Quezon City, April 12, 2003 -- The Sandiganbayan was accused yesterday of 
muzzling detained President Joseph Estrada as it denied the latest request 
for an interview with the deposed leader, this time made by the Associated 
Press, on grounds that the prosecution objects to Estrada being interviewed.

According to retired Sandiganbayan's Justice Manuel Pamaran, one of 
Estrada's de officio counsel, the former president's freedom of speech 
should not be curtailed.

"Freedom of speech should not be denied," Pamaran said reacting to the 
court ruling.

He explained that interviews with the former president could deal with 
anything except on the merits of the case he is facing before the 
anti-graft court.

The Sandiganbayan has repeatedly denied requests made by reporters to 
interview the former president, the most recent of which were of the 
Associated Press' Jim Gomez, ABS-CBN News Channel's Boy Abunda and Net-25.

According to the court, it denied AP's request due to the prosecution 
panel's objection.

"The prosecution opposed the request for interview on the ground that the 
former president had the tendency to cast aspersion on the integrity of the 
judicial system and in order to avoid the possibility that this court will 
be flooded with request for interviews," the Sandiganbayan's Special 
Division yesterday noted.

"In view of the objection of the prosecution to the instant request of Jim 
Gomez, the same is hereby denied," the court said.

Earlier, the Special Division also denied the request for interview made by 
Anna Torres of ANC for Boy Abunda's program Private Conversations with Boy 
Abunda. Estrada was supposed to give a taped interview which would be aired 
for the show's anniversary on March 20 to 21 or 24 to 26, 2003.

The court also denied a similar request made by Net-25 on Jan. 29, 2003.

Some students of the University of the Philippines, including Flora 
Cuba-Vigilancia and reporters from UP's dzUP in Diliman, were also denied 
an interview. (By Gerry Baldo, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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