(MALAYA) President Joseph Estrada yesterday challenged President Arroyo to submit herself to the Sandiganbayan, saying she should not hide behind the cloak of immunity.

Estrada earlier asked the Sandiganbayan to call Arroyo to the witness stand to prove his claim he remains the legitimate president.

"As President, you will remember that I submitted myself to the constitutional processes. As the most powerful man in the Philippines (at the time), I never said that I am above the rule of law. I submitted myself to the impeachment trial court but they aborted the trial," Estrada said.

Aside from Arroyo, Estrada asked that summonses be also issued to Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Associate Justices Artemio Panganiban, Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Estrada said their testimonies would be vital to establish his claim that a conspiracy forced him out of office.

Estrada counsel Alan Paguia, at yesterday's hearing of the motion to call Arroyo and the others to the witness stand, said the Office of the President and the Supreme Court are public offices and people who occupy them are "mere public servants."

Paguia said the persons who participated in the events leading to Arroyo's succession are in the best position to explain what actually happened.

"Specifically we want Vice President Arroyo to explain about her letter to the Supreme Court. In her letter she claimed she must succeed because President Estrada has become permanently disabled and she cited the withdrawal of support by the military. Itatanong lang namin sa kanya what was the legal basis for her claim. 'Aber, aber, aber, patunayan mo nga that Erap was permanently disabled,'" he said.

Government lawyers opposed the motion, saying the bottom line of the defense request is to get the Sandiganbayan to reverse a decision of the Supreme Court en banc.

Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said Paguia's motion is defective as it failed to cite even a single established jurisprudence to prove that indeed, the chief executive and the highest officials of the judiciary may be called to the stand.

Paguia said what the detained leader is challenging is the action of members of the Supreme Court on Jan. 20, 2001, when a number of justices attended the oath-taking of Arroyo as president at the EDSA Shrine.

He said the rally was a partisan political activity and by going there, the justices had shed their impartiality so that the decision that was eventually rendered in the case of Estrada vs. Arroyo was already void. In the decision, the high court upheld the legitimacy of the Arroyo government.

The Special Division gave prosecutors until the end of office today to submit their written comment on Estrada's request for subpoenas.

In a press conference after the hearing, Estrada, appealed to students of the law to take interest in the proceedings on his omnibus motion and to closely watch how the courts will resolve the issues.

He expressed belief that many lawyers and legal luminaries share Paguia's view that the SC justices violated the Constitution in upholding Arroyo's assumption of the presidency.

"I am calling on all the lawyers, law students, members of the judiciary and all Filipinos who believe in the rule of law to be vigilant and to see it that we will be given due process. They should close ranks and stand up to protect the rule of law and to help me get justice. Not only me, but the Filipino people who elected me," Estrada said.

Asked if he meant the public should take to the streets, Estrada said: "That's possible, bahala na ang taong bayan. If I can't get justice from the institution that was supposed to be the last bulwark of democracy and rule of law, saan pa ako pupunta kundi sa taong-bayan."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved