ESTRADA TRIAL POSTPONED FOR THE 7TH TIME

MANILA, August 26, 2003 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla  - For the seventh time, deposed President Joseph Estradaís corruption trial has been reset, this time because of two appeals from the defense and the lack of defense witnesses.

Estradaís lawyers earlier asked the Sandiganbayan to order the prosecutors to present more detailed evidence as well as cite one of the prosecutors for contempt.

Both their motions were rejected and they appealed. The trial was reset for Sept. 22 although the court felt the issues were "already over-ventilated."

Prosecutors accused the defense of delaying tactics. "There is no assurance that come Sept. 22 they will present evidence. The truth is, they donít have any," chief prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio told reporters after yesterdayís hearing, which lasted only 20 minutes. "They canít see the evidence thatís why they are having a hard time rebutting our evidence."

Estrada lawyer Manuel Pamaran, who was the only defense lawyer present, denied they were playing for time.

"There is no intention to delay. This was brought about by circumstances beyond the control of anybody. This is not our idea. We are not ready to present evidence because of the many unresolved issues," he said, referring to their two motions.

Pamaran also insisted that they have witnesses but could not say how many they are.

"We canít determine that. The situation is volatile. We donít know what to attack. But according to my colleagues it cannot be less than 30," he told reporters.

The prosecution rested its case on April 9 and the defense was originally scheduled to make its rebuttal on June 2.

However, the trial was delayed several times mainly because of a motion from Estrada seeking the dismissal of the plunder charges against him.

The Sandiganbayan rejected the motion, saying a lower court cannot directly or indirectly overturn a ruling made by the Supreme Court, the countryís highest tribunal.

Prosecutors dismissed the motion as a sham pleading meant to delay the trial and give the defense time to put together its case.

Estrada said he would not present evidence to defend himself, maintaining he was illegally ousted from the presidency in 2001 and still has parliamentary immunity.

Estrada said the Supreme Court erred when it swore in President Arroyo after declaring the presidency vacant during the January 2001 uprising that toppled him.

Estrada had asked Congress in June to impeach eight Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., for allegedly playing partisan politics to legalize his ouster.

Prosecutors accuse Estrada of amassing more than P4 billion during his 31-month rule by running an illegal gambling protection racket, embezzling state funds and profiting from insider trading.

He allegedly laundered the proceeds in a secret local bank account. Estrada denies the charges.

Theoretically, Estrada could get the death penalty if convicted.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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