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Jinggoy set free on P1.3-M bail

Former senator Jinggoy Estrada is now out on bail while faces charges for plunder and graft cases related to the pork barrel scam. He is seen leaving Sandiganbayan with his family on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo via Twitter

MANILA, Philippines — After more than three years in detention, former senator Jinggoy Estrada yesterday walked out of the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame a free man after posting P1.330-million bail bond for his plunder and graft cases in connection with the multibillion-peso pork barrel fund scam.

Arriving at the Sandiganbayan early yesterday morning, Estrada’s team of lawyers went straight to the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division to manifest their intention to post bail for his temporary release.

After securing permission from the court, Estrada’s lawyers then proceeded to the Sandiganbayan cashier and paid the amount in cash.

The bail that Estrada posted was for one count of plunder (P1 million) and 11 counts of graft (P30,000 per count).

Normally, only the Sandiganbayan cashier’s office and the docket section are open on Saturdays up to noontime.

The Fifth Division, however, opted to open to accommodate Estrada’s posting of bail.

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Estrada had been detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City since the filing of the cases against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in June 2014.

The trial of Estrada’s plunder case is set to start on Monday.

Estrada said he felt relieved that the next time he would appear before the Sandiganbayan, there would no longer be police escorts following his every move.

“I’m a free man already. But I would still religiously attend the hearings of my plunder case,” he said.

The cases stemmed from Estrada’s alleged amassing of P183 million worth of kickbacks by allocating portions of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to bogus foundations allegedly set up by alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

The former senator arrived at the Sandiganbayan later in the day to sign documents and have his fingerprints taken.

“I can’t express my feelings right now. Certainly, I’m very very happy, I’m very elated. I would like to thank the Lord God for giving me this opportunity. I would like to thank the magistrates of the Sandiganbayan for granting my petition for bail,” Estrada said after completing his bail procedure.

“I would like to thank all my family and supporters for their non-ending prayers for me,” he added.

His wife Precy, sons Julian Emilio and Joseph Luis Manuel and daughters Julienne and San Juan City Vice Mayor Janella were with him at the Sandiganbayan.

Also present was Estrada’s brother Jude.

Evidence ‘not strong’

Estrada’s release from detention came after the Special Fifth Division on Friday promulgated a resolution granting his omnibus motion, which he filed in September last year.

In his motion, Estrada asked the court to dismiss his plunder case or allow him to post bail as the prosecution supposedly failed to justify the charges against him or identify him in the charge sheet as the “main plunderer” in the case.

In a vote of 3-2, the Special Fifth Division denied “for lack of merit” Estrada’s prayer to junk the case but nonetheless allowed him to post bail.

“Although there is evidence to show that there were glaring irregularities in the disbursement of accused Estrada’s PDAF allocation and that he received a sum of money from his participation in these irregularities, there is no strong evidence to show that he is the main plunderer within the contemplation of the plunder law and as alleged in the information. Thus, his admission to bail is in order,” the 15-page resolution penned by Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega read.

Aside from Arcega, the other magistrates who voted in favor of Estrada’s bail were Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Lorifel Pahimna.

Those who dissented were Fifth Division chairman Associate Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses.

The anti-graft court cited the Supreme Court (SC)’s July 2016 ruling on the plunder case against Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The case was in connection with the alleged misuse of the P366-million intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PSCO).

In its ruling, the SC reversed the Sandiganbayan’s decision and granted Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence which sought the dismissal of the case, citing the prosecution’s failure to identify the main plunderer. The ruling was upheld by the SC last April.

“A reading of the Arroyo case shows that for a valid indictment for plunder, the [case] information must contain, in addition to the other elements...an allegation of a main plunderer who must be a public officer,” the Fifth Division’s ruling read.

“The allegation of a main plunderer is now considered as integral elements in charging the crime of plunder. Thus, this fact must be properly alleged in the [case] information,” it added.

In his motion, Estrada argued that if the alleged P183-million kickbacks are to be divided among him and his three co-accused, their share would only amount to P45.9 million each, below the P50-million threshold for an illegally amassed fund to be covered by the plunder law.

The Fifth Division had earlier denied Estrada’s petition with finality, only to make an about face in September after his camp filed the omnibus motion, insisting the elements of plunder were not established by the prosecution.

Not a flight risk

In the resolution, the magistrates also maintained Estrada is not a flight risk as he is “former senator of the Philippines and a prominent personality.”

The court also noted that Estrada voluntarily surrendered when the cases against him were filed and that his three-year detention should “negate the intention or inclination to evade the legal processes.”

In an interview with reporters after posting bail, Estrada maintained that he and fellow former senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile were just victims of the “selective justice” of the ombudsman and the previous administration.

Revilla has also been detained at the PNP Custodial Center since June 2014.

Enrile, meanwhile, was granted bail by the SC in August 2015 for “humanitarian considerations.”

“If you remember my privilege speech I mentioned some members from the other party who likewise endorsed the NGOs of Napoles. One of my then colleagues in the Senate, who I will no longer name, what he did was even worse. He channelled his PDAF fund to his own NGO, he was a member of the board of directors,” Estrada said.

“Why were we specifically chosen?” he added. Estrada said he would be missing his comrade, Revilla.

“I told him to remain strong. He will someday regain his freedom. I’m praying hard for him,” Estrada said.

Estrada said that for now, he just wants to enjoy the company of his family. “I will kiss my wife more often,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of going back to politics, Estrada responded: “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.”

Travel plans

While still unsure of his political plans, Estrada said he would definitely travel around the country “to thank the people.”

He also said he is open to taking a government position if offered one by the Duterte administration.

Around 400 supporters greeted Estrada and members of his family when they arrived at the St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan City to attend mass at past 4 pm. His parents Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and former senator Loi Ejercito joined him.

In a speech after the mass, Estrada recalled the hardships he endured while in detention with his friend Revilla.

“We want the day to end because we were always away from our families,” he said.

He would feel pain, he said, every time his family and loved ones would begin leaving his cell after visiting him.

“When it’s time for them to leave, I no longer want to look at them,” he recalled, fighting back tears.

Despite his suffering, Estrada said he does not intend to get back at people responsible for his plight, including Sen. Leila de Lima, now detained on drug charges.

As Department of Justice (DOJ) chief, De Lima had launched investigations on Estrada’s and Revilla’s role in the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Estrada also thanked President Duterte and lauded his tough approach to fighting illegal drugs.

“We are lucky we now have a President who has a genuine concern for the youth,” he said.

Plunder law ‘useless’

For De Lima, Congress might as well decriminalize plunder now that the Duterte administration appears to be letting plunderers go free.

The “exoneration of plunderers under this administration is almost complete,” she said in reaction to the Sandiganbayan’s allowing Estrada to post bail. De Lima was the justice secretary when Estrada was charged with plunder and detained.

“After the Marcoses, Enrile, Arroyo and now, Estrada, and the impending release of Revilla and Janet Lim-Napoles, Congress might as well decriminalize the crime of plunder and repeal the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act because they have become useless and worthless under Duterte and his virtual amnesty program for the country’s top plunderers,” De Lima said in a handwritten statement from Camp Crame yesterday.

 “What is doubly alarming is that the trademark impunity of the executive branch under Duterte appears to have found its way into the judiciary, that after a previous bail denial on the ground that the evidence against Estrada is strong, a reconstituted Sandiganbayan division with Duterte appointees suddenly finds cause to set Estrada free not because they now find the evidence weak, but because the court thinks that Estrada is not a flight risk,” she added.

Using the same argument in Estrada’s case, De Lima said she should also be released from detention as she had also proven herself to be not a flight risk.

De Lima lamented that the judiciary appears to be introducing new procedure and doctrines in order to accommodate the whims of President Duterte.

“What we have now is an absolute dictatorship, with a President able to dictate on Congress and now, the judiciary, and with a Congress and a judiciary that allow themselves to be dictated upon as such,” De Lima said.

“We might be going back to the martial law judiciary of the 1970s – a time when the subservience of the judiciary was symbolized by the chief justice serving as the umbrella-holder of Imelda Marcos – even without martial law,” she added.

Under this situation, De Lima said an actual declaration of martial law across the country by Duterte would just be a formality.  –  Marvin Sy, Emmanuel Tupas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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