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Ex-Philippine President Estrada Goes on Trial - 2001-10-01


In the Philippines, the corruption trial of former President Joseph Estrada began Monday. The proceedings started without Mr. Estrada's team of lawyers and under protest from the defendant.

The trial of former President Joseph Estrada opened before an anti-graft tribunal in the Manila suburb of Quezon City.

A few hundred supporters of the former president gathered outside the courthouse during the day, but they were outnumbered by hundreds of police in riot gear.

Mr. Estrada's lawyers had said they could not attend, citing prior commitments, and asked for a postponement. On the eve of his court date, the former president also threatened to ignore a court summons and boycott the session.

The head of the anti-corruption prosecution team, Aniano Desierto, told VOA he was prepared nevertheless to start. "We will have the defense counsel cited for contempt by the court," he said. "Because they are officers of the court, they must not obstruct trial or proceedings before this court."

Mr. Desierto said his team was also prepared to ask the court to appoint lawyers for the defendants.

Mr. Estrada did eventually appear, with his son, Jinggoy, but without his lawyers. As the trial opened, the former president asked the judge for a postponement. During a court recess, he complained to reporters that he was being treated unfairly. "I am surprised why they are in any hurry to proceed with the trial," he said. "In fact, this is the first postponement asked by the defense counsel."

The former president said his lawyers had filed several motions explaining they could not appear because of prior commitments.

But presiding Judge Anacleto Badoy dismissed the motions, appointed lawyers for the defendants and had the prosecution call its first witness.

Mr. Estrada is charged with amassing nearly $80 million through payoffs from questionable government investments, tobacco taxes and illegal gambling. These charges first emerged during his impeachment trial, shortly before his ouster from office last January. The former president denies the charges.

The trial - the first such case against a former leader - is expected to take many months, and is likely to involve the Philippine Supreme Court, which is being asked to rule on the constitutionality of economic plunder law.

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