Reacting to my column last Sunday (“Bail for Jinggoy but not for Janet”), friends asked: “President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) was acquitted of plunder by the Supreme Court in Arroyo vs Sandiganbayan (July 19, 2016). Why was former senator Jinggoy Estrada merely granted bail, and not acquitted also, given that the two rulings (of acquittal and bail grant) were based on the same new jurisprudence?” Let me explain.
New element of plunder. In Arroyo vs Sandiganbayan (SBN), the Supreme Court, voting 10-4-1, laid down a new element in the crime of plunder by requiring the prosecution to: 1) allege in the information (or charge sheet) the identity of the main plunderer who amassed, acquired or accumulated ill-gotten wealth, alone or in conspiracy/connivance with others, in the sum of at least P50 million, and 2) prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of such main plunderer. The failure to satisfy either or both of these requirements could result in an acquittal.
Speaking through Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the Court held: “Such identification of the main plunderer was not only necessary because the law required [it], but also because it was essential in safeguarding the rights of all the accused to be properly informed of the charges they were being made answerable for.”
Since “the Information … failed to identify a main plunderer” and the prosecution’s evidence did not prove the guilt of any such main plunderer, the Court acquitted GMA. Note that the acquittal was rendered after the prosecution had presented all its evidence during a full trial of the case on the merits.
Bail was only issue. In contrast, in the plunder case against Jinggoy, the prosecution had not yet rested its case. In other words, the trial on the merits had not been completed. The SBN Special Fifth Division, voting 3-2, issued its ruling after a preliminary hearing on his right to bail, not after a full trial on his guilt.
It cautioned that while the information identified the main plunderer, the prosecution failed to present “strong evidence of guilt” during the bail proceedings. The SBN could not and did not rule on Jinggoy’s guilt because the trial on the merits has not been completed, and the prosecution has not finished presenting its evidence in chief.
Legal warrior. To answer another question: Yes, Estelito P. Mendoza was the new counsel of GMA in her Supreme Court victory. He was also the lead counsel of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile in obtaining his bail from the high court. No wonder he was recently retained by former senator Bong Revilla. Last week, he promptly asked the SBN to allow a demurrer to evidence that may result in Revilla’s acquittal. But he is not the lawyer of Jinggoy.
Mendoza rose to fame as the young solicitor general who won the legal battles of Ferdinand Marcos in 1972-1986, including Javellana vs Executive Secretary (March 31, 1973) which validated the ratification of the 1973 Constitution via the raising of hands during Citizens Assemblies, not via a nationwide secret ballot. That’s why his critics grudgingly call him the “Champion of the Wrong Side.”
Among his famous assistants were Reynato S. Puno, Vicente V. Mendoza and Santiago M. Kapunan, who became chief justice and associate justices, respectively, of the Supreme Court.
I think that had he wanted to, Mendoza could have easily reached the Supreme Court but he chose to be a lifetime private practitioner. After serving Marcos, he single-mindedly fought for many lonely causes that other lawyers dared not touch.
One of his greatest triumphs was the lifting of the sequestration and judicial affirmation of the ownership of the controlling San Miguel Corp. shares of tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.
While he has famously defended high-profile public officials (former presidents, lawmakers, Cabinet officials) and tycoons like Cojuangco, Lucio Tan and Doris Ho, he has, to be fair, also represented, pro bono, ordinary folks—public school teachers, farmers, fishers, market vendors, and even an eminent Catholic archbishop.
Though impaired of hearing at almost 88, he is still mentally agile and a much-sought-after legal warrior.
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