Estrada hanging on to power after allies jump ship

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The Independent Online

President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines was hanging on for his political life last night, after another political ally deserted him for the opposition, taking 40 congressmen with him and destroying the government's majority in the House of Representatives.

President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines was hanging on for his political life last night, after another political ally deserted him for the opposition, taking 40 congressmen with him and destroying the government's majority in the House of Representatives.

The desertion of Manuel Villar, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, makes it more likely that Mr Estrada will be impeached for corruption, if he is not forced to quit before the charges against him are heard.

Today, the country's most popular Roman Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Jaime Sin, will be demanding the president's resignation at a mass rally in the capital, Manila.

Mr Estrada refuses to resign, and has said he will forfeit the presidency only through constitutional impeachment hearings. "We should follow the constitution," he said.

"If I resign now, as the noisy people in Makati [the venue for many Manila demonstrations] want me to, what would prevent them from doing this to others? We are not a banana republic."

Mr Estrada hinted he will try to save his government by calling a snap election. "I believe we should consult the people," he said. "Not only those who are in Makati, the noisy ones, because they have been always against me. It's important that we consult the people."

The impeachment motion against Mr Estrada, including accusations of taking massive bribes from illegal gambling syndicates, will pass if it gets 73 out of 218 votes. Yesterday, opposition leaders said they have the support of about 130 congressmen.

The charges would be taken to trial in the 22-member Senate, which is dominated by Mr Estrada's backers. Fifteen votes are required for impeachment; so far 10 senators are believed to support it.

In deserting Mr Estrada, Mr Villar said: "Every day, the economy is becoming grave. Every day, the political crisis is becoming worse. Every day, Filipinos are becoming deeply polarised.

"So we have to resolve this soon. With this, we will now be able to send the impeachment to the Senate."

Today's mass prayer rally may prove decisive in deciding Mr Estrada's future. It will be attended by the former president, Cory Aquino, who, with Cardinal Sin, led the 1986 "People Power" movement which overthrew the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

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