What next for President Estrada if found guilty?


MANILA, AFP

Impeached Philippine President Joseph Estrada will be ousted from power and replaced by his constitutional successor Vice President Gloria Arroyo if convicted by the Senate for corruption.

But whether he will be subject to criminal prosecution upon removal from office is not certain.

The 63-year-old former movie star Estrada was impeached by the House of Representatives for alleged corruption, the basis of which were charges that he took eight million U.S. dollars in bribes from illegal gambling syndicates.

The unprecedented impeachment paved the way for the Senate trial which began Thursday and is to decide whether he is fit to govern the nation of 75 million people, one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

The trial is not a criminal case. Unlike court judges, the 22 senators are not bound by the requirement of establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt. They only need a “preponderance of evidence” to convict him.

Under the Philippine constitution: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office … but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial and punishment according to law.”

It also stated that the vice president would take over if he vacated office. Vice President Arroyo quit Estrada’s Cabinet after he was accused of taking illegal gambling bribes in October and leads a united opposition against the embattled president.

Sources here said earlier that there were negotiations for a “graceful exit” for Estrada, who had denied such a claim.

According to a paper prepared by the University of Philippines School of Economics, the Senate trial will have three possible “end-game scenarios.”

— an Estrada acquittal with or without satisfactorily answering the allegations against him resulting in a weakened presidency and economic chaos;

— an Estrada conviction but he is unpunished, and;

— Estrada constitutionally removed, convicted and punished.

The university’s school of economics professor Solita Monsod was quoted by the local Business World newspaper as saying that the public might not react as vehemently in case of an Estrada acquittal as long as they see a “fair” trial.