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Estrada’s Claim to Office Rejected

April 3, 2001

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Supreme Court voted unanimously Tuesday to reject a petition by ousted President Joseph Estrada to retake the presidency and instead cleared the way for corruption charges to be brought against him, a court official said.

The court upheld its March 2 decision to strip Estrada of his parliamentary immunity and recognize the legitimacy of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who took power after Estrada was forced to leave the presidential palace amid widespread protests.

The ruling dashed Estrada’s final hope to retake the presidency through legal battles.

``The Supreme Court will not entertain a second motion for reconsideration ... a second motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading,″ said Maria Luisa Villarama, assistant clerk of court

Jose Victor Ejercito, Estrada’s son, acknowledged the ruling was a ``major defeat.″

``The highest court of the land seems to be influenced be the ruling elite, which has no other intention but to stay in power,″ Ejercito said.

He said his father still holds great sway among the nation’s poor. If his father continues to suffer ``persecution,″ he said, it could ``start large rallies and we do not know if we can control their tempers.″

Estrada was meeting with his lawyer after the ruling and made no immediate public comment.

Estrada was forced to leave on Jan. 20 as tens of thousands of protesters, backed by top police, military and church officials, gathered outside to call for his resignation after months of snowballing corruption allegations.

But Estrada never signed a resignation letter and later asked the Supreme Court to declare Arroyo, who was his vice president, as only the ``acting president.″

The original Supreme Court decision ruled that he essentially resigned when he left the palace, even without a formal announcement.

The ruling Tuesday also said Estrada only had immunity from prosecution while in power, and would lose it even if he were just ``a president on leave.″ It also rejected Estrada’s argument that his legal battle is unfairly affected by negative publicity.

Estrada’s appeal had left stock markets jittery and added to months of political uncertainty as some feared the court might rule that the current government is illegitimate.

The ruling also removes a major obstacle to criminal charges against Estrada.

Estrada is under investigation on several possible corruption related charges including economic plunder, misuse of funds, violations of the anti-graft law, perjury, bribery and possession of unexplained wealth.

The investigation and any pressing of criminal charges were on hold while the Supreme Court deliberated on Estrada’s petitions since February

It was not clear whether the court will now allow Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, the government’s chief corruption prosecutor, to immediately file charges.

Lawyers for plaintiffs against Estrada allege that he, with the help of friends and associates, amassed as much as $300 million in bribes and kickbacks during his 31 months in office.

Arroyo administration officials have accused Estrada of fighting for the presidency mainly to preserve presidential immunity from the cases.

The ruling also comes ahead of May 14 congressional and municipal elections which are widely seen as a proxy war between Estrada and Arroyo through their allied candidates.

Update hourly