MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division on Friday, September 15, granted the bail petition of former senator Jinggoy Estrada, giving him temporary freedom after more than 3 years in detention for plunder charges over the pork barrel scam.
The resolution was not officially released to the media on Friday, but a copy of the resolution obtained by the media showed that the decision was reached via majority vote, 3-2.
The Special 5th Division said in its resolution that it granted Estrada’s bail petition because the evidence, so far, did not point to him as a “main plunderer.”
The “main plunderer” concept is one of the main reasons why the Supreme Court (SC) acquitted former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder.
“Although there is evidence to show that there were glaring irregularities in the disbursement of Estrada’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations and that he received a sum of money from his participation in these irregularities, there is no strong evidence to show that he is a main plunderer….Thus, his admission to bail is in order,” Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega said in the court’s resolution, with concurrences from Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Lorifel Lacap-Pahimna.
The voting is as follows:
Yes to bail:
- Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega
- Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz
- Associate Justice Lorifel Lacap Pahimna
No to bail:
- Associate Justice Rafael Lagos
- Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses
Arcega, Cruz, and Lagos, who is the division chairperson, make up the regular 5th Division. It was Lagos’ dissenting vote that necessitated the creation of a special division with 5 members. Sandiganbayan rules state that a unanimous vote should be reached in a regular division, and if not, a special division has to be created by raffling off two additional justices.
In the end, Pahimna’s vote led to the favorable decision for Estrada. All 4 justices are Aquino appointees, except for Pahimna who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte last year.
Bail set at P1.33 million
A source earlier said the resolution was transmitted to Camp Crame where Estrada has been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center since June 23, 2014.
Bail was set at P1 million for plunder, and P330,000 for 11 counts of graft at P30,000 each.
The court, however, denied Estrada’s motion to dismiss the charges. Estrada’s plunder trial, which has been postponed once, is scheduled on September 18.
The Sandiganbayan said it will be open on Saturday, September 16, manned by a skelatal force, if Estrada’s bail petition would be granted and he would post bail that day.
On Friday afternoon, members of Estrada’s family led by his wife, Precy, were seen in Camp Crame. The family and Estrada’s lawyers were tight-lipped about the court resolution.
When asked by reporters about the Sandiganbayan resolution upon her arrival, Estrada’s wife, Precy, said, “Wala pa rin (We haven’t received it yet).”
Precy Estrada asked if she expects her husband to be released soon, she says: "Wala pa rin" pic.twitter.com/sEmJK4LPvp
Precy Estrada asked if she expects her husband to be released soon, she says: "Wala pa rin" pic.twitter.com/sEmJK4LPvp— Rambo Talabong (@rambotalabong) September 15, 2017
Estrada’s motion and the opposition
The Special 5th Division acted on Estrada’s omnibus motion filed in September 2016, or 4 months after the regular 5th Division finalized its rejection of his original plea in May 2016. The original rejection was issued in January 2016.
In their opposition, prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman had argued that what Estrada filed was essentially a second motion for reconsideration “which is procedurally frowned upon.”
In his motion, Estrada said the prosecution failed to accuse him of the elements of plunder. Using the Supreme Court (SC) acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her plunder case over Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds, Estrada argued that there was no identified “main plunderer” in the scam.
“[The Arroyo case] finds no application in this case considering that the overt act of plunder involved in the case – raiding public treasury – is starkly distinct and different from the one involved in this case – receiving kickbacks, commissions, etc, and taking undue advantage of official position.” (Read more on the SC’s Arroyo decision here.)
Estrada also said he was not a flight risk, which is similar to what was invoked by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile before the SC. Enrile was eventually allowed to post bail because of his age and health.
Estrada added that “sleepless nights and tormenting days” in detention “deprived him of the enjoyment of his life with his family and loved ones, divesting him of his freedom/liberties, irreparably lost forever which can no longer be restored.”
His health and well-being, the former senator also said, have been affected.
Prosecutors had said in September 2016 that “Estrada miserably failed to show that he is suffering from any illness that would become grave should his detention be continued.”
But since then, the former senator has been allowed to temporarily leave detention and have medical checkups for recurring pain in his right shoulder. His last authorized trip to a hospital was in July this year for a videocolonoscopy after being found with “elevated levels of CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen).”
The anti-graft court’s decision comes two weeks after Duterte said in a speech that Estrada and former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr should be granted bail if only because the SC had granted the same to Enrile.
Revilla had expressed his intent to file a new motion. – With a report from Rambo Talabong / Rappler.com
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