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MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan’s decision on Friday, January 19, was bittersweet for Senator Jinggoy Estrada who was at the center of the plunder trial.
After unanimous voting, the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division found Estrada not guilty of plunder in relation to his involvement in the pork barrel scam. Businesswoman Janet Napoles, who was at the center of the scheme that also involved high-ranking legislators, was also acquitted.
However, the court did not entirely absolve Estrada – he was found guilty of lesser offenses. The division chaired by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Maria Therese Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann Corpus-Mañalac, convicted Estrada of one count of direct bribery penalized under Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
He was ordered to pay a fine of P3 million, with imprisonment of up to nine years and four months as maximum punishment.
On top of this, Estrada was also found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of indirect bribery under Article 211 of the RPC. For the said conviction, he was punished with up to three years, six months, and 20 days jail time for each count.
But aside from jail time and a fine, Estrada was sanctioned with the following:
- For direct bribery: “Special temporary disqualification, and the accessory penalties of temporary absolute disqualification and that of perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage.”
- For indirect bribery: “Penalties of suspension and public censure, with the accessory penalties of suspension from public office, from the right to follow a profession or calling, and that of perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage.”
The big question is, will Estrada be arrested? Will he be suspended as senator?
As mentioned by the Sandiganbayan justices during the promulgation, and by Estrada’s legal counsel, Alexis Abastillas-Suarez, Estrada can still avail of legal remedies against the conviction. The senator can still file a motion for reconsideration to ask the anti-graft court to reconsider its decision, or file an appeal with the Supreme Court, as the court of last resort.
Estrada’s legal team reiterated to reporters that the Sandiganbayan’s decision is not yet final and executory. With this, the senator can still fulfill his duties as the judiciary will go and review the remedies he will exhaust.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, in a media statement, said Estrada will remain a senator. “Until and unless the decision becomes final and executory, Sen. Jinggoy is duty-bound to continue performing his functions as Senator of the Republic.”
As for Estrada’s bail that grants him temporary liberty, Abastillas-Suarez explained: “The court will hold on to his bond. He posted a bond of P1.3 million for plunder and he also posted a travel bond of P2 million, so the court said they will hold on to the bond for his temporary liberty.”
Estrada’s camp said they were surprised that the senator was convicted of bribery.
“Well, ikinakagulat namin. Although, kasi ‘di siya (Well, we were surprised. Although, it’s not) directly related to the crime charge of plunder. Because we have to think, bribery is a crime punishable under the Revised Penal Code, and plunder is a crime punishable under a special law. So we will see,” Estrada’s lawyer told Rappler.
By legal procedures, a person can be convicted of a lesser crime in the crime he/she was originally charged with – a point highlighted by the Sandiganbayan in the decision. Section 5, rule 120 of the revised rules of criminal procedure made this possible.
The specific provision states: “An offense charged necessarily includes the offense proved when some of the essential elements or ingredients of the former, as alleged in the complaint or information, constitute the latter. And an offense charged is necessarily included in the offense proved, when the essential ingredients of the former constitute or form a part of those constituting the latter.”
To invoke the said provision, the Sandiganbayan explained that some of the elements of plunder must constitute the offense proved, which was direct bribery.
The anti-graft court explained that direct bribery is included in plunder “as some of the elements of the latter constitute those of the former i.e., an offender public officer who acquires ill-gotten wealth by receiving commissions or any other pecuniary benefits by reason of his or her office, or by taking advantage of such official position.”
The same goes for indirect bribery, which was also included in plunder.
To further their point, the Sandiganbayan noted the Republic v. Sandiganbayan ruling, which held that direct bribery is part of plunder because the two offenses involve public officers who benefited from their positions “to commit a crime or an unjust act which would lead to their financial benefit.” – Rappler.com