2002-03-06 00:00:00

Impeached president Joseph Estrada fired his lawyers, accused the justice system of bias and assailed Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila for having conspired with businessmen to remove him from office.

The ousted president spoke with the country´s largest television networks just before the anti-graft Sandiganbayan court postponed his March 1 trial for economic plunder, a crime which carries the death penalty as maximum sentence.

The Feb. 27 and 28 programs of "TV Patrol," "Isyu" (issue) and "Debate" showed Estrada saying the judicial system is bent on convicting him of large-scale corruption and that he could not get a fair trial under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo´s administration.

Estrada dismissed his lawyers from five firms after the Sandiganbayan ruled it would hear his case three times a week. The lawyers said the schedule prejudices their other clients.

As he ordered his lawyers to withdraw from his Sandiganbayan cases, Estrada said he is "prepared to die by lethal injection."

In the Feb. 28 broadcast of Isyu, the former president said, "Our justice system has been destroyed."

He claimed Cardinal Sin convinced five Supreme Court justices to vote to legalize Arroyo´s government after the prelate started the movement that rallied for his resignation as president.

Thirteen out of 15 justices voted to uphold the legitimacy of Arroyo´s takeover in January 2001 when Estrada "vacated" his presidential office in Malacanang at the height of a people´s uprising following his failed impeachment trial in the Senate.

In Isyu, he said that as president he had rebuffed Cardinal Sin´s request not to promote birth control.

Estrada said he also rejected the cardinal´s calls to state disapproval of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. government and to stop the "all-out war" his government had launched against the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2000.

The Manila archdiocesan communications office told UCA News March 5 that the cardinal had no comments on Estrada´s remarks.

Estrada said he also rejected the Ayala and Lopez clans´ appeal to increase water rates. The families won the contract to distribute water in the capital region.

He said the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" newspaper helped bring him down because his administration opposed a 1980s land deal with the owners. He added that the deal was "disadvantageous" to the government.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the former president´s actions are "obviously part of the strategy of the defense ... to buy time and win public sympathy."

Estrada wants to delay the trial until a new and "friendly" government takes over after the 2004 elections, Solicitor General Simeon Marcelo told UCA News.

Arno Sanidad, a private prosecutor, cited the strategy of lawyers who represented Benigno Aquino Jr. at the military tribunal hearing of Aquino´s rebellion case during the rule of former president Ferdinand Marcos.

Sanidad said that while political detainees then were "freedom fighters, Estrada is just a crook."

He advised the government to show that Estrada is getting a fair trail by lifting its ban on live media coverage of the trial.

Estrada and his co-accused son Jose are detained in an army hospital near Manila, while facing trial for economic plunder. Estrada is also being tried for perjury and illegal use of an alias.

On Feb. 27, Estrada admitted in another television interview that he signed "Jose Velarde" on bank documents as "guarantor" for a friend´s loan but denied he owned an account with that name.

Prosecutors alleged the account is Estrada´s and held 3.2 billion pesos (US $64 million) from kickbacks, commissions, political contributions and gifts.

The court has ordered Estrada to choose public attorneys for the trial set to resume March 15.


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