September 12, 2007 / 4:31 AM / 10 years ago

Philippines' Estrada faces the spartan life inside

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ former playboy president, Joseph Estrada, will have to get used to spartan living if he serves his life sentence for plunder in prison rather than under house arrest.

Since being ousted in an army-backed revolt in 2001, Estrada, 70, has spent most of his time in detention at his luxurious villa outside the capital.

The anti-graft court, which found him guilty of plunder and sentenced him to life imprisonment on Wednesday, allowed him to return there until further notice.

But if he is jailed, the overcrowded New Bilibid penitentiary in southern Manila will be his new home -- along with nearly 20,000 other prisoners packed into 3 square meter (32 sq ft) cells.

“We’ve had so many high-profile prisoners in the past, so we’re prepared to welcome the former president,” said Superintendent Juanito Leopando, the prison’s director.

Upon arrival, Estrada, who was renowned for his “midnight cabinet” of drinking and gambling buddies while in office, would be stripped of his clothes and trademark wristband and given a uniform and a haircut.

Although Estrada has been sentenced to life imprisonment, one prison official who declined to be named said the former movie star’s age and health might allow him to stay in the minimum security compound.

“Strictly under our rules, prisoners sentenced to at least 20 years in jail would go to the maximum-security compound while the rest to the medium-security area,” a prison official said.

”Only those who are about to be freed in two years could stay at the minimum security compound, where they could roam freely.

“Prisoners over 65 years old and those with debilitating illnesses could also stay in the same area.”

According to legal experts, life imprisonment in the Philippines means a maximum of 40 years. The anti-graft court did not specify how long Estrada’s sentence would be, but said his six years under house arrest would be deducted from it.

In the minimum security area, Estrada would be able to bring his own refrigerator, television and air conditioner.

He could also build his own hut and receive daily visitors.

But Estrada, a legendary womanizer who has admitted fathering children with several women, would find his wings clipped.

“Conjugal visits are only allowed on Christmas, New Year’s day and Valentine’s day on February 14,” said Father Ed Olaguer, the prison chaplain.

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