Estrada wins stay from prosecution, supporters riot


MANILA, AFP

Ousted Philippines leader Joseph Estrada, under investigation for massive corruption, on Thursday won a seven-day stay from criminal prosecution from the supreme court, where he pressed petitions to regain the presidency.

Estrada’s supporters, demanding the country’s highest court reinstate him, rioted and tried to storm the court building but were kept at bay by riot police.

The court gave Estrada, who was deposed in a military-led popular uprising last month, the reprieve while it studied his challenges to the legitimacy of his successor Gloria Arroyo.

The authorities have warned earlier this week they would soon arrest and charge him with plunder, a non-bailable offence.

Estrada’s lawyers argued in court Thursday that the 63 year-old former movie star was chased out of office by a mob and portrayed Arroyo as a usurper.

They asked the country’s highest tribunal to recognize him as “president on leave” and immune from prosecution, nearly a month after a revolt prematurely ended his six-year term in office.

After a three-hour hearing on Estrada’s petitions, the court gave the ex-president and Arroyo five days to submit written memoranda arguing their cases and two more days to make rebuttals.

Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide and another judge, Artemio Panganiban, stood aside after Estrada’s lawyer Rene Saguisag argued the two might have prejudged the issue as they had both made public statements that Arroyo took power legally.

“The court intends to dispose of this case as soon as possible,” presiding justice Josue Bellosillo said.

About 1,000 Estrada fans held a rally on a street near the Supreme Court during the hearing Thursday. Several dozen later peeled off from the main group and attacked a phalanx of riot police guarding the building.

Police fought back with batons. No serious injuries or arrests were reported.