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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 09:56 GMT
Estrada denies corruption charge
Joseph Estrada takes oath in court
Joseph Estrada says the charges are politically motivated
Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada has denied taking millions of dollars in bribes and gambling pay-offs before he was deposed five years ago.

Testifying for the first time at his corruption trial in Manila, Mr Estrada dismissed the case against him as political persecution.

Mr Estrada is accused of amassing about $80m (46m) illegally while in office.

He was forced from office in 2001 by massive anti-corruption protests backed by the Catholic Church and the army.

Economic plunder: Accused of amassing $80m in gambling payoffs and tax kickbacks
Perjury: Accused of under-reporting personal assets in '99

"I was not able to defend myself," Mr Estrada said on Wednesday of the mass revolt. "I was convicted in the streets."

He has been under house arrest since July 2004 after winning a legal battle freeing him from military detention.

'Trumped-up charges'

About 200 Filipinos showed up at the trial in Manila to show support for their former president. They had held an overnight vigil and carried banners proclaiming Mr Estrada's innocence.

Police say tight security is needed around the anti-corruption court to contain possible protests by the supporters and to ensure his safety. Some 1,000 policemen patrolled routes leading to the court.

I don't have the conscience to steal money intended for farmers
Joseph Estrada

In this charged atmosphere, Mr Estrada, 68, began presenting his version of events.

"These are trumped-up charges, a frame-up," he declared.

"That's a pack of lies," he retorted, when accused of seeking kickbacks from tobacco taxes.

"I've never asked for commissions. I don't have the conscience to steal money intended for farmers," he insisted.

Mr Estrada's requests for live TV coverage of the trial has been refused, but during a break in proceedings he turned to a TV news camera and declared: "This is all political, you know."

At one point Mr Estrada closed his eyes and looked as if he might fall asleep as lawyers discussed technicalities.

A supporter with a picture of Mr Estrada outside the court in Manila
Mr Estrada still has many supporters

Mr Estrada is the 79th and final witness in the trial which has so far lasted for five years. His testimony is expected to take up to eight weeks to complete as the court only meets once a week.

The Philippine Star called his case "a national embarrassment".

"Estrada's trial is a showcase of how slowly the wheels of Philippine justice turn," the newspaper said.

But presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said that due process was being strictly observed and urged people to let "justice take its inexorable course".


An impeachment trial against Mr Estrada broke down in January 2001 when prosecutors were barred from presenting what they said was a crucial piece of evidence.

Within hours, people massed on the streets for protests that grew until he was forced to flee the presidential palace.

The revolt was backed by generals, Catholic bishops and powerful families. It paved the way for President Gloria Arroyo to rise from vice-president to the top job.

Mr Estrada's lawyers say the corruption charges were concocted by the elite, who conspired to overthrow him despite his popularity with ordinary Filipinos.

The defence team expects a verdict by October and is confident Mr Estrada will be acquitted, saying the prosecution's case is weak.

If he is convicted Mr Estrada could face the death penalty, but the BBC's Sarah Toms in Manila says it is far more likely that he would go to prison or be given a pardon.

See Mr Estrada appear in court

Profile: Joseph Estrada
22 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Estrada allowed house arrest
13 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine presidency race begins
09 Feb 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
09 Jul 03 |  Country profiles

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