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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Convicted Estrada's tranquil jail
By Adrian Addison
BBC News, Manila

Deposed Philippine President Joseph Estrada may well have received a sentence of life imprisonment for corruption - but it does not mean life in a prison cell.

Ex-President Joseph Estrada waves to the crowd after leaving court - 12/09/07
Mr Estrada considered the verdict politically motivated

The court has ordered that he remain under house arrest at his estate, a couple of hours outside Manila where the former actor is currently building a museum about his life in politics and on screen.

He is just like so many other senior citizens in the town of Tanay, in Rizal province, as he tends his vegetable patch and rice paddies. Albeit one kept under constant watch by guards.

He spends a lot of time caring for his ever growing collection of animals. Ducks, pigs, chickens and swans, even ostriches.

Friends come and go, including Renato Constantino, a long time political confidante and close friend.

"I visit him regularly. He's the same man he always was," he said. "Lots of people have visited him there, seeking advice. Even senators that were once his political enemies. He holds no malice in his heart for them. It is a very open house.

"It's funny, I think this describes the man perfectly, they have to keep changing the guards because they start to like him so much. He spends a lot of time looking after them and helping them. What has happened to him is a disgrace. He was brought down by the wealthy elite."

Favourite projects

Mr Estrada, 70, is obviously thinking of the day the curtain finally closes on his life. He has constructed his final resting place, a brown marble tomb under a solitary bayete tree.

I am happy about the unqualified support given to me by our people
Joseph Estrada

On the eve of his sentencing, Mr Estrada spoke to the BBC on the telephone from his comfortable home.

Outdoors, with a gentle patter of running water in the background, he explained that as far as he and his supporters are concerned, the court had already decided his guilt and the court was "created to convict me".

"I'm very determined to face all those charges against me because I know I am innocent. If the decision of the justices will be based on the merits of the case I am 100% sure that I'll be acquitted. If there'll be no political pressure from the top," he said.

"I feel that I am already acquitted by the people. I am happy about the unqualified support given to me by our people - that's the source of my strength and inspiration and I consider that my vindication."

Few people think Mr Estrada will spend a single day in prison and he will stay at his estate for at least a year while his appeal works itself through the legal system, probably up to the Supreme Court.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo (file photo)
Mrs Arroyo is fending off corruption allegations of her own

While he waits, he spends a lot of his time working on one of his favourite projects, his library, which has the portrait of all the presidents of the Philippines on the ceiling - with one notable exception, the current incumbent Gloria Arroyo, who was once Mr Estrada's vice-president.

She was first sworn in after Mr Estrada was deposed in 2001, and he has always thought her administration illegitimate.

Mr Estrada will, it seems, have a peaceful retirement as he tends his vegetable garden and rice paddies and looks after his ducks and other animals in the place he has spent most of the six years it has taken for the court to reach a verdict.

Government scandals

It is a very different story for Mrs Arroyo. If this is a victory for her government, it is a Pyrrhic one.

The "masa", the urban poor, are still hugely supportive of Mr Estrada, who has always denied the charges against him.

And Mrs Arroyo is facing corruption charges of her own.

A fortnight ago, the senate re-opened an inquiry into allegations of vote-rigging during the 2004 presidential election, in what has become known as the "Hello Garci" scandal.

Mrs Arroyo has already beaten off two impeachment attempts and denied any wrongdoing in a TV broadcast to the nation. But the scandal will not go away.

And a new scandal is brewing. Members of her government are alleged to be involved in a $329m (162m) broadband contract with a Chinese firm. The price, it is claimed, was grossly inflated.

All this, admits Mrs Arroyo, is a distraction which is slowing down her government as she approaches her last two years in office. It could be she eventually leaves office with her legacy tainted by the foul scent of corruption.

Footage of Joseph Estrada during his time in office

Estrada gets life for corruption
12 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Estrada denies money laundering
26 Apr 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Joseph Estrada
22 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Estrada denies corruption charge
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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