Former Philippines president Corazon Aquino Sunday called on the public to closely watch President Joseph Estrada's corruption trial in the Senate to ensure transparency as the country began a 12-day countdown to the historic proceedings.
Aquino also reiterated her call for the beleaguered leader to act with "supreme self-sacrifice" and resign, stressing he had "lost the ability to govern because of the loss of trust and confidence of our people.
"Let us watch out how the impeachment trial will be carried out. The proceedings should be transparent," Aquino told radio station DZBB.
"I am calling on everyone to write (to) our senators and ask them to follow their conscience" when voting on whether to oust Estrada, she said.
Aquino, a devout Roman Catholic, also asked the public to pray for the senators, the prosecutors and Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, who will preside as the non-voting chairman of the jurors.
Asia's first trial of a sitting president is slated to begin on December 7 and could lead to Estrada's ouster.
The president stands accused of bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and violation of the constitution.
The charges are based largely on accusations by a former friend that he received millions in bribes from illegal gambling bosses, took kickbacks from the government in excise taxes and built lavish homes for mistresses using funds that could have been illegally obtained.
Estrada's lawyers on Friday asked the Senate to quash the case on technicalities, a move seen by opposition members as a delaying tactic. The tribunal is expected to hear the motion on Tuesday.
A guilty verdict would automatically unseat the president, less than three years into his six-year term in office. Some analysts argue even if he is acquitted, he would be so "damaged" the country would become ungovernable.
Parallel to the impeachment process, Estrada is fighting opposition on the streets. Big business, the dominant Catholic church, the political opposition, unions and leftist groups have formed an unlikely alliance to press for the president's early resignation in mass protests.
Opposition members, led by Vice President Gloria Arroyo, were expected later Sunday to attend a mass prayer rally led by a Christian evangelical group to seek "enlightenment" for the senators.
But Estrada on Sunday said he was "saddened ... some people do not want to unite with us in resolving the crisis." He called on the public to respect the constitution and allow the impeachment process take its course.
"The constitutional processes are in place, and I have submitted myself to them," Estrada said in a statement.
Earlier he said he was confident "truth will prevail" and accused his critics of wreaking "havoc on our economy" through disruptive protests.
The coalition of anti-Estrada protests has scheduled week-long street demonstrations, work stoppages and acts of "civil disobedience" from Monday, similar to peaceful protests held during the waning years of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in the mid-1980s.
Rumblings of discontent have also been heard from the military, with a group of unnamed army officers last week warning in an advertisement it would not approve any effort by the Estrada government to use the military "as an instrument of repression against the people."
Communist guerrillas meanwhile have called on the protesters to blockade the presidential palace. Presidential aides said they have received intelligence reports that guerrillas have arrived in the capital to disrupt the protests and sow "violence."
But organizers of the anti-Estrada movement said the government was only employing "red-scare tactics" to justify a crackdown on the protests -- MANILA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)