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Friday, September 14, 2007

Erap Guilty

Erap Guilty

Cebu Daily News
Last updated 11:34am (Mla time) 09/13/2007

Manila— The verdict was read out in less than 15 minutes.

The Sandiganbayan found former president Joseph Estrada guilty of plunder and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, which under Philippine law runs for 20 to 40 years.

Estrada was also ordered to forfeit a mansion and more than P731 million, plus interest, that were deposited into two bank accounts.

The anti-graft court, however, acquitted his son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and lawyer Edward Serapio.

Estrada was also acquitted of perjury for allegedly falsely declaring his assets. Hours after his conviction, a glum Joseph Estrada vowed to ``fight to the end'' what he decried as a ``political ruling,'' and thumbed down any offer of pardon.

His lawyers said they would challenge the decision by filing a motion for reconsideration or an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Estrada emerged red-faced but calm from the packed courtroom at the Sandiganbayan after the verdict was read at past 9 a.m. He stayed for more than two hours to confer with his team of lawyers and comfort his family.

He was then airlifted to his resthouse in Tanay, Rizal where he remains under house arrest.

With credit for time served in detention, it was unclear when he might be eligible for parole, or whether he will spend time in prison, be allowed to continue living under house arrest in his own villa or even be granted a pardon.

Estrada’s wife Loi, sons JV and Jinggoy, and daughter Jackie, were in tears after the verdict was handed down.

The family and some former Cabinet members occupied a small room on the sixth floor of the Sandiganbayan to await his fate.

Estrada was escorted upstairs by a phalanx of security men and ended up comforting his family, allies and supporters.

"When they went up to the sixth floor, everybody in the family cried,'' said family lawyer Rufus Rodriguez.

There were only stares and muffled cries heard from them when Estrada entered the room. He just looked at them with a sad smile.

It was Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim who broke the silence, telling his friend that his last hope was with the Supreme Court.

Estrada saw his daughter Jackie Ejercito-Lopez crying and told her , “It's not the end of the world,” according to Rod Reyes.

“We'll fight to the end.”

Estrada then commented that his suspicions have been confirmed that the Sandiganbayan special division was created to convict him.

“But it doesn’t matter because the people are on our side,” he said, kissing his sobbing daughter, Jackie.

“In his heart of hearts, it was a case of guilt not proven,” said Rene Saguisag, one of Estrada’s attorneys.

Estrada’s friends and family issued a statement calling the case a political vendetta by Arroyo.

The verdict ending the six-year trial was televised live but was nearly an anticlimax.

Fewer than expected pro-Erap supporters turned out on the streets. Government fears that a conviction would spark Estrada’s poor supporters to protest violently failed to materialize.

Estrada, a former movie idol, often called his presidency the “last and best performance of my life.” He has retained some of his popularity while trying to fend off accusations that he illegally amassed about P4 billion in bribes and proceeds from illegal gambling and falsely declared his assets.

The trial ran from October 2001 to June 15, with prosecutors claiming he hid assets and bought expensive mansions and vacation houses for his mistresses.

Estrada has denied the charges and accused Arroyo of masterminding his removal in a conspiracy with leaders of the Catholic Church and senior military officers.

Estrada said he feels he has been acquitted by the populace with the victories of candidates he backed in midterm elections earlier this year.

Estrada said he wasn't surprised by his conviction, but rued that the ruling was politically motivated
He said he believed that the Sandiganbayan created the special court specifically to convict him.

"From the very start, there was already doubt in creating this special court," he told reporters, while peeking from behind a door at the holding center.

"The direct and indirect pressures that have been made on this special court must have been too much too bear," the former leader added in his prepared statement.

It was the latest step in the plunge from the pinnacle of power for Estrada, a popular action film star who scored the Philippines’ biggest-ever election victory in 1998.

He even inaugurated the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court that convicted him.

“This is the only forum where I could tell the Filipino people my innocence,” said a disappointed Estrada. He was still wearing a wristband with the presidential seal.

“That’s why I took a gamble. I thought the rule of law will prevail over here. This is really a kangaroo court. This is a political decision.”

Estrada said he remained calm even if he and his lawyers disagreed with the findings of the court.

"As far as I am concerned I'm acquitted by this overwhelming assistance I get from the Filipino people," he told reporters.

Estrada was ousted in 2001 in EDSA Dos, a second version of People Power. /Ap and Inquirer reports

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