MANILA, June 18, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Erap offers self as head of junta.

Former President Joseph Estrada has been busy at his sprawling Tanay, Rizal estate where he is under detention — but he’s not just talking to his ducks anymore.

He said yesterday he wants another crack at running the country, and offered to head a civilian junta — but not the kind suggested by retired general Fortunato Abat.

This could happen, he said, if his political arch-nemesis President Arroyo is forced to step down over allegations hounding her and the First Family.

Estrada was quick to emphasize that, although he has called for civil disobedience following fresh accusations that Mrs. Arroyo cheated in last year’s presidential elections, he does not support moves to destabilize the Arroyo administration.

Under a "blueprint" plan of government being offered by Estrada to the public, a nine-man council of leaders — whose members would be named to the panel by the public — would take over as a "transitional" government if Mrs. Arroyo stepped down.

"This is for the good of the people. Our country needs a radical change. That’s the only solution," Estrada told The STAR.

Estrada did not say how he could run a civilian junta government if convicted of the plunder charges he now faces before the Sandiganbayan.

"I can assure this nine-man council would be composed of men and women whose integrity is very unquestionable. I would ask the different sectors of our society to nominate them," he said.

Under Estrada’s scenario, the council — which he has offered to head — would run things until a new Constitution could be drafted and ratified and a new government formed.

Congress would be abolished and replaced by a constitutional commission that would draft a new constitution. It would be composed of what Estrada described as the "cream of the crop" of Filipino society.

"I would only serve for a minimum of one year. After the draft of the new Constitution is ratified, whether presidential or parliamentary, elections would be held immediately," Estrada said. "Then, I would bow out. That’s my last salute to the Philippine flag."

Estrada refused to say whether this proposed transition council would come about through Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment or resignation.

"We cannot tell. The voice of the people is the voice of God. My victory (in the May 1998 presidential election) is the voice of God and I have the biggest margin of votes," Estrada noted.

"(Mrs. Arroyo) must give it back to the real president. So she must step down and give it back to the real owner."

Estrada put forward his proposed alternative program of government a week after he called for acts of "civil disobedience" after former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Samuel Ong surfaced with a tape of alleged wiretapped conversations between Mrs. Arroyo and former election official Virgilio Garcillano about plans to rig last year’s presidential race.

"I was going to keep quiet. But they cheated in the elections," Estrada said.

Mrs. Arroyo won by a narrow margin over her closest rival, movie icon Fernando Poe Jr., a close friend of Estrada.

Poe accused Mrs. Arroyo of robbing him of victory. His electoral protest was junked by the Supreme Court shortly after his death in December of a stroke.

Poe’s widow, actress Susan Roces, however, called for sobriety after Ong came forward.

Estrada was ousted by a military-backed popular uprising in 2001 following allegations that he ran an illegal gambling protection racket and amassed millions in bribes from jueteng operators during his 31-month presidency. He is currently on trial for plunder.

Estrada did not issue a resignation and maintains his ouster his illegal.

He disclosed that his proposed program of government was the product of discussions over the past nine months with members of academe led by professors from the University of the Philippines and "different sectors of society."

Estrada’s alternative program of government is outlined in a 44-page document, which he will present to Filipinos. He is confident that even Arroyo allies would back his proposal.

Estrada quickly debunked concerns that he would become a part of a military-civilian junta being preached by former defense secretary Abat.

In May, Abat called for a civilian-military junta to replace Mrs. Arroyo and Congress because of "a crisis in leadership." Abat served as defense secretary under former President Fidel Ramos.

Estrada said he rejected Abat’s invitation to join them.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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