Erap not afraid of Atong Ang

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — FORMER President Joseph Estrada has said he is neither threatened nor disturbed by the impending extradition of his erstwhile trusted friend Charlie “Atong” Ang, his co-accused in the P4.1 billion plunder case at the Sandiganbayan, who is said to have been convinced to testify against him.

Estrada, in an interview on radio, said he was aware that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson and officials from the Department of Justice have visited Ang in Las Vegas and tried to convince him to testify as a state witness to pin him down in the five-year-old plunder case.

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation have left for Nevada to fetch Ang, who was ordered extradited upon the government’s request. To avoid detention for plunder, Ang had fled to Las Vegas where he was arrested for violation of immigration laws.

He was supposed to have been extradited in September but Ang managed to delay his trip back home. He is expected to be arraigned for plunder at the Sandiganbayan upon his arrival from Nevada.

The former president, who has been detained since April 2001 for the capital offense of plunder, said he would not mind even if Ang would testify against him when he is brought back to the country to face trial for plunder.

“Okay lang sa akin ‘yun. Kahit ano sabihin nila e nakita namang walang katotohanan ‘yung lahat ng bintang sa akin e. Hindi tayo natatakot dun. Wala akong kakaba-kaba dahil nagtestigo na ‘yan sa Senate Blue Ribbon (committee), sinabi na n’ya lahat ng katotohanan noon, ‘yung ginagawa ni Chavit Singson. Kung babaguhin pa n’ya ‘yun…pero palagay ko naman e wala na tayong ano, nasabi ko na. Nag-submit na kami ng lahat ng aming depensa at nakapagtestigo na ako at nakita naman ng mga justices sa Sandiganbayan kung paano ako nag-testify, at palagay ko naman ay matibay na matibay na ‘yung lahat ng mga paratang sa akin ay mga paratang pampulitika,” the ousted president said.

The government has accused Estrada of conniving and conspiring with Ang and other personalities in connection with the collection of P545 million protection money from jueteng operators between 1998 and 2000 and in the attempt to legalize jueteng through the Bingo-two balls under the auspices of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. through a management company controlled by Ang.

Ang also figured in the alleged diversion of P130 million of the share of Ilocos Sur in the tobacco excise tax collection in 1999 with the money allegedly ending up in the pockets of the Estradas.

The former president asserted that the accusations were fabricated and politically motivated.

“Maraming hindi nakakaalam sa ating taong bayan na wala pang isang buwan na inagaw sa akin ‘yung pagka-Pangulo e in-offeran na ako ni Justice Secretary Nani Perez sa utos ni Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo na I can leave and go to the country of my choice. Pwede ako lumabas ng bansa, lahat dadalhin ko, walang charges, hindi ako kakasuhan. Ang kondisyon ay magreresign ako in writing as President of the Republic of the Philippines,” Estrada recalled.

He said he rejected the offer and told Perez he could not turn his back on the 11 million Filipinos who voted for him in the 1998 elections. “Hindi ako natatakot kahit ano iparatang sa akin, haharapin ko ‘yan kahit na ikulong ako at kaya nga ikinulong ako,” he said.

Estrada said accepting the Arroyo government’s offer would be an admission of guilt. “Hindi naman ako si Jocjoc Bolante o ‘yung mga iba d’yan na tumatakbo,” he said, referring to former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who left for the United States to avoid the Senate investigation of alleged irregularities involving P728 million fertilizer funds that were supposedly used to boost the campaign of President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004. “Hindi ako tatakbo kahit na anong gawin nila sa akin,” Estrada vowed.