Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Estrada tells how `conspiracy' ousted him

AP , MANILA

Ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada, testifying at his marathon corruption trial yesterday, accused politicians, generals and bishops of conspiring to depose him and claimed he rejected a deal to go into exile in exchange for immunity.

Estrada, 69, has denied as politically motivated the charges in the five-year-old trial that he amassed about 4 billion pesos (US$77 million) from illegal gambling payoffs, tax kickbacks and commissions, as well as a perjury charge for allegedly underreporting his assets in 1999.

"It's very clear that those charges are baseless, fabricated," he told the court. "Those who conspired ... only filed those charges to justify their unconstitutional and illegal acts."

"If I am guilty, I could have accepted it and run away. I wanted to clear my name before the people and the court. I am hoping and I am praying that I will be given justice by this court," he said.

Estrada testified that a month after he was ousted in January 2001 amid massive military-backed street protests, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez offered to let him submit a letter of resignation and leave for a country of his choice with no charges filed against him.

"I vehemently refused. I told him, `You will make a fugitive out of me? I will never agree. Whatever you do to me, even if you put me in jail,'" Estrada said.

Seeking to portray himself as the victim of greedy politicians, Estrada alleged that "powerful and influential people" conspired to oust him "because they never wanted me to become an elected president."

He said members of the Philippine elite, some generals, former President Fidel Ramos -- Estrada's predecessor -- and late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin and some bishops "could not accept" his overwhelming poll victory in 1998.

He also accused the wealthy Ayala and Lopez families, who run water services, of joining the conspiracy because he rejected their request to increase rates.

"If I had approved that, the masses would have been affected," he said.

Estrada said Sin, the country's moral icon who led the 1986 ouster of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, turned against him after Estrada rejected his appeal to block a 1999 military training deal with the US and call a ceasefire with Muslim rebels.

He accused his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, of "a plain and simple power grab," and insisted he was still the president when Arroyo, then the vice president, took the oath of office.

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