Jing­goy set free on P1.3-M bail

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By EL­IZ­A­BETH MARCELO

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. 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 P183mil­lion kick­backs are to be di­vided among him and his three co-ac­cused, their share would only amount to P45.9 mil­lion each, be­low the P50mil­lion 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 three­year 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 LimNapoles.

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.

For­mer se­na­tor Jing­goy Estrada (right) hugs close friend and fel­low de­tainee Bong Revilla be­fore leav­ing the PNP Cus­to­dial Cen­ter at Camp Crame in this photo taken by the for­mer’s daugh­ter, San Juan Vice Mayor Janella Estrada.

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