Impeachment trial adjourns in Philippines

Estrada trial suspended after prosecutors resign

tens of thousands protest

January 18, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Senate indefinitely adjourned the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada yesterday as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand the president's resignation.

The Senate, which had voted not to accept new evidence of alleged payoffs to the president, concluded that it could not continue the impeachment case after all 11 prosecutors resigned in protest of the Tuesday vote.

The decision to suspend the hearing handed Estrada a significant victory as he fights to keep his job in the face of allegations that he accepted at least $74 million in illegal payments. To survive, he must now weather protests led by prominent foes, including former Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, Cardinal Jaime Sin and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who would take over if Estrada left office before the end of his term in 2004.

Crowds of up to 100,000 people gathered in Manila to call on the president to step down.

"The time is up. Resign," said Sin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, who helped lead the 1986 "people's power" protests that toppled then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Estrada, a star of action movies who was elected president in 1998, was accused last year of accepting $11 million in illegal gambling profits and cigarette tax revenue. The charges prompted the House of Representatives to impeach the president and take the matter to trial before the Senate.

With the senators acting as judges and members of the House acting as prosecutors, witnesses brought to light new evidence alleging that Estrada received an additional $63.5 million and deposited it in a bank account under the false name of Jose Velarde.

Prosecutors were on the verge of submitting bank records as evidence when Estrada supporters put the matter to a Senate vote. The senators voted 11-10 not to unseal the bank records.

The ballot made it clear that Estrada has enough support in the Senate to survive impeachment.

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