Cardinal Sin calls for scandal-hit Estrada to quit

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The Independent Online

The Philippines' most respected Roman Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Jaime Sin, demanded the resignation of President Joseph Estrada yesterday in a corruption scandal that threatens to drag the country into a political crisis.

The Philippines' most respected Roman Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Jaime Sin, demanded the resignation of President Joseph Estrada yesterday in a corruption scandal that threatens to drag the country into a political crisis.

"In the light of all the scandals that have besmirched the image of the presidency in the last two years, we stand by our conviction that he has lost the moral ascendancy to govern," Cardinal Sin said in a statement issued on behalf of the Presbyteral Council, an influential body of Catholic priests.

"We believe that ... for the good of the people, he must relinquish the office and turn it over to his constitutional successor." Cardinal Sin was one of the leaders of the "People Power" revolt that drove the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, from power in 1986. He has frequently criticised Mr Estrada, but this is the first time since his election in 1998 that the cardinal has called directly for the President to resign.

Mr Estrada faces possible impeachment proceedings in the Senate on allegations that he received millions of pounds from illegal syndicates running a gambling game called jueteng. Opposition politicians are planning to bring an impeachment resolution to the lower house tomorrow. Mr Estrada's coalition notionally has a four-fifths majority there but if defections reduce this to two-thirds, a trial must be held in the Senate.

The scandal was precipitated by the governor of the northern Ilocos Sur province, Luis Singson, who claims personally to have delivered more than 400m pesos (£5.9m) in cheques and cash in monthly visits to Mr Estrada. Mr Singson also said he demanded 130m pesos in return for agreeing to a deal on local taxes. In a sworn statement released this week Mr Singson said: "I normally collected about 32m to 35m a month. Out of this amount I personally handed over to President Estrada most of the time in his office or his other houses ... the amount of five million pesos every 15 days or 10 million pesos every month."

Mr Estrada, a former film star still known by his screen nickname, "Erap", is a colourful figure who has cheerfully acknowledged his past susceptibility to alcohol and women. But he insists the present allegations are smears, resulting from a dispute between Mr Singson and a close friend of the President, Charlie Ang, who is attempting to undermine the jueteng industry with a legal gambling game called Bingo 2-Ball.

This has already been a tumultuous year in the Philippines, after a number of foreigners were kidnapped in Malaysia and held for ransom by a Muslim group on a southern Philippines island.

Libyan diplomats paid the guerrillas millions of dollars in return for the release of German, French, South African and Malaysian hostages but, after more kidnappings a month ago, Mr Estrada ordered the army to assault the abductors' headquarters in an attempt to liberate the remaining Malaysians and Filipinos and an American.

Against many expectations, the campaign has been relatively successful, with a number of hostages freed and none known to have been killed.

The Manila government reported yesterday that many of the members of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is fighting for a Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines, are hungry, exhausted and on the verge of surrender.

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