A tale of ‘pork-barrel’ era

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The first time I met Senator Jinggoy Estrada was while he was still mayor of San Juan City on June 30,1998 when he attended the inaugural of his father, former president Joseph Estrada. At that time, I was still a reporter covering Malacañang Palace. As it turned out, it was the first and last time I saw mayor Jinggoy inside the Palace grounds.

Then mayor Jinggoy had every reason to be seen at Malacañang, at least during official activities that may require his presence or attendance. He is, after all, the eldest of the three children in the First Family of ex-president Estrada. But then mayor Estrada, however, had distanced himself from the presidency throughout the shortened stint of his father. At least, he was not publicly seen at all anywhere near ex-president Estrada, unlike other siblings from the other “families” of his father.

The only time I saw mayor Jinggoy back again at the Palace was when he fetched his father and mother to leave the presidential guesthouse at Malacañang at the end of the so-called “Edsa-2” power grab on Jan. 20, 2001. A few months later, he and his father were brought together for detention, initially at Camp Crame, Quezon City on plunder charges.

Father and son were implicated in alleged conspiracy with other people in amassing ill-gotten wealth. While detained together, they underwent trial at the Sandiganbayan on charges of allegedly accepting money from jueteng operations, kickbacks from tobacco excise taxes, stock manipulation and the use of a fictitious account to hide ill-gotten wealth.

After spending almost two years in detention, ex-mayor Jinggoy was allowed bail on March 6, 2003 after the Sandiganbayan found weak evidence to indict him for conspiracy. Thus later on, he was finally cleared of plunder charges on Sept. 12, 2007. His father, on the other hand, was convicted.

But history repeated itself. To his worst critics, Sen. Jinggoy did not learn his lessons well.

Sen. Jinggoy got slapped with plunder charges again. Jinggoy, along with fellow senators Juan Ponce-Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., were accused individually for allegedly having received “commissions” or kickbacks from their respective allocations in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Otherwise called “pork-barrel funds,” the PDAF was allegedly channeled to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles as the mastermind and co-accused in these plunder charges.

The three senators, along with several other lawmakers, were implicated by Benhur Luy, a disgruntled former employee of Napoles. A self-confessed “whistle-blower,” Luy claimed he worked with Napoles in having created “fictitious” non-government organizations as conduits for the filched pork-barrel allocations, allegedly with the consent of the lawmakers concerned.

The alleged PDAF anomalies first got exposed in the report rendered by the Commission on Audit (COA) during the administration of the late president Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III. At the height of the PDAF scandal, senators Revilla and Estrada countered with their own exposé on the alleged misuse of another “pork-barrel” allocation under the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Sen. Jinggoy accused the late PNoy of allegedly having used the DAP to ensure the conviction at the impeachment trial in Congress of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. According to Sen. Jinggoy, each senator-juror at the impeachment trial was allegedly given P50 million in DAP.

This was to corroborate the earlier expose of Sen. Revilla that he was allegedly brought by two Aquino Cabinet members to meet with PNoy at Malacanang Palace. In that meeting, Revilla claimed he was even driven to the Palace where PNoy supposedly tried to convince him to vote for the conviction of Corona at the Senate impeachment trial in 2012.

Incidentally, only three senators voted to acquit Corona at the impeachment. These were the late senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago and then senator Bongbong Marcos. Senators Enrile, Jinggoy and Revilla voted with the majority to convict Corona.

Charged with a non-bailable crime, the three incumbent senators eventually submitted themselves voluntarily for detention while undergoing trial at the Sandiganbayan. Much senior in age, Enrile was placed under hospital detention until he was eventually allowed by the SC to post bail. He was released in August 2015 on humanitarian grounds due to his advanced age.

Enrile’s lawyers led by former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza filed in October last year a demurrer, or dismissal of his plunder case; the Sandiganbayan has yet to rule on his petition. A demurrer to evidence is a legal challenge with the accused not needing to present his defense.

In 2022, at the age of 98, Enrile returned to government as the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM). He celebrates next month his centenary on Valentine’s Day, Feb.14.

In the same boat, Senators Jinggoy and Revilla were placed in separate custodial rooms at the PNP detention facility at Camp Crame in Quezon City. The two former movie actors cooled their heels in detention until the end of their second term of office at the Senate. The bosom buddies stayed under custodial detention for more than four years.

In December 2018, the Sandiganbayan acquitted Revilla on his plunder charges. However, the Sandiganbayan still held Revilla to answer for 16 counts of graft. He posted P480,000 bail for temporary release from detention. The anti-graft court’s Special First Division subsequently acquitted Revilla in July 2021 on these graft cases on same grounds of insufficiency of evidence.

Like Revilla, Sen. Jinggoy won also a half-baked court victory last week. He got acquitted on plunder charges but he was convicted of one count of direct bribery and two counts of indirect bribery.

Collectively called the PDAF cases, some of the other accused lawmakers were already convicted while others were acquitted. But many of these PDAF cases are either still pending resolutions at the anti-graft courts, or in various stages of the appeals process, especially for convictions that could go all the way to the SC.

But whether each of the accused was acquitted or convicted, the unsaid victory came ahead.

In separate decisions, the High Court declared both the PDAF and DAP as unconstitutional and illegal.

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