Monday, June 18, 2007

Six-year plunder trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada ends

MANILA, Philippines — State prosecutors have called for oral summations during final arguments Friday in the six-year plunder trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

They are doing so not just to stop further delays in the case but also to “refresh the people’s memory,” explained Special State Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio.

Villa-Ignacio noted that oral summations were “not a common feature” of Philippine courts, but that his team believed making the proceedings public would remind Filipinos of the alleged crimes of their 13th President.

“It’s been six years since we began and the people might have already forgotten the details of this case,” he said in an interview.

State prosecutors plan to argue that a guilty verdict for Estrada, who is accused of amassing P4.1-billion in illegal funds, would be a rare chance for the Philippines to hold the powerful to account.

“It would show that the State, and the administration as well, have the political will to go after corrupt public officials,” Villa-Ignacio said.

“If we let this go unpunished, then that’s it. Forget about good governance, forget about eradicating corruption in the bureaucracy. This is the last opportunity that we as a nation have to show that we can enforce the law regardless of the personalities involved here,” he said.

Prosecutors also plan to post on the Ombudsman’s website their 626-page memorandum summing up the “people’s case” against Estrada.

In it, they lamented the failure to obtain “a swift and timely justice” for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies.

Estrada’s conviction may provide “a second chance,” they said.

The Sandiganbayan special division, created to hear the plunder case against the disgraced leader, received the prosecution’s memo as well as a 276-page summation of the defense last Wednesday. The trial will close with final arguments at 9 a.m. Friday.

Whole-day affair

The court has required the presence of the 70-year-old Estrada in what is expected to be a whole-day affair. His co-accused son, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, is said to be in San Francisco, California, and is not expected at the hearing.

Lawyers from both camps are expected to come in full force, with the sheriff’s office reserving up to 20 seats for each side. Loudspeakers are to be installed outside the 146-seat courtroom for journalists who could not be accommodated inside.

Reached at his Tanay, Rizal, vacation estate where he is under house arrest, Estrada said he will be ready to address the court himself, if allowed to do so.

“I would have been in exile and not attending if I were guilty,” he said, recalling how then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez allegedly offered him safe passage to any country of his choice shortly after his ouster in January 2001.

Villa-Ignacio, who has many times accused the Estrada defense panel of delaying the case, said the prosecution has “in effect thwarted further attempts” to prolong the case.

He said that in most cases after the trial proper, the prosecution and defense would just agree to file memos and rejoinders, after which the court considers the case submitted for decision.

But if the prosecution had agreed to this route, the long wait for the verdict “might drag on until 2008.”

Oral summation hearing

Sandiganbayan spokesperson Renato Bocar, who has served in the anti-graft court since 1979, observed that this was the first time that the court would be holding an oral summation hearing.

Under the rules of court, the special division has to issue a verdict “within 90 days” starting Friday, when the case is considered submitted for decision.

Villa-Ignacio said he expected a verdict within 60 days.

“We are very confident, especially after we have presented our evidence,” he said.

The Philippine National Police said it was ready to bring Estrada before the Sandiganbayan on Friday in what will probably be his last court appearance.

Chief Supt. Romeo Hilomen, chief of the PNP’s Police Security and Protection Office (PSPO), said that if Estrada refuses to appear before the court, he would be brought there by force.

“But I already talked to him and he had agreed to go,” Hilomen said.

Hilomen said his office had been ordered to “produce” Estrada before the Sandiganbayan before 9 a.m.

He refused to say how many policemen would be involved or whether Estrada would be transported by chopper or by land.

“There is no specific threat to Mr. Estrada,” Hilomen noted.

Hilomen’s unit, with around 2,000 members, is in charge of security for very important persons (VIPs).

By Volt Contreras With Alcuin Papa and Associated Press
Related Links
Prosecution: We proved our case
Defense: Prosecution had no case
Estrada Trial Ends

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