Arroyo is likely to share my fate, predicts Estrada

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am

Ousted leader rebuffs president's attempts at reconciliation

Ousted Philippine president Joseph Estrada claimed over the weekend that his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was doomed to share his fate as he rebuffed her attempts at a political reconciliation.

'I have a room specially prepared for her, and a pony, too,' he said in a reference to his current term of house arrest on corruption charges. For two years he has been confined to his 15-hectare, 14-bedroom villa east of Manila, which he shares with a stable of retired racehorses.

He gave an exclusive interview to the South China Morning Post on Saturday, hours before he delivered a much-applauded speech before a Manila crowd marking the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Catholic group El Shaddai.

Estrada was allowed by an anti-graft court to have a medical check-up then attend the overnight prayer rally. This was apparently done with the blessing of the Malacanang Palace, which hoped El Shaddai founder Miguel Velarde could persuade Estrada to publicly shake Mrs Arroyo's hand onstage, in a bid to win over his still-considerable following among the poor. She has repeatedly blamed Estrada and his allies of plotting to unseat her.

'No way,' Estrada said, adding he would make sure to arrive at the Rizal Park Grandstand after Mrs Arroyo had left.

Clad in denim while undergoing his cardio-pulmonary check-up, Estrada appeared more relaxed and healthier than in January when he underwent a knee operation in Hong Kong.

He explained why reconciliation was off his agenda. He predicted Mrs Arroyo was not long for the presidency, based on his own experience. 'I was confident, too,' of not being ousted. 'In fact, overconfident,' he said.

'Ferdinand Marcos left [Malacanang Palace] by plane. I left by boat,' he said. 'She will leave by stroller,' he said, jokingly alluding to Mrs Arroyo's petite frame.

Estrada was impeached for corruption, violating the constitution and betraying public trust by plundering US$80 million from state coffers, receiving illegal gambling payoffs and pocketing commissions from state transactions.

Efforts by his lawmaker allies to stop his impeachment trial triggered a military-backed, popular revolt after barely three years in office.

Today his successor is fighting to stop her own impeachment. President Arroyo was recently accused of committing nearly the same offences Estrada is now standing trial for. These are for such alleged crimes as rigging her electoral victory, obstructing the investigation on the matter, and receiving illegal gambling payoffs to fund her presidential campaign.

'I'm glad not to be in her shoes at this time,' he said. 'This is one of the worst times.'

On Saturday night, Mrs Arroyo waited and waited for Estrada, then finally delivered a short speech saying: 'I am prepared to take a step to call on my opponents to become united ... [and heed] the call for reconciliation.' The working-class crowd clapped politely.

In contrast, the crowd went wild on seeing Estrada and punctuated his emotional speech many times with applause. He sang to them and promised them: 'I will dedicate the remaining years of my life to the service of our people.'

A disappointed Mr Velarde, who had mistakenly referred to Mrs Arroyo as 'the former president', said: 'I do believe this is the time to embrace each other.'

He publicly urged Estrada's release from detention but also called for constitutional change - widely seen as a means for a graceful exit for Mrs Arroyo.

Political analyst Manuel Quezon explained why the masses treated Estrada like a political prodigal son, while they remained cold to the smart Mrs Arroyo. 'They are the extreme types of leaders. Estrada is all charisma, Arroyo all technical ability,' he said. 'Executive ability must be counterbalanced by a certain amount of charisma.'