Estrada defends Macapagal but denies deal on US trip

By Armand N. Nocum, Juliet L. Javellana and Carlito Pablo

'For being compassionate'

HUMAN kindness, and not politics.

Deposed president Joseph Estrada on Monday defended President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's support for his request for medical treatment in the United States as an act of compassion -- even though it came almost three years late.

"Finally, she was enlightened and I am grateful for her being compassionate now," Estrada said, adding, however, that he would have appreciated the conciliatory gesture if it had been made more than two years ago.

Estrada strongly denied reports that he had struck a deal with the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. "I will not enter into any deal with this administration. I have suffered so much already," he said.

Estrada was ousted in January 2001 by a popular revolt and was arrested in April 2001 on plunder and graft charges in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. He is held in detention in a military camp outside Manila.

"In fairness to GMA [Gloria Macapagla-Arroyo], there is no truth to reports of any deal," Estrada said. "There can be no agreement because my cases are tried on merits. I will never accept any pardon because I have not committed any crime."

Estrada's wife, Senator Luisa Ejercito Estrada, faulted Ms Macapagal-Arroyo's timing.

She said the Estrada family had been urging Ms Macapagal-Arroyo and her men to grant the request, but she had not budged. "Ngayong election na, payag na sila [Now that it's election season, the administration supports the idea]," she said.

The senator noted that her husband was technically barred from going to the United States. Even if the Sandiganbayan were to allow the detained President to seek medical treatment in the United States, he could not leave because he has no valid US visa. "He only has a diplomatic visa" that expires at the end of the year, she said.

A multi-sector organization monitoring the plunder trial said the legal strategy of Estrada's lawyers to delay the trial had borne fruit with Ms Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to support his request.

"What we have feared most about the Estrada plunder trial is now coming true," said Carol Araullo, convenor of the Plunderwatch, one of the original complainants in the impeachment case filed by civil society groups in the House of Representatives in 2000.

"As we have feared, Estrada's lawyers have managed to delay the trial until 2004, when political considerations take precedence over everything else," she said.

"This issue has already been settled before," Araullo said. "Estrada can have his operation anytime in the country with any US-based doctor of his choice. Clearly, his reason for going abroad is political, not medical or humanitarian."


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