MANILA, April 3, 2004 (STAR) Former President Joseph Estrada asked the Sandiganbayan yesterday to allow him two-hour daily furloughs from detention due to the lack of water in his detention quarters.

Estrada’s lawyers filed a petition with the anti-graft court asking that he be allowed to leave his detention center at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal for two hours a day, to go to his villa just across the camp for access to a regular supply of water.

They said the searing heat in Estrada’s cramped quarters and the lack of a regular water supply at the detention center for almost a week has caused much discomfort to his ailing knees.

"I don’t see why this simple matter of lack of water is being made complicated. Estrada is asking only for two hours each day. Is that too much to ask for someone who has been mayor, senator, vice president and president?" Estrada lawyer Manuel Pamaran asked.

Noel Malaya, Estrada’s court-appointed lawyer, said their petition "is a simple matter of human rights of the former President. In Sweden and Switzerland, even ordinary prisoners get supplies of clean towels and bed sheets everyday."

He offered to submit a certification from officials at Camp Capinpin to prove the lack of a regular supply of water to Estrada’s quarters.

Government lawyers, however, strongly objected to the petition, saying it was just another of Estrada’s ruses to wrangle special concessions from the Sandiganbayan.

Chief Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa Ignacio said if Estrada really wants spacious quarters and a regular supply of water, he can always go back the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, where he was previously detained.

"There’s water in VMMC," Villa Ignacio said. "There are more than adequate rehabilitation facilities and medical personnel to attend to his needs round the clock, whereas even providing security at the former president’s rest house would be very difficult."

He also argued that Estrada does not have to leave his detention facility since water can be brought from his vacation home, 50 meters away from the camp, in several ways.

It was not clear why there was no water in the detention center east of Manila where Estrada is being held while being tried on charges of amassing a personal fortune of about P4 billion during his 30 months in office.

However, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Minita Chico-Nazario said they did not see a need to let Estrada leave the camp, suggesting a hosepipe could be used to bring in water.

Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval, for his part, said a water truck can be put on standby for Estrada.

The Sandiganbayan justices said they can only decide on Estrada’s petition after government lawyers submit their comment on April 12.

Last month, a huge controversy broke out after it was discovered that Estrada was being allowed out of the police camp for trips to his sprawling vacation home nearby.

Estrada was toppled in a military-backed popular uprising in 2001 due to a corruption scandal. — With AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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