Court enters 'not guilty' plea for Estrada

 

MANILA, Philippines (6th UPDATE) – Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada refused to enter a plea during his arraignment at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan Monday morning, June 30, prompting justices to plead "not guilty" plea for him.

His co-accused Janet Lim Napoles, who faced the Sandiganbayan for the second time in relation to the pork barrel scam, pleaded not guilty.

 

Both arrived at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan shortly past 8 am for their arraignment. Their pleas were made in both the graft and plunder cases lodged against them.

Estrada's refusal to enter a plea was the same tactic used by Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, when he was arraigned in court last June 26.

Estrada's lawyers cited his pending petition before the Supreme Court to stop his indictment.

In his petition for certiorari before the High Court, Estrada said the Ombudsman violated his rights to due process when it refused to furnish him documents relevant to his case for him to be able to respond.

Estrada faces plunder and graft charges for allegedly pocketing millions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel through fake projects and bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs). (READ: Jinggoy to insist on innocence at court arraignment)

He is one of 3 senators facing plunder and graft charges in connection with the worst corruption scandal in recent history. The third senator is Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who has yet to be slapped with an arrest warrant pending deliberation on whether the Ombudsman has probable cause to try him in court.

In Barong Tagalog

Without handcuffs and wearing a Barong Tagalog, Estrada left Camp Crame at 7:40 am Monday.

Also facing charges before the Sandiganbayan is alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and Estrada’s former appointments secretary Pauline Labayen. Napoles is already detained at a Philippine National Police (PNP) camp in Laguna for kidnapping charges. She left Laguna for Sandiganbayan an hour earlier, at around 6:40 am, and arrived at the court shortly past 8 am.

Also at the arraignment to show moral support are Estrada's father, former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph "Erap" Estrada, and mother Luisa Ejercito.

Describing his family as closely knit, the older Estrada said his wife and former Senator Loi Estrada is constantly praying for their son. It was also like that during his plunder trial, he said.

"What I'm worried about is yung mga apo ko. It's a mental torture on the part of the family," he added.

(What I'm worried about are my grandchildren. It's a mental torture on the part of the family.)

Father and son were charged with plunder under the Arroyo government - 13 years ago. Erap was found guilty of plundering public funds, while Jinggoy emerged unscathed after the court found no sufficient evidence to pin him down (READ: How Jinggoy got away). Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo later pardoned the elder Estrada after he was convicted.

Moving to defer arraignment, lawyer Aljon Gandamato informed the court his client Consuelo Lilian Espiritu was not probed nor approved for indictment by the Ombudsman for her graft case with Sen Estrada.

Espiritu was one of two accused whose name was included in the pork barrel scam cases without being approved for indictment by the Ombudsman. (READ: PDAF cases include names not okayed for indictment)

No handcuffs

Estrada and Napoles were escorted by separate groups of PNP personnel. Involved in their transfers are various PNP units including the highway patrol group, PNP headquarters support service, the PNP Special Action Force (SAF), the Quezon City Police Department and Region 4-A police.

In an interview with reporters, PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said Estrada would not be required to wear a jail uniform nor would he be in handcuffs during his transfer.

The treatment is not unique to Estrada. His “kakosa” (jailmate) and co-accused in the scam, Senator Bong Revilla, also left the custodial center without handcuffs and in Barong Tagalog when he was arraigned before the Sandiganbayan on Friday, June 27.

Sindac offered had the same explanation when asked why the two senators were spared from handcuffs and a jail uniform. Napoles, who has been in detention since mid-2013, does not wear a jail uniform and but is often handcuffed when she leaves her Laguna detention center.

Special treatment?

But the PNP’s explanations have done little to address accusations of special treatment being given to the two legislators.

Estrada and Revilla are housed in a special detention center within the compound but adjacent to the main buildings of the custodial center. The facility, which was supposed to be the quarters of personnel assigned to the center, is recently renovated.

The compound within a compound has 4 separate rooms, each with its own bathroom. Another structure in the compound is a bigger room that would have served as a “conference area” for police assigned to the custodial center.

Visiting hours and privileges for the two have also been controversial. Sindac earlier said they would only be allowed to receive visitors every Thursday and Sunday, from 9am to 3pm.

But journalists who’ve observed the Custodial Center over the past few days reported visitors – family members, friends, and even TV personalities – entering and leaving the detention center even during the wee hours of the morning.

Visitors, according to reports, freely bring in beddings, clothes, and food – including an entire lechon – during these visits. – Rappler.com