2 Sandigan justices: Strong evidence to prove Estrada is ‘main plunderer’
Two Sandiganbayan justices dissented to the anti-graft court Special Division of Five ruling that granted the bail plea of former Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who was not seen to be the “main plunderer” in the alleged pork barrel scam.
In their dissenting opinion to the ponencia, Fifth Division chairperson Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses said the majority erred in applying the Supreme Court decision that dismissed the plunder case of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In his dissenting opinion, Trespeses said the new jurisprudence could not be applied in the instant bail motion without giving an opportunity to the prosecution to present new evidence in another bail hearing.
“The filing of a new petition for bail, per se, is not objectionable. However, if the Court is disposed to allow the accused to seek bail afresh based on the allegedly new requirement for proving plunder following the Arroyo ruling, it should likewise allow the prosecution new bail (hearing or hearings) to show that it has the evidence to satisfy the alleged new requirement for proving plunder,” Trespeses said.
Trespeses also disagreed with the court’s finding of no strong evidence against Estrada, when the previous composition of the Fifth Division denied Estrada’s first bail motion in an exhaustive resolution that traced Estrada’s involvement in the elaborate Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam scheme.
Trespeses particularly mentioned the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s (AMLC) bank inquiry report, which accused Estrada of receiving millions of his commissions in his bank accounts through conduits with accused mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
“The said resolution moreover reproduced some of the more salient exhibits. It reproduced the signed letters of Estrada addressed to the various heads of implementing agencies for PDAF, specifically endorsing Napoles NGOs and authorizing (Estrada’s deputy chief of staff Pauline) Labayen to sign and act on his behalf,” Trespeses said.
“It further reproduced checks connecting Estrada to the account of Juan Ng,” he added.
In its report that was presented in court, the AMLC said one conduit Juan Ng bore the same handwriting in some signatures as that of Estrada himself, rousing suspicions that Ng and Estrada are the same.
The report bared what the prosecution deemed the most damning evidence against Estrada.
Ng deposited P10 million check from Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc. (SDPFFI), a Napoles NGO on April 15, 2010, in his Chinabank account. On the same day, Ng’s Chinabank account incurred a debit of P10 million for a check payable to cash.
In what could be the most glaring link between Estrada and Napoles, this same check was issued for the PBCom account under Estrada’s name.
Trespeses said the transfers between the bank accounts of Ng and Estrada, principal witness Benhur Luy’s summary of rebates received by Estrada, the Ombudsman field investigation that found ghost pork barrel projects, among others are “voluminous evidence” that “still stands in support of the prosecution’s position that the evidence of guilt of accused Estrada is strong.”
Trespeses said despite the introduction of a new doctrine of the “main plunderer” concept from the Arroyo case, “the strength of these pieces of evidence remains undiminished.”
In sum, Trespeses said he still found “strong evidence of Estrada’s guilt as main plunderer.”
“To grant bail to accused Estrada by a mere application of a legal doctrine without the reception or introduction of new evidence would be procedurally infirm,” Trespeses said.
Meanwhile, in a short opinion, Lagos dissented in the grant of bail because the Fifth Division’s 2016 resolution was able to prove the “corpus delicti” because of strong evidence Estrada and his co-accused amassed P50 million in kickbacks.
Sources feared the grant of Estrada’s bail plea, that reversed the court’s earlier denial of his bail, may set a “domino effect” on the related plunder cases of former senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile. /jpv
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