NEWS FEATURE:  ERAP WILL ATTEND COUNCIL MEET ONLY IF HE PRESIDES

MANILA, January 9, 2006 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Deposed President Joseph Estrada said yesterday he would agree to attend the planned Council of State meeting, but only if he — and not President Arroyo — presides over it.

Estrada reiterated his argument that he was unconstitutionally replaced by Mrs. Arroyo during the EDSA II people power revolt on Jan. 20, 2001.

"I don’t like to participate because I don’t recognize (Mrs. Arroyo as the President). If I attend that (Council of State), I will be stopped," Estrada told The STAR by telephone.

"Ako ang dapat mag-preside (I should be the one to preside over that meeting)," Estrada said.

Mrs. Arroyo, through her political adviser Gabriel Claudio, earlier announced that she would convene the Council of State later this month to foster a national consensus on pressing problems of the country as her scandal-rocked administration works to get back on track on matters of governance.

The Council of State was first created through Executive Order 305 issued by former President Corazon Aquino on Sept. 9, 1987. As provided for in this EO, former presidents of the Republic make up the council’s permanent members.

Estrada hopes the Sandiganbayan will allow him to attend the Council of State meeting scheduled on Jan. 24 at Malacañang if he is invited by the President.

The ousted president has been in detention at his 18-hectare estate in Tanay, Rizal while facing trial for plunder and perjury before the Sandiganbayan — a trial that has lasted almost five years.

"I don’t see any reason why I won’t be allowed" by the Sandiganbayan to attend the Council of State meeting, Estrada said. "I believe the Sandiganbayan will permit me, especially if the request is coming from the illegitimate (Arroyo) government."

Even as he reiterated this stand that he was illegally removed from power, Estrada expressed willingness to sit down with Aquino and former President Fidel Ramos in the Council of State meeting.

"Why not? If I was allowed to attend the birthday of (El Shaddai leader) Bro. Mike (Velarde), if they (Sandiganbayan) gave me a court pass last Christmas — but this one is for the interest of the country," Estrada said.

This was in response to the statement made by Claudio yesterday that the Palace might have problems with the Sandiganbayan should Mrs. Arroyo be willing to invite him to the Council of State meeting.

Estrada said he will wait for a formal invitation from Malacañang.

If the Arroyo government intends to invite Estrada to the meeting, he said Malacañang should make official representations before the Sandiganbayan and file the necessary pleading before the graft court can issue a furlough for this purpose.

He also said he will not instruct his lawyers to seek such court permission.

"I will not file (for court permission). Baka hindi naman ako imbitado eh (I might not even be invited)," Estrada said with a laugh.

Estrada also said he doubts that an invitation would be forthcoming from the Palace.

The former president also said he would "study" the proposed agenda and mechanics for a proposed meeting between him, Aquino and Ramos being organized by leaders of the opposition.

The allies of Estrada, Ramos and Aquino are organizing the meeting for the three former presidents to discuss a proposed transition council that would take over the government and replace the Arroyo administration.

"I am open to that meeting (but) I don’t know their proposals," Estrada said. "Of course, I will have to study them first before we can agree on the agenda and mechanics."

Estrada also made it clear that he has not authorized anyone from the opposition to represent him in any talks about the proposed meeting between him, Ramos and Aquino that the opposition is seeking.

The meeting was proposed by Estrada’s former agrarian reform secretary, Horacio Morales.

The ousted president has distanced himself from Morales’ statements, however, even though Morales is chairman of Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

He said Morales was speaking on behalf of the United Opposition (UNO) in the same way that another political ally, former senator Vicente Sotto III, supposedly met with Ramos and Senate President Franklin Drilon to see if it is possible for the three former presidents to join forces and work for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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