MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Because the Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division granted bail to former senator Jinggoy Estrada, other plunder defendants like former senator Ramong “Bong” Revilla Jr and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles are confident they, too, will be granted the privilege.
“Insofar as we’re concerned, this is favorable,” Napoles’ lawyer Dennis Buenaventura said on Monday, September 18. He said they are now preparing their own petition before the 5th Division that granted bail to Estrada.
The Special 5th Division in a 3-2 vote ruled that the evidence against Estrada was not strong, meriting bail. The 3 magistrates used the Supreme Court (SC) ruling in acquitting former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and said the crime of plunder should identify a main plunderer. It is vague, the magistrates said, to identify a main plunderer at this point in the Estrada case. (READ: SC acquittal of Arroyo helps Jinggoy Estrada get bail)
The magistrates, however, said that “it cannot also be denied that the elaborate scheme is not his own doing and is in fact the handiwork of accused Napoles.”
“It may be validly questioned if there can still be a main plunderer when someone else appears to be the mastermind of the entire scheme,” said the ruling, penned by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, with concurrences from Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Lorifel Lacap-Pahimna.
Division Chair Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses dissented.
Napoles’ lawyer reiterated, “‘Yung dati pa naming ina-argue that the information does not amount to plunder.” (Our grounds are based on our earlier arguments that the information does not amount to plunder.)
Another plunder defendant, Revilla, had earlier said they would most likely follow in the footsteps of Estrada’s legal team.
Revilla’s lead lawyer former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza earlier said they would invoke human rights in their petition, same as what he did with his other client Juan Ponce Enrile who was granted bail by the SC.
With Estrada’s ruling that touches largely on the merits of the case and not on humanitarian grounds, Buenaventura said their forthcoming petitions would have additional push.
Napoles has 5 plunder charges before the anti-graft court; she was already granted bail in two, but her initial motions in the Esrada, Enrile, and Revilla cases were denied. Napoles has to win in all 5 cases to be granted bail.
“This makes it more difficult to actually convict on the basis of plunder. Impunity now is institutionalized,” said a source from the judiciary. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom ‘in less than 2 years’)
The Ombudsman’s lead Prosecutor Maria Christina Marallag-Batacan said they will appeal Estrada’s ruling.
“We have good grounds so I hope the grant of bail will be reversed,” Batacan said in Filipino.
Estrada attended what was supposed to be the first day of his plunder trial on Monday, the first time in 3 years that he appeared without a police escort.
Estrada said he will consult his lawyers about filing a waiver of his appearance so he no longer has to personally attend the hearings. (READ: Jinggoy Estrada eyes PH-wide ‘thank you tour’)
The trial was postponed again because there was a lack of quorum on the bench as one justice was reportedly sick.
Estrada said he visited Revilla at the custodial center in Camp Crame on Sunday.
“He is okay. Of course (he is hopeful),” Estrada said. – Rappler.com