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Jinggoy claims extortion try by Ombudsman prober

Former senator Jinggoy Estrada yesterday claimed that he too was a victim of the supposed corrupt practices in the Office of the Ombudsman. AP/Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, Philippines — Former senator Jinggoy Estrada yesterday claimed that he too was a victim of the supposed corrupt practices in the Office of the Ombudsman.

In a chance interview with reporters, Estrada bared that a field investigator from the ombudsman attempted to extort money from him sometime in late 2013 when the anti-graft agency was still preparing the charges against him in connection with his alleged involvement in the multibillion-peso pork barrel fund scam.

Estrada said the extortion attempt was in exchange for downgrading the plunder case that the ombudsman was then set to file against him to a lesser offense of graft.

He said the offer was coursed by the ombudsman investigator through an emissary.

“Not directly to me but through an emissary. They were asking for money from me but I did not give in because I know that my conscience is clear,” Estrada said.

Estrada, however, refused to identify either the graft investigator or the supposed emissary.

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He refused to give the exact amount of money supposedly demanded by the investigator, but said it was not more than P1 million.

Estrada said the incident happened when the ombudsman was still at the early stage of its investigation on the pork barrel fund scam in late 2013. 

It was in June 2014 when the ombudsman formally filed one count of plunder and 11 counts of graft against Estrada before the Sandiganbayan. He had been detained at Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City since then.

Plunder is a non-bailable offense that carries a penalty of life imprisonment, while graft is a non-bailable offense that carries the penalty of six up to 10 years of imprisonment per count.

Just last month, Estrada was released from detention after the Sandiganbayan Special Fifth Division granted his motion for bail on the ground that the prosecution supposedly failed to present any evidence showing that he is the “main plunderer” in the case.

Estrada bared the alleged extortion attempt when asked by reporters to comment on President Duterte’s statement that corrupt practices are rampant in the ombudsman’s office.

Duterte, last week said he will create a commission that would investigate the ombudsman, especially its prosecutors and investigators who are supposedly into dismissing cases in exchange for bribe money.

“Naniniwala ako dun sa sinabi niya (I believe what the President said),” Estrada said.

He, however, is not inclined to participate in any fact-finding investigation by the commission that Duterte intends to create.

Estrada further said he has no plan of pressing any charges against the supposed graft investigator who attempted to extort money from him.

“It’s useless. Noon talagang halos lahat ng tao, ni-brainwash ng nakaraang administrasyon na magnanakaw kami, kaya wala kaming kalaban-laban. Ngayon, unti unti nang lumalabas na pinili kami (Before, almost everyone was brainwashed by the previous administration that we’re thieves and we were defenseless. Now, it’s slowly being revealed that we were just selected),” Estrada said.

Estrada said he did not report the incident to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales due to the latter’s alleged bias against him and the other perceived enemies of the previous Aquino administration.

“Eh si Ombudsman Morales parang one track mind yan eh, wala pang kaso prejudge na guilty na kami, paano ko susumbong sa kanya? (Morales has a one-track mind. We were already prejudged as guilty even before the cases were filed. How can I report to her),” Estrada said.

Meanwhile, on the first day of the trial of Estrada’s plunder case yesterday, the prosecution presented Mae Castillon, acting chief of the compliance section of the Bureau of Internal Revenue district office.

Castillon testified on Estrada’s submission of his income tax returns (ITRs) from 2007 to 2012.

The ITRs supposedly show that in those years, Estrada’s annual income tax payments ranged from P1 million to P5 million.

Office of the Special Prosecutor director Ma. Christina Marallag-Batacan said Estrada’s income tax payments “pale in comparison” to his declared wealth in those years which range from P83 million to P195 million based on his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Maria Lourdes Arbas, director of the Office of the Senate Secretary, was presented to testify on having custody of Estrada’s SALNs from 2004 to 2013 during his term as senator. 

Batacan said the disparity between Estrada’s declared wealth and his tax payments would show “whether or not the income there in the SALN is a result of the kickbacks” he allegedly amassed from the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

Estrada is accused of amassing of P183 million worth of kickbacks by allocating portions of his PDAF to bogus non-government organizations supposedly owned by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the pork barrel scam.

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