Estrada jailed for plunder

- Jose Rodel Clapano, Jaime Laude, Non Alquitran -
Former action star Joseph Estrada gave up without a fight yesterday, and his supporters who had vowed to prevent his arrest were reduced to impotent fury when police led away their hero, the first former Philippine president to be thrown in jail.

Three hours after the Sandiganbayan issued an arrest order at noon for the non-bailable offense of plunder, a court appointed sheriff accompanied by the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and backed by 2,000 policemen and Marine troopers arrived at Estrada’s home in posh North Greenhills subdivision in San Juan, served the warrant and drove him to a detention center at nearby Camp Crame.

Wearing casual clothes, the 64-year-old Estrada joined his son San Juan Mayor Jinggoy Estrada in a Ford E-150 van which took them on a 15-minute crawl from North Greenhills to the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame.

At Malacañang, President Arroyo hailed the arrest of the former leader as a "historic moment," saying it was a clear message that corruption does not pay.

"The court has spoken, and the message is clear. In the meantime, let the trial begin," the President said shortly after Estrada was taken to his cell.

Share prices were buoyed by news of Estrada’s arrest and Finance Secretary Alberto Romulo said the arrest would be good for business.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., who as a senator was the first to accuse Estrada of betraying the people’s trust, said the arrest of the disgraced leader would be "good for the country’s image before the international community."

"Everything is being done in accordance with the law. This is part of the democratic process," Guingona said.

Malacañang defended the deployment of a significantly large contingent of law enforcers, saying it was part of precautionary measures in securing the safety of the arrested leader.

Gloom and anger enveloped hundreds of Estrada supporters who were at the subdivision gates on Buchanan street in North Greenhills blocking entry to Estrada’s house. A small riot broke out as the supporters, including middle-aged women and street toughs, tried to keep police from serving the arrest warrant.

"We will not even allow him to surrender. We are ready to die for him," said Jojo Ibay, a 38-year-old supporter who had been holding vigil for three days.

Their numbers had swelled to as many as 6,000 at one point last week but by yesterday, the loyalists still maintaining vigil dwindled to about 400, police said.

At one gate, about 100 supporters hurled stones, bottles and scrap wood at truncheon-carrying riot police, prompting the latter to use a water cannon and a baton charge to disperse the crowd.

The remnants of his followers shouted at journalists at the scene calling them "liars," apparently alluding to Estrada’s charge that he was convicted by a biased media.

They roughed up television reporters, including GMA-7’s Arnold Clavio and ABS-CBN’s Ed Lingao, photographers and television cameramen and crewmen.

Earlier, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and running priest Robert Reyes had to be assisted by responding policemen as they were virtually "held hostage" by an mob outside the Ciudad Fernandina restaurant in Greenhills.

Three police helicopters flew overhead as hundreds of additional policemen and Marines cleared a path along the narrow streets to Estrada’s house on No. 1 Polk st.

At least one man was seen with blood pouring from his head after the incident. Some of the Estrada loyalists openly wept as it became clear they were helpless to prevent his arrest.

"We are only poor people. We are very sorry we could not protect Erap when police came with force," said 48-year-old homemaker Evelyn Ramientos.

But when the path cleared, PNP chief Director General Leandro Mendoza proceeded to Estrada’s home with court sheriff Ed Urieta, who served the warrant on the former president.

Urieta saluted Estrada and told him, "We are just doing our job."

The former movie star glumly answered "Okay" as his son Jinggoy, who was also arrested, his family and household help wept, witnesses said.

Former First Lady Luisa Ejercito, who had cut short an election campaign sortie in Mindanao to be with her husband yesterday, retained her composure and told her children, "Don’t cry."

Among those who were with the Estrada family were Sen. Vicente Sotto III, former Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Palawan gubernatorial bet Edward Hagedorn, Caloocan City mayoralty bet Luis "Baby" Asistio, and actor and Mandaluyong vice mayoralty hopeful Philip Salvador. Also on hand was a battery of lawyers, including Rene Saguisag, Jose Flaminiano and former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa.

Under the brutal midday sun, police were forced to climb over a fence to unlock the gate and let a PNP coaster inside the Estrada compound.

The coaster, carrying the family of Estrada, including the former first lady and son JV Ejercito, left the compound at around 3:15 p.m.

Five minutes later, a van carrying Estrada also exited the gates. Estrada’s lawyers were able to persuade the arresting team to let Estrada and his son Jinggoy to ride in a private vehicle instead of the police coaster.

More than a hundred members of the special police forces armed with assault rifles, surrounded Estrada’s vehicle as it moved out of Polk street in Greenhills.

Estrada was described as being "as meek as a lamb" upon his arrival at the detention cell of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), the now defunct elite unit he helped form to go after organized crime syndicates.

Television station GMA showed exclusive footage of Estrada, dressed in a jacket and blue shirt with his trademark white wristband, filling out arrest forms.

Father and son were photographed and fingerprinted prior to their turnover to the Headquarters Support Service, which now runs the PAOCTF jail.

They were made to stand by a wall for mug shots and later subjected to a medical examination.

Chief Superintendent Marlowe Pedrigosa, head of the PNP Crime Laboratory, said the former president’s blood pressure was 140/80, which he described as "normal."

The two had to go through procedures performed on all arrested suspects.

Inside his cell, Estrada maintained his innocence and denounced the government’s efforts to persecute him.

"This is a systematic violation of my basic human rights under the Constitution and the law of the land. I call on our countrymen and to the enlightened international community to witness this denial of justice and mockery of the Bill of Rights," he said in a statement.
People power 3?
Thousands of Estrada supporters marched and gathered outside Camp Crame, tearing up election posters of senatorial candidates of the administration People Power Coalition.

Mendoza called for calm and vowed not to let the protests get out of hand.

"Police forces are being mobilized to thwart any attempt by some groups to take advantage of the situation by sowing disinformation chaos and violence," the PNP chief said.

Some 1,000 Erap loyalists proceeded later in the afternoon to the EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong, site of the people power revolutions that helped toppled two presidents, including Estrada. The gathering caused heavy traffic at the southbound lanes of EDSA.

Calling their protest "people power 3," the Erap loyalists condemned the arrest of their idol, whom they insisted was still the president of the republic.

As of press time, police said they were ready to disperse the Estrada supporters at the historic shrine.
No decision yet on appeal, arraignment
Presiding Sandiganbayan Justice Francis Garchitorena said they have yet to rule on the appeal of Estrada for house arrest instead of detention in jail.

Estrada lawyer Raymund Fortun earlier said Estrada should be given the privilege of house arrest, considering he is a former head of state.

Garchitorena said the court also has yet to set an arraignment date, saying Estrada has the option to file a petition for bail after arraignment.

He said the granting of bail will depend on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence.

The graft court ordered the arrest of Estrada, his son and seven other people, including the former leader’s son San Juan Mayor Jinggoy Estrada, gambling consultant Charlie "Atong" Ang and lawyer Edward Serapio, who surrendered yesterday night to PNP officials at Camp Crame.

Ironically, when Estrada inaugurated the imposing stone building of the Sandiganbayan two years ago, he vowed to make it a feared icon of his crusade against corruption.

Yesterday, the court netted its biggest catch: him. – With Marichu Villanueva, Efren Danao, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin

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