Tue, Nov 07, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Estrada vows to prove his innocence

AP , MANILA

Philippine President Joseph Estrada vowed yesterday to prove his innocence in an impeachment trial on corruption charges that now appears virtually certain after more than the required one-third of House members said they will back an impeachment complaint.

The House Committee on Justice took less than four hours yesterday to decide to cut short its evaluation of the complaint and send it to the full House, where 99 congressmen have signed a resolution endorsing impeachment. Estrada supporters attempted unsuccessfully to block the move.

Under House rules, the justice committee had up to 60 days to finish its work.

Estrada denied news reports that negotiations were underway with opposition leaders for his graceful exit. Estrada is under mounting pressure to resign over allegations that he accepted millions of dollars in payoffs from illegal gambling operators.

"I am not negotiating for any deals and have no intention of doing so to avoid confronting the accusations against me," Estrada said in a statement. "I declare my steadfast commitment to defend my innocence against my accusers in the proper venue of our constitutional processes."

However, Finance Secretary Jose Pardo, a close Estrada confidant, said he is willing to act as a go-between to broker talks between Estrada and former President Corazon Aquino, one of the leaders of the loose coalition seeking Estrada's resignation, to resolve the political crisis.

Estrada's administration was hit last week by a flurry of desertions, and the resignations of the Senate president, House speaker and more than 50 other lawmakers from Estrada's LAMP coalition.

Twenty-one Cabinet officials issued a statement yesterday declaring their commitment not to resign, but said they would "tarry not one minute longer in tendering our resignations" if a Senate impeachment trial ends with the removal of the president.

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