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The BBC's John McLean
"The vote has called into question the credibility of the impeachment process"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 00:26 GMT
Uproar at Estrada trial
Philippine Senate President Aquilino Pimentel
Pimentel, dressed in white, bids the senate farewell
The impeachment trial of Philippine President Joseph Estrada was thrown into disarray on Tuesday following a decision by the trial's Senate judges to bar the inspection of the president's bank accounts.


This is a shameless vote of acquittal

Prosecutor Joker Arroyo
Reacting to the Senate decision, the entire prosecution team has decided to resign.

Thousands of protesters later took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Estrada.

President Estrada has responded by issuing a statement - read on his behalf on Philippines radio - appealing for calm on the streets. He said violence or other protests would not be good for the unity and peace of the nation.

The move follows the resignation earlier in the day of the president of the Philippine Senate.

"We are going to the House [of Representatives] tomorrow to resign, all of us," Congressman Feliciano Belmonte, head of the prosecution panel of 11 congressmen, said.

Joesph Estrada
The result is a blow to Estrada's opponents
Prosecutors said Mr Estrada had "in effect" been acquitted when the Senate voted 11-10 against unsealing documents allegedly relating to a secret presidential bank account.

"This is a shameless vote of acquittal," a shocked Joker Arroyo, one of the prosecutors, said, adding that it was "unthinkable" for the panel to continue.

Effect unclear

It was unclear what would follow from the mass resignations, as there has been no impeachment precedent in the country

Correspondents say opponents of the president could now abandon their legal challenge and instead take to the streets.

Mr Belmonte said the House of Representatives could possibly appoint a new team of prosecutors to handle the case.

Prosecutors believe Mr Estrada used the secret $66m account account to hide illegally acquired money.

Angry resignation

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, who had been in favour of opening the sealed documents, angrily resigned from his post in protest at the decision.

"Because of this development I realise that the no's have it, and therefore I resign my presidency of the Senate as soon as my successor is elected," Mr Pimentel said.

Another senator, Loren Legarda, who had also voted for the inspection of the documents, burst into tears.

Bribes

Mr Estrada is accused of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from illegal gambling syndicates and in skimmed off excise taxes.

Anti-Estrada protester
There have been strong calls for Estrada to resign
Prosecutor Joker Arroyo had told the court that the sealed bank records would show a savings account, which he said Mr Estrada had opened using the alias Jose Velarde.

"That's why we want it opened, to show how the president amassed 3.3bn pesos within a span of one-and-a-half years," Mr Arroyo told the court.

"That's the kind of money he placed in that savings account."

Mr Estrada will be removed from office only if found guilty by at least two-thirds of the Senate.

The president has denied keeping any secret bank accounts and has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada 'interfered in murder trial'
08 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Mrs Estrada faces bribe claims
05 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada mistresses to testify
22 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Surprise witness stuns Estrada trial
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