Estrada vows to resign if proven guilty


MANILA, AFP

Beleaguered President Joseph Estrada vowed Thursday to step down at once if his accusers can prove that he is a crook, as the economy reeled from the political scandal.

Provincial governor Luis Singson, a self-declared gambling pal of the president, unleashed a storm earlier this month when he charged that Estrada took 414 million pesos (US$8.2 million) from operators of an illegal lottery called “jueteng”.

The president, in the 28th month of his six-year term, declared Thursday he would step down immediately “if it is proven that I accepted a single centavo from illegal gambling or took it from the national coffers.”

The corruption allegations have led to street protest and the filing of impeachment charges against Estrada. They have also pushed the peso into a tailspin.

High interest rates and other measures put up by monetary authorities to defend the currency have spooked businessmen who warned Thursday of economic collapse. Some also charged that the measures amounted to capital controls.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in the business community,” business leader Raul Concepcion told reporters as the peso dived to an all-time low of 50.95 to the dollar in intra-day trade.

“If this continues until the end of the year, then we’ll see economic collapse next year.”

Singson, Estrada’s principal accuser, said Thursday the president may not be around by then.

He predicted the Filipino leader would step down “maybe after the (presidential) election in the United States” on November 7, provided he could find a ‘graceful exit’.

Vice President Gloria Arroyo, the constitutional successor to Estrada, bailed out of the Cabinet last week to distance herself from the corruption scandal. She has also warned the economy could collapse unless Estrada lets go.

About 50 squatters attacked a suburban Manila villa leased by Estrada for one of his mistresses on Thursday, banging on its metal gates with their fists and pelting the property with smelly fish paste, AFP photographers saw.

The House of Representatives is to begin impeachment hearings against Estrada on November 6 in a process that could take months.

If the House Justice committee finds probable cause, the Senate can convene to preside over an impeachment trial provided that at least 73 of the 218 House members endorsed the committee report.

Estrada allies on Thursday eased out of the committee chairman Pacifico Fajardo and replaced him with another legislator, Neptali Gonzales.