Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

Former Philippine president arraigned

June 28, 2001


— Joseph Estrada was arraigned on perjury charges Wednesday, tersely answering an anti-corruption judge's questions in the latest episode in the once immensely popular president's downfall.

With last-minute efforts failing to delay the embarrassment of becoming the first Philippine leader in or out of office to be arraigned, Estrada was forced to go through the routine motions of any criminal defendant.

"Mr. President, just for the record, how old are you?" the judge asked.

"I'm 64 years old, your honor," said Estrada, wearing a traditional Barong shirt and a white wristband with the presidential seal his statement that he still considers himself the legitimate head of state despite massive protests in January that forced him from office.

He was then asked if his surname had been changed from Ejercito, as he was born, to Estrada, which he used during a successful acting career that helped him capture the hearts of millions of Filipinos.

"I had it legalized when I ran for mayor," Estrada said, referring to his first foray into politics as mayor of Manila's San Juan district.

Then came the key question: How did he plead to the charge of perjury?

"Your honor, I will follow the advice of my lawyers," Estrada said.

"You will not enter a plea?" asked Justice Francis Garchitorena.

Estrada nodded in acknowledgment, then returned to his seat. The court entered a plea of innocent on his behalf.

Estrada is accused of misdeclaring his assets in 1999. The court set an Aug. 2 pretrial hearing. He also is to be arraigned in two weeks for the capital offense of plunder for allegedly taking millions of dollars in kickbacks and payoffs during 31 months in office.

Estrada was elected in 1998 on a pro-poor, anti-corruption platform with one of the largest margins in recent memory.

The half-hour proceeding was held under heavy security amid government fears that coup plotters might try to foment violent protests similar to a May 1 attempt by tens of thousands of his backers to storm the presidential palace that left six people dead.

Only a handful of people waited Wednesday outside the court building . Riot police earlier pushed back a group of about 50 left-wing activists demanding Estrada be punished.

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