Philippines’ Estrada says he was let down by military

MANILA, Reuters

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, who was toppled from power following a people power revolt in January, said on Friday he regretted placing too much trust in the military.

“Maybe, what I learned was that I gave too much trust to my subordinates in government. That’s the lesson that I’ve learned, especially with regard to the military,” Estrada said in a surprise call to radio station DZMM.

He said he was calling from a military hospital where he has been undergoing treatment.

Estrada, who is being held by police while awaiting trial for economic plunder, was forced to step down on January 20 after top officers from the military and the police said they could not serve under him.

At the time he was undergoing an impeachment trial for corruption and misusing his office. Crowds began gathering in Manila demanding his ouster after the trial was torpedoed by loyalist senators.

After the military and the police backed the demonstrators, Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sworn in to succeed Estrada.

Estrada said that during his 31-month rule, the government doubled the allowance of soldiers and granted free houses and educational scholarships to children of those killed in action in the government’s campaign against Muslim rebels in the south.

“We gave all the support, all the trust,” he said.

“I took care of the soldiers and the police because they are the protectors of the country and I believe in the constitution.

“When I appointed chief of staff General Angelo Reyes, I told him that ‘your commander-in-chief is always subordinate to our constitution’.

“I did not expect that they will be the ones who will not follow the constitution.”

Reyes is now defence secretary in the Arroyo Cabinet.

Presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao told the same radio station Estrada probably did not expect the military to uphold the constitution.

“He was wrong in trusting too much in the sense that our military showed that the most important thing to them was a good government that follows the constitution,” Tiglao said.

Estrada is awaiting trial on a string of charges ranging from perjury to economic plunder, a crime that carries the death penalty or life in prison.

The former movie star has denied all the charges, saying they were lies peddled by his political foes.