Security tight for Philippines Estrada verdict

Tue Sep 11, 2007 1:57am EDT

MANILA, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Philippine authorities closed roads leading to the presidential palace on Tuesday and ordered troops on standby in the capital ahead of a verdict in the plunder trial of former President Joseph Estrada.

The Sandiganbayan anti-graft court was due to deliver the verdict on Wednesday in the six-year-long trial, which was launched soon after Estrada was ousted in an army-backed revolt.

Barbed-wire fences, army trucks and container vans blocked roads to Malacanang, the home and office of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to avoid a repeat of a 2001 march on the palace by pro-Estrada mobs in which four people were killed and hundreds injured.

"We are preparing for any contingencies," General Hermogenes Esperon, the military chief, told soldiers at the main army base in Manila.

"There might be groups that might create trouble or those who would not accept the decision by the anti-graft court. There are also groups that might take advantage of the situation to carry out actions to destabilise the government."

Manila police chief Reynaldo Varilla said half of the 15,000 police force of the capital would be deployed in areas where pro-Estrada supporters were likely to hold protest rallies.

"We're trying to cover all the bases and prevent terrorists from hitting these targets," Varilla said.

About 1,400 policemen will be deployed around the anti-graft court located in a northern suburb of the capital, where hundreds of pro-Estrada supporters were expected to gather on Wednesday.

Newspapers said Estrada and his family were resigned to a guilty verdict.

"We're innocent, the charges against us are mere lies and fabrications," Estrada said in a taped message aired on a local radio station on Tuesday.

"Whatever the Sandiganbayan will decide, I am ready because I know our people have already acquitted me."

Estrada faces life imprisonment if the court finds him guilty of plunder, but the case will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court.

He has been held at his villa outside Manila during the trial, but could be sent to a municipal jail for his sentence.

Authorities at the New Bilibid Prison, the national penitentiary located south of Manila, said they were preparing a cell block for the former president at the medium-security compound in case he was sent there.

While the cell offers only bare amenities, convicts are allowed to bring in appliances such as refrigerators, televisions and air conditioners.

Estrada has said he will not ask Arroyo for a presidential pardon. In any case, he would not be eligible to ask for a pardon until the sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court.




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