play — so much so that his appointment was welcomed by supporters of the government and the Bar Council, a rare case of agreement between the two sides. Retiring Chief Justice Eusoff Chin has been accused of being slow in clearing the backlog of cases which makes litigation in Malaysia a frustrating process. Eusoff retires on Dec. 19.

HARASSMENT ALLEGED A Japanese man, 24, filed a suit against his former boss, a man in his 70s, for sexual harassment, seeking $28,000 in compensation, in Fukuoka, in June, though the case was disclosed this month. Neither of the men's names has been made public, nor the company for which they work. The young man claims the elder, chairman of the firm, made four unwanted sexual advances during business trips since August last year. The younger man was fired in April after his notes of the incident were discovered by the chairman. The older man admitted to having touched the young man's waist to "relieve stress," but denies any sexual intent.

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