Erap ready for ‘guilty’ verdict

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — OUSTED President Joseph Estrada, now detained in his own rest house in Tanay, Rizal for plunder and corruption charges, is ready to be convicted when the Sandiganbayan render its decision tomorrow, according to his former spokesman.

In a talk with reporters, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (UNO, Cagayan de Oro) said the disgraced leader, accused of plunder of P4.1 billion, is prepared to accept a conviction from the anti-graft court.

“He will accept that, pending appeal,” Rodriguez said. “But we will appeal it to the Supreme Court.”

Estrada, ousted in a military and police-backed civilian uprising in January 2001, has feigned innocence of the charges filed against him, claiming he has already been “acquitted by the Filipino masses.”

Rodriguez, who served as Estrada’s spokesman after now-Rep. Didagen Dilangalen (PMP, Shariff Kabunsuan-Cotabato City) relinquished the post in 2004, said an acquittal of the former president “will just be a bonus and a vindication on his part.”

But even if Estrada is acquitted, Rodriguez said the ousted leader has no plans to “reclaim” the presidency as the election to the Senate of his wife, Luisa Ejercito, and son Jinggoy Estrada was proof of his “vindication by the people.”

The congressman also expressed confidence that there will not be any destabilization attempt or violence to be committed by Estrada’s followers whether he will be convicted or acquitted by the Sandiganbayan.

However, Rodriguez said that if Estrada’s followers exercise their constitutional right to “go the to the streets,” the former president wanted their action to be “peaceful.”

Opposition Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel , whose party-list group Akbayan, was among the militant groups that fought for Estrada’s ouster, said any decision to be handed down by the Sandiganbayan will be “immaterial.”

She said the decision of the Supreme Court will be more credible, stressing that she does not believe in the Sandiganbayan.

But the party-list lawmaker hinted that the High Court can still render a guilty verdict on Estrada, whom her party and other leftist organizations helped to be overthrown.

Rep. Satur Ocampo (Party-List, Bayan Muna) said he will comment only after the Supreme Court has rendered its decision on Estrada’s case.

Rep. Roilo Golez (Ind., Parañaque), who was also instrumental in ousting Estrada, said the House minority, of which he is the spokesman, has no definite stand on the issue.

“We have not discussed this as a group. Whoever made statements on the issue spoke on their own opinions,” said Golez who, as the then national security adviser of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was nearly lynched by a mob of pro-Estrada supporters in a Labor Day anti-government demonstration in 2001.

But Golez admitted that Estrada is still a force to reckon with once he gets acquitted.

“He will be a very big political player on the loose, a potent political player who will be crucial in the 2010 elections,” he said, adding that an acquittal of Estrada will have an impact on the country’s political landscape.

In a related development, Rep. Adam Relson Jala (Lakas, Bohol) is also confident of Estrada’s conviction, prompting the former president’s supporters to institute “damage control plans to cushion its impact.”

“Estrada’s camp is indeed bracing for a guilty verdict. They are now concocting this slay plot against him involving Malacañang,” he said.

Such plot is unthinkable, Jala said, explaining that if the government wanted Estrada to be killed, the move could have been done “a long time ago when he was still a threat to the administration.”