Estrada has previously been charged with lesser corruption offenses since his ouster, but the latest charges are by far the most serious. Because they preclude bail, he'll be forced to await trial in prison, away from the political base that remains loyal to him and hostile to the business, religious and political elites that ousted him. He may take some solace in that the special anti-corruption court that will hear his case has a poor record of convictions on graft charges; it failed to convict former president Ferdinand Marcos, who was accused of abuses far more serious than those ascribed to Estrada.
Estrada's case may be something of a test of the depth of Arroyo's drive against corruption. His arrest is clearly designed to send a sharp message that corruption will not be tolerated, and yet graft has been deeply embedded in the power structure of the Philippines for decades. Attacking it will demand not only firm action against politicians on the take, but also against the tycoons offering the bribes. The former president has warned that bringing him to court will allow "the truth to come out," a signal to some of the powerful business interests that had previously backed Estrada that a trial could damage their interests, too.
Arroyo was installed in the presidency amid popular acclaim after her support among political, business and religious leaders prompted the military to back her effort to oust Estrada earlier this year. But her new government faces its first test at the polls in Senate elections later this month. A number of Estrada supporters, including his wife, are running for election, and the outcome could be an important indicator of Arroyo's ability to usher in a period of political stability. And the ousted action-movie-hero-turned-president may remain a significant obstacle to such stability, even from behind bars.