MANILA, Philippines – Set to be arraigned Monday, June 30, Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada will either plead not guilty or remain silent for the anti-graft court to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.
In a text message to Rappler, Estrada’s lawyer, Alexis Abastillas, said the senator has always maintained his innocence right from when the diversion of lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects made headlines in July 2013.
“Safe to say that it has been our stand from the beginning that the accusations against Sen Jinggoy are baseless and unsubstantiated. No evidence at all against him that he amassed public funds,” she said in another message.
Estrada has cried political persecution in what he regarded as selective prosecution of opposition senators over the PDAF scam, even running to the Supreme Court to argue that the selectivity violated his rights to equal protection of the law. (READ: Jinggoy to SC: Selective prosecution against the law)
Estrada is accused of knowingly and financially gaining from allowing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hosting ghost projects to siphon off his PDAF, supposedly meant for his community development pet projects.
He is charged with plunder and with 11 counts of graft for allegedly pocketing P183 million in kickbacks and for allowing the misuse of P278 million in PDAF, respectively.
Along with his father, former President and now Manila mayor Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada, Senator Estrada was the first elected official to be charged with plunder. He was, however, acquitted. His father, meanwhile, was convicted but later on pardoned by former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan also gave Estrada until Monday to file his motion to quash his original plunder charge sheet, after prosecutors on June 27 withdrew their bid to have the charge sheet amended. (READ: Prosecutors flip-flop on amended charge sheet vs Jinggoy)
“We have until tomorrow to decide whether we file or not,” said Abastillas, adding that they are confident the charge sheet won’t stand in court.
In assailing his indictment, Estrada earlier argued that it was the state implementing agencies (IAs) that vetted and accredited the NGOs that became recipients of Estrada’s PDAF.
Based on his charge sheet, these IAs include state firms Technology Resource Center, National Agri-Business Corporation, and National Livelihood Development Corporation. He said he merely chose from a “menu” of NGOs and IAs already set by law.
“Senator Estrada had no choice in the NGOs chosen to implement the projects predetermined by law into which PDAF funds could be channeled,” his earlier motion on the issue of probable cause read.
The NGOs that cornered P278 million of Estrada’s PDAF were all linked and allegedly controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who is also Estrada’s co-accused in both the plunder and graft charges.
Estrada, however, said his endorsement of Napoles’ NGOs were “recommendatory at best.” These NGOs were already accredited by the IAs even before his endorsement, he said.
Estrada maintains no proof exists that he received money from Napoles or her NGOs, even if funds were transferred from his PDAF to said NGOs.
The senator even explained before the court that he himself ordered the conduct of a probe within his office, when news of the PDAF scam broke. – Rappler.com
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