updated 3/21/2006 8:46:23 PM ET 2006-03-22T01:46:23

Ousted President Joseph Estrada took the witness stand in his historic plunder trial Wednesday, capping five years of court proceedings he hopes will vindicate him after he was toppled by a 2001 "people power" revolt.

Estrada, 68, wearing a native Barong shirt, was sworn in shortly after arriving at the heavily guarded Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in a Manila suburb.

The court has refused Estrada's petition for live media coverage.

Prosecutors allege that Estrada committed plunder — a non-bailable offense punishable by lethal injection — by amassing about 4 billion pesos (about $77 million) in illegal gambling payoffs, tax kickbacks and commissions stashed in secret bank accounts under the alias "Jose Velarde."

He also faces a minor charge of perjury for allegedly underreporting his assets in 1999.

"We expect justice to be rendered fairly," said Dante Jimenez, an anti-crime activist who sat inside the jam-packed courtroom.

"If there is a perception that it's not, the danger is this might again divide the nation and cause trouble. The country will be watching."

Estrada was forced to step down amid massive anti-corruption protests in January 2001 that were partly led by then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who completed the remainder of his six-year term, then won the 2004 election.

"There will be nothing extraordinary in my testimony because I only have to tell the truth," Estrada told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday. "I'm confident that history will vindicate me from these charges by a conspiracy of the elite, church leaders and thieving politicians."

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