Jinggoy, running man
In the wake of the revelation that Jinggoy Estrada may have falsified his reasons for seeking permission from the Sandiganbayan to travel to the United States later this month, the court where the former senator is on trial for plunder has said… nothing. Mum’s the word for it so far, even as the US Pinoys for Good Governance, the Filipino-American civic group that Estrada claimed to have invited him to speak at its annual membership meeting in Sterling Heights, Michigan, has disavowed the supposed invitation. More, the USPGG has written to the Office of the Ombudsman asking that it plead with the Sandiganbayan to cancel Estrada’s US trip, because the supposed invitation was “the fruit that came from a poisonous tree” and he “should not benefit from a fraudulent act.”
As detailed by USPGG officers Rodel Rodis and Loida Nicolas-Lewis in the letter they sent the Ombudsman, the alleged fraud arose when a friend of USPGG Michigan chair Willie Dechavez, a certain Tony Antonio who is a close friend of Estrada’s, prepared an invitation to Estrada “on official USPGG stationery with the forged signature of Mr. Dechavez.” They added: “This unauthorized letter was used as the primary exhibit attached to the motion of Sen. Estrada for leave to visit the United States.” But, unequivocally—“There was no invitation from the US Pinoys for Good Governance.”
To this not inconsiderable wrinkle, Estrada’s camp has responded with characteristic swagger. Estrada’s lawyer Alexis Abastillas-Suarez initially brushed off the USPGG disclaimer as more an internal organizational issue than anything else. “Basta we received an invite and we are honoring it; whatever misunderstanding they have is already beyond us,” the lawyer said, adding that Estrada had no plans to cancel his US trip.
Estrada also came out swinging against Nicolas-Lewis, accusing her of working with the “yellow army” to make him out to be a liar. “Had I known she was the chair of this organization I would not have accepted this invitation,” he fumed. The Fil-American philanthropist has an axe to grind against the Estradas, he claimed, stemming from her failure to buy the Philippine National Bank during the presidency of his father, now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Nicolas-Lewis has since countered that: 1) she actually campaigned for the elder Estrada in the 1998 election, and 2) it was she who had pulled out of the PNB bidding process because of the withdrawal of her potential banking partner.
Still, official invitation or none, Estrada is flying out, period; in fact, the invitation extended to him has been conveniently amended and is now “in the personal capacities” of his friend Antonio in the USPGG’s Michigan chapter.
Estrada is out on bail after three years in detention for the charge of plunder—despite plunder being a nonbailable offense. His planned travel to the United States “will be his third overseas trip since his release,” as a CNN report noted. “He was previously permitted to go to Hong Kong and Singapore.” And gallivanting isn’t the only special privilege that the man has managed to enjoy while on trial.
He is pushing his luck further in another direction: He has announced a planned run for senator in 2019, even if it means butting heads and seats with his half-brother, Sen. JV Ejercito, with whom he has less than warm relations. (“Why deprive me?” he asked, referring to reports that Ejercito had said only one Estrada should be in the Senate. Then, snidely: “Maybe the reason he said only one Estrada should run was because he was referring to me because I’m an Estrada.”)
More to the point, he isn’t shy about the party that is supposedly supporting him and egging him to return to the ring: President Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban. “Someone” from the ruling party has approached him about the possibility of running for senator on its slate, according to Estrada—though he isn’t naming names as yet. No ifs, ands or buts about it: “I will run under the administration ticket.”
But, again, to this categorical claim the very president of the party, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, has said tersely: “Not true.”
Let’s get this straight: Estrada stands accused of siphoning off as much as P183 million from his pork barrel funds. It should be clear to him, and to the public, that at this point, the place to clear his name and reclaim relevance is the court, not the Senate.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.