Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Former president Estrada causes uproar over barber

DPA , MANILA

Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada yesterday admitted he flew his personal barber to Hong Kong, but denied he violated court rules on his trip there.

Estrada, who was recuperating from knee surgery in Hong Kong, said he did not understand why his barber's trip had become an issue in the Philippines.

"I paid for his airfare, and not the government. What is the issue there?" he said in an interview with a local radio station from Hong Kong. "It was embarrassing that my hair was long."

The deposed president also vowed he will return to the Philippines on Jan. 15, the day designated by the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

"It is impossible that I not return to the Philippines," Estrada said. "I was born there, I grew up there. I love my country and that is where I will die."

He later ordered his lawyers to withdraw a petition seeking to extend his stay for six days in Hong Kong.

Estrada came under fire in Manila for allegedly violating the rules of his trip to Hong Kong and flying his personal barber there.

Local media reported that Estrada was allowed by his police escorts to leave the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital to have dinner and an overnight stay in a hotel.

The reports added that Estrada entertained some visitors at the hotel after getting a trim from his personal barber.

"I returned to the hospital afterwards," Estrada said. "There is nothing wrong with that."

The Sandiganbayan allowed Estrada to travel to Hong Kong for his knee surgery last month. However, it set several restrictions on his stay in the former British colony.

In its decision, the court said Estrada should only stay and be confined to Hong Kong Adventist Hospital during his stay there.

Former congressman Didagen Dilangalen, a spokesman for the deposed leader, said Estrada did not violate the rules of his stay.

"His doctors told him he needed to get some fresh air, so he was told to go out for a while," he said. "He was just following his doctors' order."

Estrada is on trial for the capital charge of plunder or theft of public funds and perjury. He was ousted by a military-backed mass uprising in January 2001 and detained three months later.

On Monday, the head justice in Estrada's corruption trial resigned from the case amid speculation of interference by the government.

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