Philippine President Is Impeached

Philippine President Joseph Estrada was impeached by the country’s House of Representatives today and will face trial in the country’s Senate on charges of bribery and corruption.

But voting patterns in the Senate, or upper house, later in the day indicated Estrada could survive the impeachment.

Lawmakers raised clenched fists and shouted “Erap Resign” as House Speaker Manuel Villar announced the impeachment at the start of the day’s session. Erap is Estrada’s nickname and it was the first time in Philippine history that a president has been impeached.

Opposition concerns that Estrada supporters would attempt to delay the proceedings were pre-empted by Villar, who read out a resolution approving the impeachment as soon as he had finished regular prayers at the start of the day’s proceedings.

Senate Support for Estrada

“The resolution is being endorsed to the Senate in the same manner as prescribed in the rules of procedure,” he said, as some lawmakers protested and others cheered.

The opposition has said 115 congressmen have endorsed the motion, more than the required 1/3 of the 218-member House.

“I did not want to be stopped on a technicality,” Villar later told local television, adding he deliberately did not allow the matter to come up for discussion since the required number had already signed assent.

“A vote was not necessary.”

Villar and 45 other congressmen defected from the ruling coalition earlier this month after charges emerged alleging Estrada had taken bribes worth millions of dollars from illegal gambling syndicates. The desertions pushed the government into a minority in the House.

Trial This Month

The 22-seat Senate, meanwhile, voted 12-7 to replace Senate President Franklin Drilon — who defected from Estrada’s coalition at the same time as Villar — with Senator Aquilino Pimentel, who is viewed as being independent.

The move was mooted by an Estrada supporter and in the vote two senators abstained and one was absent.

While there is no certainty the upper house will vote to remove Estrada, Monday’s result did indicate that the president’s Senate supporters were stronger than previously believed.

To remove Estrada from office, two-thirds of the Senate has to vote in favor. The body is likely to begin the impeachment trial later this month.

Pimentel told the Senate any charges against Estrada had to be substantiated.

“The charges against the president are just that for the moment — charges that are meant to be proven and established within the impeachment process,” he said.

Estrada Reiterates Innocence

Estrada, speaking hours before proceedings began in the two legislatures, reiterated his innocence and said no amount of protests could make him step down.

“This is the last time I will be serving the public so would I do that? ... I did not become president to rake up money,” the embattled former film actor said.

He appealed to labor unions not to go through with a planned nationwide general strike and protest rallies on Tuesday, saying only the poor would suffer.

“No amount of rallies can force me to step down,” Estrada said in an interview on Manila radio station dzRH. “I appeal to you not to go through with it... We have a crisis. Let’s join hands to pull out of this, for the sake of the nation.”

Leftist and moderate unions have announced plans to launch strikes, including transport stoppages and factory walkouts, in Manila and dozens of provinces around the country to pressure Estrada to step down.

Estrada, who drew more than a million supporters to a prayer rally on Saturday, warned that forcing him to resign would create a dangerous precedent for future Philippine presidents who could be ousted from office on the basis of unproven allegations.

The gambling pay-offs scandal has prompted calls from church and business leaders for Estrada to step down and badly hammered the economy, causing the peso to plummet to a historic low of 51.95 to the dollar two weeks ago.

Manila’s main share index fell 33 points, or 2.2 percent, on Monday as investors, worried that the impeachment battle might drag on, liquidated positions after last week’s strong rally.

Estrada is facing four charges, ranging from bribery and corruption to betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution.