MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman prosecutors in the cases of Senator Jinggoy “Jose” Estrada withdrew on Friday, June 27, their bid to amend the senator’s plunder charge sheet.
This was after Prosecutor Danilo Lopez was warned that amending the information would mean the findings of probable cause could be recalled by the justices. Once recalled, Estrada could be released from detention.
Associate Justice Roland Jurado, chair of the fifth division hearing Estrada’s case, advised the Office of Special Prosecutor not to amend the information. “If I were you, I would not amend the information,” Jurado said.
The effect of amending the information will be the release of the accused. This is because the original information was used in determining probable cause against Estrada.
Warned about this, the prosecution withdrew its motion for the court to admit the amended information.
Watch this report below.
The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s 5th division heard on Friday, June 26, various motions related to Estrada and his co-accused in plunder and graft charges.
During the hearing, Sandiganbayan Justice Alexander Gesmundo also noted the difference between conspiracy and connivance as elements of plunder. The amendments initially sought involved a change in the wording of the charge sheet from conspiracy to connivance.
Mere connivance could downgrade liability to violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. In a conspiracy, the act of one is considered the act of all. In connivance, criminal liability of the accused is limited to a particular or separate act.
A day earlier, during the hearing of the same motion on Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr’s plunder case, Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon noted that these are “substantial changes” in the charge sheet. (READ: Sandiganbayan junks Ombudsman’s bid to amend ‘pork scam’ information)
This could mean the court’s finding of probable cause based on the original information would have to be voided, if the amendments are accepted.
The 5th division is hearing Estrada’s plunder and graft charges over the diversion of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus organizations of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, while the 1st division is hearing Revilla’s.
Both divisions earlier determined probable cause to indict the two senators based on the original charge sheet or information on their plunder cases. Both divisions ordered the arrest of the two senators.
The 3rd division has yet to find probable cause to indict Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and order his arrest. Prosecutors have likewise filed a motion to admit amended information in Enrile’s plunder case.
Original charge sheet
The original information indicated that it was Napoles who was enabled to misappropriate PDAF for “her personal gain,” a phrase the prosecutors wanted deleted in the amended information. The amended charge sheet would have instead said it was the senators who amassed ill-gotten wealth.
The amendments seem to have been triggered by an argument made by Napoles’ lawyers that the crime of plunder is geared towards enriching a public official and not a private individual. (READ: No conspiracy to enrich solons, Napoles tells court)
The special prosecutors on Wednesday afternoon, June 25, filed the now-withdrawn manifestation with motion to admit amended information in Estrada’s case. The motion for Revilla’s case was filed Wednesday morning.
Changes in Revilla’s charge sheet denied
Prosecutors for Revilla’s cases faced minor defeat in court Thursday, June 26, when the 1st division denied their move to amend the charge sheet on Revilla’s plunder case.
Defense lawyers vehemently argued and successfully assailed the motion, saying it was tantamount to a judicial admission that the original charge sheet was void.
Prosecutors, however, said they were confident with the original information but sought amendments to eliminate vagueness.
Bail hearing to be resolved
On Tuesday, June 24, prosecutors also assailed Estrada’s motion for bail before the court.
They said it cannot be granted without a hearing which will determine if there is strong evidence of guilt versus Estrada.
During the Friday hearing, the court submitted for resolution Estrada’s motion for bail. They will decide whether a hearing should be set.
The order is expected to be released on Monday, June 30. – Rappler.com