Estrada’s lawyers file to dismiss ‘flawed’ case


MANILA, AP

Lawyers for President Joseph Estrada asked the Senate Friday to dismiss the impeachment charges against the president, saying they were technically flawed.

Opposition lawmakers said the move was meant to delay his impeachment trial — the first for a Philippine president.

“The articles of impeachment brought to the Senate were not in accordance with the constitution,” said Estelito Mendoza, a former justice secretary and one of three key lawyers for Estrada.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, who heads the Senate impeachment tribunal, set a hearing on the motion for next Tuesday, said Senate legal officer David Yap.

Allegations by a provincial governor that Estrada received millions of dollars in payoffs and kickbacks from tobacco taxes, prompted the opposition to file charges of bribery, corruption, violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust against the president. The motion to dismiss the charges filed by Estrada’s lawyers raised questions over the haste by which the House of Representatives forwarded the articles of impeachment to the Senate early last week. There was no vote on the impeachment complaint by the full House. Rep. Manuel Villar, who was then House speaker, ruled that a vote was unnecessary because more than the required one-third of the members had earlier signed a petition endorsing impeachment.

Mendoza, however, said those who endorsed the impeachment did so “on the basis of belief not facts,” which were not verified. This violated a constitutional requirement for a preliminary investigation to determine whether the charges can be substantiated, he said. “If it turns out that accusations were false, you can be guilty of perjury,” he said in an interview with radio station DZMM. Opposition lawmakers hit back at Estrada and his lawyers, accusing them of delaying the trial. Rep. Joker Arroyo, one of the 11 members of the House prosecution panel, said the administration “is engaged in double speak.” “On the one hand the president says he wants a speedy trial to clear his name, yet his lawyers have embarked on a dilatory tactic. It doesn’t sit well … with the public,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN television. He said the Senate “should not even entertain” the motion because its rules on impeachment do not cover such motions.

Arroyo also said the Senate, out of respect for a co-equal body, cannot inquire into what transpired at the House when it decided to approve the articles of impeachment.

“What the house says, goes,” he said. “We don’t interfere with the business of the Senate, they don’t interfere with the business of the House. Once we transmit something to the Senate, that should be given full faith and credit.”

Constitutional expert Joaquin Bernas said Villar’s action was constitutional.

“I believe the rules of the House violate the constitution,” he said. “At any rate, the matter is closed because the House has already decided that they will not challenge it. Once it’s closed by the House, it’s closed forever.”

The allegations, which Estrada has denied, have plunged the Philippines into its worst political crisis in years, threatening the country’s ailing economy.