Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Estrada says he will step down if granted a pardon

POLITICAL INSTABILITY Estrada says he wants five days to `get things ready' and a pardon before he vacates the presidential palace. The vice president will take over the presidency should Estrada leave office

REUTERS AND AFP , MANILA

Philippine generals stands on a stage to show support for the ouster of President Joseph Estrada as tens of thousands of protesters attend a rally at the historic EDSA shrine in the Manila suburb of Mandaluyong yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Philippine President Joseph Estrada wants five days and a pardon before he stands down and leaves the presidential palace, opposition spokesmen said yesterday.

"He told us that the First Family has already left Malacanang [the presidential palace]. He's alone there now in the palace," Renato Corona, chief of staff of Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said.

Under the constitution, Arroyo automatically takes over the presidency should Estrada leave office.

A spokesman for Philippine opposition parties said Estrada, whose impeachment trial on corruption charges triggered the political crisis, was seeking a "pardon" in transition talks.

Asked if Estrada wanted a pardon, Roberto Pagdanganan said: "That is the basic offer that he made. We are saying that he no longer has any government.

"Then the best option for the president at this stage is to resign ... so there would be no need for the people in the hundreds of thousands to go to the palace."

Corona said Estrada wanted time. "He is asking for a few days ... he wants five days to get his things ready," said Corona, quoting representatives of Arroyo, who were holding talks with Estrada.

Military commanders said they would accept orders only from Arroyo and urged Estrada to quit immediately.

Most of the Cabinet, the entire armed forces leadership and the whole national police withdrew support during the tension-filled day, saying they could not hold office under Estrada's leadership following his impeachment trial on charges of corruption.

Many of them and other senior military officers then joined some 200,000 people holding a rally at the site of the 1986 "people power" revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Before the wave of defections, protest organizers had threatened to lead the huge crowd -- which continued to swell as night fell -- in a march on the presidential palace.

The arrival of each senior official at the protest site was greeted with exultation, wild dancing and frenzied shouts of joy.

Earlier in the day, Estrada, addressing the nation for the second time in a matter of hours, said he would ask Congress to call the snap presidential poll along with planned Congressional elections in May. He made no mention of resignation.

"I am sad that things have reached this stage. In the interests of peace I am calling on Congress to call for a snap election," he said.

"I will not participate in the snap election ... and I will turn over the presidency to whoever is elected."

But a spokesman for Arroyo said: "That's illegal and unconstitutional." Other opposition leaders called it a delaying tactic.

A group of opposition leaders, senior military officers and ministers who resigned from the Cabinet said they would take orders only from Arroyo and said Estrada was isolated and had lost the moral authority to govern.

Estrada was holed up in the Malacanang presidential palace with aides, lawyers and the few cabinet ministers who remain loyal, other palace sources said.

Palace officials said Estrada was still in the palace and denied rumors he had fled.

About 100 soldiers patrolled the grounds but the area was quiet, witnesses said.

By nightfall, four armored personnel carriers rolled into the presidential palace compound to beef up security.

Estrada's Senate impeachment trial on corruption charges has brought the worst political turmoil to the country since the revolt that toppled Marcos.

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