Philippines' Estrada again pressured but defiant

Embattled Philippine President Joseph Estrada came under fresh pressure to quit on Wednesday but remained defiant, saying an opposition campaign to run him out of office was losing steam.

But his chief opponent, Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, reiterated she had received feelers from Estrada's camp seeking a graceful way out for the embattled former film actor.

She told Reuters the campaign for his ouster would continue unabated and that "no reasonable Filipino believes" Estrada's denial of charges that he took bribes from gambling syndicates running illegal lotteries.

"The testimony and the corroborating evidence that followed have become increasingly more convincing," Arroyo said. "There has been no specific rebuttal except that he says he is not guilty. That's why his protestations of innocence are now not believed by reasonable Filipinos."

Estrada, bolstered by an opinion poll earlier in the week which showed 44 percent of Filipinos did not want him to quit against 33 percent who did, was defiant.

"They're getting weaker," he told reporters when asked about the opposition campaign.

Estrada has maintained his innocence and has called upon Congress to speed up an impeachment process so he could vindicate himself and be acquitted of the accusations.

SURVEY SHOWS CONFIDENCE DOWN

But a BusinessWorld newspaper survey published on Wednesday showed business confidence in the country had slid to a new low of 52.3 index points from 65 in October.

The poll, taken between October 26 and 30, showed about 79.7 percent of the 300 mainly business respondents were unhappy with the way the government was operating - the lowest rating since the survey started in January 1998. Estrada became president in July 1998.

"If he is made to resign because of the economic situation, we would be allowing a group of financial people to overturn the sovereign will of the people," National Security Adviser Alexander Aguirre said.

As the prospect of a long impeachment trial set in, Philippine financial markets resumed their decline after an euphoric rally earlier in the week.

The main stock index closed 2.26 percent down after falling over six percent by mid morning following three days of gains. The peso broke 50 to the dollar on fading hopes of a speedy resignation by Estrada.

"It's because the peso has resumed its depreciation. We're back to reality," said Teresa Lee-Jahrling of Tower Securities of the stock market fall.

DEADLINE IS NOW

Arroyo, next in line to become president should Estrada step down, said: "The deadline (for Estrada's resignation) should be now because that is the only way to stop the political and economic crisis."

She reiterated that she had received feelers from presidential aides for a graceful way out despite a denial by Estrada but refused to give details.

"The more details are discussed, the more people lose face and the positions harden," Arroyo said, adding any decision on the approaches would be taken by influential Catholic clergyman Cardinal Jaime Sin and former president Corazon Aquino, who are leading the anti-Estrada campaign along with her.

"Since I have to pay the political cost of an unacceptable exit scenario, I should not make the decision," Arroyo said.

Arroyo added that she had made some decisions about the make-up of her cabinet should she become president. Those names included Manuel Roxas, Estrada's trade secretary who resigned last week.

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