I want to be president again, Estrada says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2007, 12:00am

Pardoned ex-leader wants top job, despite a deal not to seek office

Former Philippine leader Joseph Estrada said yesterday he was only interested in one government job - that of president - as he advised President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to face corruption charges through an impeachment trial.

The administration 'should give me the position of president since I was the president', said Mr Estrada, who was controversially freed by Mrs Arroyo last month when she pardoned him from a corruption conviction. He was reacting to a recent offer of a key role in Mrs Arroyo's anti-poverty programme, a plan floated by an Arroyo aide.

'All other government posts would be a demotion. That [anti-poverty job] is unacceptable. I should be president too,' he said with a smile.

Under the terms of a deal signed with Mrs Arroyo before being pardoned, Mr Estrada agreed not to seek elected office. However, it is unclear whether this is legally enforceable.

After a week of expressing profuse gratitude to his unexpected benefactor - even distancing himself from fresh calls for Mrs Arroyo's resignation - it was the old, combative Mr Estrada that surfaced during a live nationwide interview on radio station DZMM early yesterday morning.

The sudden turnabout was understandable. Mr Estrada was awaiting a visit from sheriff Ed Urieta of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

Mr Urieta served a court writ ordering Mr Estrada to turn over to the government 731.7 million pesos (HK$130.26 million) and his palatial Manila mansion.

These assets were not covered by the pardon that Mrs Arroyo had granted him. The pardon erased Mr Estrada's criminal record, got him out of jail and restored his 'civil and political rights' but did not let him escape the monetary penalties the court had imposed.

Mr Estrada, speaking in a slurred voice that was hard to understand at times, said he would fight the confiscation of his assets 'all the way to the Supreme Court'.

He then said it was high time for Mrs Arroyo to provide closure to the controversies hounding her.

He said she should allow herself to be rigorously investigated over kickback allegations surrounding the national broadband network deal with ZTE Corporation of China; the alleged diversion of state funds to her election campaign; and the alleged rigging of her presidential victory in 2004.

He would support the opposition 'all the way' in the move to impeach President Arroyo, but added: 'I see it might be a futile exercise if they don't get the numbers' to force her to face an impeachment trial.

'Only an impeachment will provide closure ... so the nation can move forward,' he said.

Mr Estrada tried to explain his turnabout. 'I won't be used by them [the administration],' he said.

Only last weekend, presidential executive secretary Eduardo Ermita outlined what they had expected of Mr Estrada: 'I hope former president Joseph Estrada would see the significance of this gesture of the sitting president, President Arroyo, to extend the pardon for him to be free from jail. I believe a person like him will not show ingratitude by immediately doing something that one way or the other will cause any ruffled feelings.'

Mr Estrada said that he would praise the administration 'whenever I see it has good projects helping the poverty-stricken masses'.

Hours after that interview, Mr Estrada was again heard on several radio stations arguing with court sheriff Mr Urieta as the latter handed him a two-page seizure order.

Mr Urieta explained, 'if you cannot pay' what the court demanded, 'I can get your assets here until the court order is satisfied'.

But Mr Estrada argued: 'These properties are mine. I acquired them way back before I became president. I sweated for it working as a movie actor, as a movie producer. I did not steal these from the government.'

Mr Estrada's allies saw the court's swift action an attempt to make the former president toe the administration line.

Earlier, court spokesman Renato Bocar said Mr Estrada had five years to satisfy the court order.