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Chief prosecutor Aniano Desierto
"This was a very crucial phase of the trial"
 real 28k

The BBC's John McClean in Manila
"This is his second appearance before a special anti-corruption court"
 real 56k

Letty Magnasoc from the Philippine Daily Inquirer
"It is a very historic moment for us Filipinos"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Estrada refuses to plead
Mr Estrada (l) with his wife Luisa Ejercito and son Jinggoy
Mr Estrada (l) with his wife Luisa Ejercito and son Jose Ejercito
Former Philippines president Joseph Estrada has refused to enter a plea to the charge of economic plunder which carries a possible death sentence.


Upon the advice of my lawyers, I am not entering a plea

Former president Joseph Estrada
The Sandiganbayan court in Manila has automatically entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

His co-defendants, son Jose Ejercito and his former lawyer Edward Serapio, - accused of helping him take bribes from illegal gambling rackets and embezzling state funds - also refused to enter pleas.

Earlier, Mr Estrada's lawyers failed to persuade the Supreme Court to dismiss the charge as unconstitutional.

Elite heavily armed police commandos escort the convoy of former President Joseph Estrada
Mr Estrada left the court under heavy police guard
The former movie star is accused of having illegally acquired a personal fortune of more than $80m while in office, and of using an alias to hide his ownership of a bank account - charges he denies.

"It's not plunder," Mr Estrada's lawyer Serafin Cuevas told reporters after the hearing. "He may have committed indiscretions, but definitely it's not plunder."

The court ordered lawyers for both sides to appear in court on 3 September when the judges will decide when to start hearing evidence.

It also reset to a later, unspecified, date Mr Estrada's arraignment on the charge of illegally using an alias, a lesser charge.

Demonstrations

As Mr Estrada left the Sandiganbayan court for the military hospital where he is being held about 7.5km (4.7 miles) away, a few hundred of his supporters and opponents mounted noisy but peaceful protests outside.

However, the demonstrators were outnumbered by a heavy police presence called in to ensure Mr Estrada's safety.

An anti-Estrada demonstrator directs her anger at an actor wearing a caricature of Estrada with his hands tied
Supporters and opponents demonstrated outside
Inside, Mr Estrada's lawyers argued that the hearing should be delayed until the Supreme Court made its decision.

After several hours delay the court rejected the request and Mr Estrada was arraigned.

"Upon the advice of my lawyers, I am not entering a plea," he said.

Our correspondent in Manila says the decision to enter no plea is intended to show Mr Estrada does not recognise the legitimacy of the court action.

Heavy security

More than 2,000 troops, including commando teams armed with assault rifles, guarded the building and bomb sniffing dogs prowled corridors as Mr Estrada stood without handcuffs in front of a panel of three judges. The court-room was packed.

He was flown to court in a helicopter after police said they had uncovered a plot by unnamed groups to assassinate him.

"We want to pre-empt possible efforts by some bad elements to take advantage of the situation," said Philippine National Police Chief General Leandro Mendoza.

No plea given

During an earlier court appearance on 27 June, Mr Estrada refused to enter a plea on a separate charge of perjury and the court automatically entered a plea of "not guilty".

The plunder charge is punishable by death under a tough justice law that took effect in 1994. Mr Estrada approved the execution of seven death row convicts under the code in 1999.
Joseph Estrada
Mr Estrada after his arrest in April

His successor Gloria Arroyo has said she does not oppose the death penalty being on the statute books. However, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez has ruled out any executions taking place while she is in power.

Mr Estrada was forced from office on 20 January during a bloodless military-backed popular revolt, which began after the collapse of his trial in the country's Senate on charges of corruption and abuse of office.

He was arrested in April, and has been in the military hospital since May, receiving treated for bronchitis and emphysema.

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See also:

27 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada refuses to plead
20 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada to stay in hospital
14 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada 'at risk in prison'
21 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo's Estrada prison 'deal' criticised
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines president widens crackdown
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