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Former Philippine President Resumes Testimony in Corruption Trial


It was another day of denials and demonstrations at the long-running economic plunder trial of former Philippine President Joseph Estrada. The defense tried to refute prosecution evidence that the former leader amassed $80 million in bribes, tax kickbacks and other illegal payoffs while in power.

In his second day of testimony, Mr. Estrada denied any knowledge of documents submitted by the prosecution showing he had received kickbacks from excise taxes. He repeatedly told the court he did not recognize the documents and had nothing to do with them.

One of his attorneys, Rene Saguisag, disputed prosecution claims that 130 million pesos, or $2.5 million, in tobacco taxes were delivered to Mr. Estrada's house.

But special prosecutor Dennis Villa Ignacio told reporters during a break that he expected such denials. He said the prosecution is confident that Estrada will not be able to overcome the documentary evidence against him.

Mr. Estrada's trial has dragged on for five years, but his own testimony began only last week. Critics accuse the defense of prolonging the legal battle in hopes of gaining public support, but defense attorney Saguisag denies this.

He says other cases against major political figures, such as the family of former President Ferdinand Marcos, moved even slower.

"Why don't you ask why the cases of the Marcoses are tried once every decade? So this is the fastest moving case in its category. Because in this country, that's just how it is," said Saguisag.

It could be mid May before Mr. Estrada finishes his testimony at the Sandinganbayan, or anti-corruption court, because the case is only being heard one day per week.

While the exchanges took place inside the courtroom, about 200 supporters of Mr. Estrada gathered peacefully outside a nearby church. They carried banners proclaiming his innocence and calling for his freedom.

Mr. Estrada was driven from office in 2001 by a popular revolt backed by the military. He is a former movie star, and still has a strong following among poor voters who originally swept him into power.

Plunder, the crime with which Mr. Estrada is charged, carries a maximum penalty of death.

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