Sandiganbayan forms special division to decide on Jinggoy's bail

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan may soon render a decision on the motion for bail filed by former senator Jinggoy Estrada in connection with his plunder case after the creation of a special division.

Two informed sources, one of them from the anti-graft court, confirmed that a special division has been created. This means that the 3 regular members of the 5th Division that handles Estrada's pork barrel scam cases did not reach a unanimous decision on his petition for bail. Plunder is typically a non-bailable offense.

The Sandiganbayan's revised internal rules say that “the unanimous vote of 3 justices in a division shall be necessary for the rendition of a judgment or final order.” In the event a unanimous vote is not reached, the Presiding Justice designates by raffle two other justices to temporarily sit with them in the special division. A majority vote is needed to render judgment.

The high-ranking source from the Sandiganbayan said the additional two justices are Associate Justices Zaldy Trespeses and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna. The justices' names were raffled last month.

The two Justices who were chosen will join 5th Division regular members Associate Justices Rafael Lagos, Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, and Reynaldo Cruz. 

The original 5th Division which first denied Estrada's bail plea in January 2016 and then finalized it in May of the same year included Associate Justices Roland Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom 'in less than 2 years')

Following Duterte's declaration

The Division's composition has since changed and Estrada has filed a new petition. After his last hearing on September 4, where the court again postponed his graft trial, Estrada urged the justices to consider his condition and grant him bail.

Estrada's move followed Duterte’s speech where the President said that Estrada and former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr should be granted bail because the Supreme Court granted the same to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

"The President knows what he is talking about dahil being a prosecutor before, alam niya siguro, nabasa niya [ang] aming kaso, talagang wala naman talaga, pinili lang talaga kami kasi we were with the opposition in the last administration," Estrada said then.

(The President knows what he's talking about. Being a former prosecutor, maybe he read our charges and there really is no case. We were just singled out because we were with the opposition in the last administration.)

Revilla has also expressed his intent to file a new motion for bail. Estrada is facing plunder charges for allegedly pocketing P183.793 million from his pork barrel by funneling it through questionable NGOs owned by alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. His plunder trial has yet to start.

Estrada's health condition

In his omnibus motion filed last year, Estrada argued he should be granted bail because the prosecution was not able to sufficiently prove the elements of plunder, and that his continued detention endangers his condition.

Estrada has a recurring pain issue on his right shoulder. He intends to seek another medical furlough from the court after he was rushed to the emergency room of the Philippine National Police General Hospital e (PNP-GH) on August 28 for  “severe chest pain and difficulty in breathing.”

The last time that the anti-graft court granted Estrada a medical furlough was in late July to undergo videocolonoscopy at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan after his doctor found “elevated levels of CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen).” 

Enrile’s bail petition was granted by the SC on humanitarian grounds.

The clerk of court of the 5th Division told reporters the motion for Estrada's bail is already “on agenda”, signaling a decision soon. 

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang refused to confirm a forthcoming decision, only saying, “wait for the official promulgation of the resolution once it is finally reached.” – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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