Court affirms freeze order on Jinggoy Estrada’s assets

Rappler.com
Court affirms freeze order on Jinggoy Estrada’s assets
Senator Jinggoy Estrada's motion for reconsideration for the garnishment order on his assets is denied

 

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division on Monday, March 30, denied for lack of merit Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s motion for reconsideration against the freeze order on his assets.

Estrada sought to quash the order to garnish his assets by arguing against the validity of the order itself. It is one of two ways to discharge a freeze order; the other is by providing a counterbond. 

On February 23, the anti-graft court ordered the garnishment of Estrada’s assets amounting to P183.79 million ($4.104 million) in connection with plunder and graft charges he is facing over the pork barrel scam. 

The court found that there was enough basis to freeze the accused senator’s assets based on evidence presented by principal whistleblower Benhur Luy and the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council. 

Initial evidence showed that the accused senator received over P50 million worth of kickbacks from the illegal diversion of his discretionary Priority Development Assistance Fund, the court said in its earlier decision. 

In his appeal, Estrada made the following arguments: 

  • That the issuance of a warrant of arrest against him was not an affirmation of the finding of “prima facie” evidence against him
  • That the act of closing 4 bank accounts is not proof that he has removed or disposed of his property since this was done prior to the filing of the case
  • That the present criminal action is not based on a claim for money or property embezzled since Estrada is not an accountable officer under the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines and his participation in the PDAF system was merely recommendatory. Estrada also pinned the blame on executive agencies for irregularities in implementation, arguing that the identification of implementing agencies and non-governmental organizations are mere parts of the implementation process
  • That the prosecution relies heavily on the computer records of Benhur Luy, whose testimony Estrada dismissed as mere hearsay and speculation coming from a “polluted source being a confessed forger and principal by indispensable participation” 
  • That Estrada should have been given ample time to file his comment or opposition

In its 5-page decision, the Fifth Division said the issuance of a warrant of arrest is an affirmation that there was sufficient cause of action for the case. Otherwise, the court would have dismissed the case. 

On Estrada’s 2nd argument, the court said rules do not require that the concealment and removal of funds and properties be done after the case has been filed. 

The law also does not say that garnishment refers only to an accountable officer, the court said. The Fifth Division also “reiterates that the instant case for plunder includes a claim for money which has been embezzled or fraudulently misapplied” for an accused’s personal use since he is a public officer.

“As movant has not filed a counterbond and as his arguments herein are unmeritorious, there is therefore no compelling reason to lift the attachment while the main case is still pending,” the court said in its resolution. 

The Sandiganbayan earlier ordered the garnishment of Senator Ramon Revilla Jr’s assets totaling P224.512 million ($5.014 million). Revilla was also charged with plunder and graft over the pork barrel scam. 

The freeze order prevents lawmakers from transferring their wealth to another source while the case is still being heard. The court is presently hearing Estrada’s bail petition for his cases. – Angela Casauay/Rappler.com

US$1 = P44.77

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