Erap judges get more bodyguards

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Sandiganbayan justices who tried the P4.1-billion plunder case against ousted President Joseph Estrada have been given extra bodyguards as judgment day approaches.

The chief of the anti-graft court’s security office, Eduardo Urieta, confirmed that Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta and Francisco Villaruz were assigned two extra bodyguards each three weeks ago.

He denied reports that the extra police guards were in response to threats against the justices.

“This was done on my own initiative,” Urieta said. “I personally do not know of any threat against them. My request was simply a precaution.”

A source inside the anti-graft court said the three justices had received threatening messages and had discussed these among themselves.

Renato Bocar, executive clerk of court and spokesman for the Special Division that is trying Estrada’s case, declined to comment on the security arrangements, saying these fell exclusively in Urieta’s jurisdiction.

Security has also been tightened within the court premises.

Malacañang had advised Estrada to “think of the greater good” as the verdict on his plunder case drew near, saying it would be his “best option.”

“As a good citizen and as a former public official, the best option for him is to consider the greater good for the majority of our people. Let us not think of things that can destabilize our country and erode our economic progress,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

He said he believed Estrada, who is also accused of financing a number of coup attempts, would be responsible enough to avoid bankrolling new attempts to unseat the administration.

On Tuesday, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales confirmed meeting with Estrada, who invited him to his rest house in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, last week for “possible negotiations.”

Last month, the sworn statements of two Magdalo rebel soldiers were made public, detailing how Estrada gave P8 million to a failed coup attempt in February last year.

Also yesterday, Gov. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar questioned the credibility of an opposition-funded Social Weather Stations survey that said most Metro Manila residents favored a pardon for Estrada if he was found guilty.

He also questioned the timing of the survey, adding it focused only on “imperial” Manila and ignored the rest of the country.

Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro Arigo, meanwhile, said Estrada should not be pardoned because he had been consistent in denying his guilt. He added it would be unfair to pardon Estrada when there were many more who deserved it.