Philippine Senate committee approves rules for Estrada trial

MANILA, Philippines, AP

A Philippine Senate committee quickly approved Wednesday draft rules which could determine the outcome of President Joseph Estrada’s Senate impeachment trial, the first in the country’s history.

Estrada, who has denied charges he accepted millions of dollars in payoffs from illegal gambling operators, flew Wednesday to Brunei for a summit of Asia Pacific leaders.

In new allegations against Estrada, newly elected Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said the president earlier offered him money and a car.

Pimentel said Estrada tried to give him a Christmas gift of 200,000 pesos (US$4,000) last year and offered to provide him with a luxury imported car seized by the customs bureau, both of which he rejected.

“I said no, Mr. President, I can’t swallow that,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said Estrada could never bribe him into clearing the president in the impeachment trial.

“He should not try me _ nobody is above the law and nobody is below it either. Whatever is right will be brought out and whatever is the truth will be brought out,” Pimentel said.

The Senate had no rules for impeachment trials since it never before received an impeachment complaint from the House. In recent days Senate staffers have quickly prepared procedures patterned after those used by the U.S. Senate during President Clinton’s impeachment trial.

Sen. Francisco Tatad said members of the Senate committee on rules which he heads approved a draft of the rules for the impeachment trial after a day of debate Wednesday.

The rules, which will be crucial in determining the trial’s outcome, must now be approved by the full 22-member Senate.