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Former Philippine President To Testify - 2001-08-02

Lawyers for former Philippines President Joseph Estrada say their client will testify in his own defense at his upcoming corruption trial.

Amid heavy security, ousted Philippine president Joseph Estrada appeared before an anti-graft court in Manila for a pretrial hearing on the charge of perjury.

Mr. Estrada's lawyers told the court their client will take the witness stand and answer the charges against him at the trial, which is expected to begin in October.

Speaking briefly to reporters Thursday, the former leader said he is eager to testify to clear his name. "I am willing to suffer, to sacrifice as long as I can be cleared of all these charges," Mr. Estrada said.

Mr. Estrada's perjury charge stems from his alleged failure to declare millions of dollars in assets while he was president. Prosecutors argue that the former leader lied when he declared net asset of about $600,000.

They say bank records show Mr. Estrada actually had tens of millions of dollars in several bank accounts, including what prosecutors say, are bank deposits under a false name.

Julio Olaguer, one of the state prosecutors, says the government only has to prove that Mr. Estrada received more money than the amount he filed in his tax declaration in order to obtain a conviction. "All we need to prove is that he has money in cash and in banks of more than 35 million pesos (about $600,000)," he said.

Aside from perjury, Mr. Estrada is also facing a more serious charge of economic plunder. That charge centers on allegations he gained millions of dollars in illegal wealth from kickbacks from tobacco taxes and payoffs from illegal gambling operators. The former president could face the death penalty on that charge.

Mr. Estrada stepped down from office in January after his impeachment hearing collapsed amid political bickering and street protests. He was arrested in April and is currently being held at a military hospital.

His trial will be the first ever for a former Philippine leader.