Estrada’s detention confirmed by court


MANILA, AFP

A special anti-graft court on Saturday rejected a petition by jailed former Philippines president Joseph Estrada for house arrest and ordered his return to a detention center in a police camp.

The anti-graft court said there was no basis in the constitution, in law or the rules of court to allow Estrada, who is facing charges of massive corruption, to be held under house arrest.

President Gloria Arroyo’s spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao, said the government respected the order of the anti-graft court, but said Estrada’s poor health could enable him to stay in hospital.

“Mr. Estrada’s medical health, both physical and psychological, would require him to stay (at the military hospital) just to ensure that immediate medical assistance is available,” Tiglao said.

However the court was unambiguous in its declaration Estrada should not receive any favors.

“A preventive detainee cannot be granted special treatment, over and above other preventive detainees, cannot be given house arrest, simply because he is a former president,” the court read.

In denying the petition by Estrada and his co-accused son, Jose Ejercito, the court cited the violent attempt by a crowd of his supporters to prevent his arrest in April and the riot they staged at the presidential palace on May 1 in a bid to re-install him.

The court said that allowing Estrada and his son, a town mayor, to be detained in their mansion in an upper-class, gated community would be “inimical to the national interest, destroys the tranquillity of the neighborhood (and) an invitation to greater disturbance.”

The court, which is due to begin arraignment proceedings of Estrada on corruption charges on June 27, even cited the fear that his supporters would dig a tunnel to his house to spirit him out.

“One morning everyone wakes up to find the detainees gone,” the court said.

Estrada’s lawyer, Raymond Fortun, said they had not yet received a copy of the order and would not comment until they had studied it thoroughly.

Estrada, a former top movie star, was toppled by a popular uprising in January following corruption allegations that eventually resulted in his jailing.

He retains a large following among the poor.

The ousted leader faces charges of stealing about US$80 million through bribes and embezzlement and could theoretically face the death penalty.

He and his son were earlier detained in a bungalow in a police camp outside Manila but were later transferred to a military hospital in the suburbs for a medical check-up.

The anti-graft court ordered the attending physicians to submit a report to them within 10 days, stating whether Estrada needed to remain in the hospital.