"But she felt in the end that her decision was the right one," he said. "I thank God for enlightening the mind and conscience of Mrs Arroyo."

 

Upon his release, Estrada, who has been detained for most of the last six years in a luxurious villa outside Manila, will return to his political base in San Juan for a celebration with his supporters.

 

Welcome move

 

Critics say Arroyo's pardon is designed
to curry favour with her opponents [EPA]
His supporters, who view Arroyo as a traitor for turning against Estrada before being sworn in as his successor, welcomed her decision.


"Before we are angry at her but now no more because she let Estrada go free," said one woman.

 

Critics however see the clemency as a political move amid mounting bribery scandals against the present government, and accused Arroyo of damaging the country's credibility by issuing the pardon.


"She is sending the message that, once again, political expediency trumps political uncertainty and the pursuit of justice," said the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

 

"Does anyone doubt that the pardon is really meant, not to save Estrada's skin, but hers?"

 

Estrada's son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, said he wanted to thank Arroyo for granting the pardon, but he brushed aside suggestions that the move would deter the opposition from pursuing accusations of bribery and kickbacks in her administration.

 

"As a senator I will continue to do my duty," he said. "If there are anomalies in this government, I will continue to expose it."