Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo urges Philippines to look to the future

AFP , MANILA

Filipino students lie down in front of anti-riot police near Malacanang Palace in Manila yesterday. A day after the Sandiganbayan meted out a guilty verdict against deposed president Joseph Estrada on plunder charges, security remained tight near the palace as some 500 activists staged a protest.

PHOTO: EPA

Police maintained a high-profile presence on Manila's streets yesterday as President Gloria Arroyo urged the country to look to the future after the jailing of her predecessor for massive corruption.

In a brief statement after a Manila court sentenced former president Joseph Estrada to a life term in prison on Wednesday, Arroyo said she wanted "to captain a steady ship."

As Estrada's lawyers said he would lodge an appeal against the verdict next week, presidential palace aides hinted Arroyo may soon visit him in detention and might even be prepared to issue a pardon.

Estrada, 70, was convicted by a special anti-corruption court of plundering tens of millions of dollars in tax kickbacks and bribes.

He was elected in 1998 with the largest majority in Philippine presidential history but ousted three years later when Arroyo succeeded him.

"I call on our leaders in public and private positions of responsibility to stay with me to continue to chart a course of investment in our people and economic growth. I am bound and determined to captain a steady ship," Arroyo said in her statement. "We live by the rule of law. We abide by what the courts of the land decide."

The verdict sparked scattered protest marches from pro-Estrada groups but they remained largely peaceful.

Police said that although the protesters were angry, by nightfall most had quietly dispersed.

Nevertheless a 400-strong riot police team remained in position around the palace yesterday. Razor wires and steel barricades blocked streets leading into the area while elite guards searched passing vehicles.

Estrada spent his first day after conviction in a sprawling house east of Manila, where he will be kept until further notice.

He was surrounded by his family and was receiving messages of support from friends, his media liaison Ferdie Ramos said.

Ramos said Estrada would meet with his lawyers tomorrow ahead of an appeal to be filed next week.

"They have 15 days within which to appeal, but definitely it will be done next week," Ramos said. "He is asking his supporters to pray for him, to stay calm. He does not want public disobedience."

In 2001, four people were killed when Estrada forces tried to lay siege to the presidential palace in a failed attempt to unseat Arroyo.

Arroyo's chief legal adviser Sergio Apostol meanwhile said yesterday there would be "moves for reconciliation."

"Pardon is an absolute discretion of the president," he said, while noting that Estrada has declared he wants to appeal against the verdict.

Ramos said Arroyo's camp had floated the prospect of her visiting Estrada, and that while the former president would welcome that, he would not accept a possible pardon because he believes he did not get a fair trial.

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