As usual, developments in Philippine politics continue to resemble a roller coaster ride. Just days after the arrest and humiliating imprisonment of former president Joseph Estrada, it appears that his imminent trial may not be certain. Shortly after heavily armed special forces arrested Estrada last week, President Gloria Arroyo declared 'justice is working in the Philippines', and she called it an 'historic moment'. But, a few days later, it may not be working so smoothly after all. Once again in the Philippines political impediments to impartial justice are looming. While the pro-Estrada rallies, which began at the former president's residence and then continued near the Manila police headquarters where Estrada was held, have begun to subside, their initial scale caught many by surprise. At times in excess of 100,000 people assembled. And it was the round-the-clock vigil for Estrada that impelled Mrs Arroyo yesterday to reassure the country that she would show maximum tolerance to the demonstrators; and to warn those 'who may be thinking of taking advantage of the situation' for their own political ends. The President's address was significant because up until that point she had scrupulously kept herself above the legal process surrounding Estrada's detention. Many will infer that she is nervous that the same 'people power' that toppled Estrada and swept her into office may now endanger her. But, beyond the political tactics and manoeuvrings, for those who wish to see the Philippines for once display a disinterested judicial system, there are dangers emerging. The pro-Estrada protests are clearly being transformed into displays of support for the country's poverty-stricken. And there are many in power who have a vested interest in seeing Estrada portrayed as a popular champion - they too may well be implicated in any subsequent trial. Crucially, the current strife comes a mere three weeks before the first elections following Estrada's fall from office. Only two groups - those pro or those anti Estrada - are in contention. The former president's arrest may serve to win his camp sympathy - and votes. And a poor showing in the polls by the Government will almost certainly make it harder to have the case against Estrada pushed through the courts. For all those who care about the establishment of clean government and a fair, independent judicial system in the Philippines, it is essential Estrada's trial goes ahead without political impediment. What a few days ago appeared inevitable will now require all Mrs Arroyo's political acumen and presidential charisma to make it so.