Bank Files Key to Philippine Case
Dec. 18, 2000
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Senators allied with Philippine President Joseph Estrada moved Monday to block the release of bank records prosecutors say are key to their case in the embattled leader's impeachment trial.
The defense won a delay, at least, when Chief Justice Hilario Davide granted a motion by three pro-Estrada senators giving his team until Tuesday to appeal a ruling allowing prosecutors to view the records and use them as evidence.
The nation's 22 senators are the trial jurors, but some are also acting as advocates for or against the president. The prosecutors are House lawmakers who voted last month to try Estrada on corruption charges.
If Estrada does appeal the ruling, as is expected, a Senate vote on whether to allow the bank records as evidence would be seen as a signal of the vote on Estrada's guilt or innocence.
Estrada is charged with bribery, graft, betrayal of public trust and violating the constitution. A guilty verdict by two-thirds of the Senate on any of the four counts would force him from office.
Prosecutors say the bank records show Estrada used an account set up by a friend under a false name to issue a $2.8 million check to build a mansion inhabited by one of his several mistresses.
A spokesman for the president, Mike Toledo, said the sealed account records are irrelevant to the impeachment trial. Estrada has said he did not use the account.
Legislators moved to impeach Estrada after a provincial governor accused him of taking more than $8 million in payoffs from an illegal numbers game and skimming $2.6 million off money intended for tobacco farmers.
The accusations have thrown the Philippines into turmoil, with opponents calling for Estrada to resign. Estrada, who has not testified, says he is innocent and has refused to step down.
A crowd of thousands, including labor activists and bus drivers, gathered on Manila's main thoroughfare Monday to call for Estrada's resignation, blocking traffic for a few minutes before riot police intervened. No violence was reported.