Urgent question: Did Jinggoy lie?
Did Jinggoy Estrada lie to the court? That is an urgent and pertinent question to ask, in light of the revelation that the reason for which the Sandiganbayan has granted the former senator permission to leave the country and travel to the United States from April 30 to May 30 — supposedly to speak before the civic group US Pinoys for Good Governance in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on May 20 — is apparently false.
Estrada is on trial for plunder, a nonbailable offense. But in September 2017, after having twice denied his petition for bail, the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division reconsidered and released him from incarceration after he posted bail of P1.33 million — P1 million for the plunder charge, and P30,000 for each of the 11 violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, in connection with his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam said to have been operated by Janet Lim Napoles.
Still, seemingly not content with his temporary freedom despite the nonbailable nature of the plunder charge against him, Estrada sought the court’s permission on March 16 for another extraordinary act of leeway: that he be granted a one-month vacation in the United States with his family.
He said he would also use the time to consult a Stanford Hospital orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Mow, regarding his “recurring” shoulder pains, and to speak at the annual general membership assembly of the USPGG, on the express invitation of the group.
Ten days later, the court granted Estrada’s petition, over the objections of the prosecution team.
To support his claim of an invitation from the USPGG, Estrada’s lawyers submitted a letter from a certain William Dechavez, “President, USP4GG (sic),” inviting the ex-senator to speak before the group because “our members would like to know the latest developments in the Philippines, particularly those pertaining to the issues over extrajudicial killings, Dengvaxia mess and federalism plan.”
These national issues had hogged the headlines while Estrada was, for the most part, in jail and out of the political loop; nevertheless, he expressed to the court his eagerness “to accept the invitation to be the guest speaker of the US Pinoy (sic) for Good Governance on May 20, 2018 on (sic) its annual general membership meeting to be held at Hibachi Buffet at 33431 Van Dyke Avenue, Sterling Heights, Michigan.”
But, in a development that casts a cloud on the honesty of Estrada’s representations to the Sandiganbayan, the USPGG issued a statement denying that it had booked a speaking engagement with him.
According to reports, USPGG chair Loida Nicolas-Lewis and president Rodel Rodis said Estrada’s claims in his court pleading were “erroneous,” and that Dechavez, chair of the USPGG Michigan chapter, “did not invite Jinggoy Estrada to speak in Michigan under USPGG nor was any program planned by USPGG Michigan.”
A certain Tony Antonio had supposedly asked Dechavez to invite Estrada, but Dechavez said “it could only be done in his personal capacity, not as chair of USPGG Michigan.’”
So how did Estrada end up with an invitation letter allegedly from Dechavez, written on paper bearing the group’s logo? Asked about the denial by the Fil-Am group, Alexis Abastillas-Suarez, one of Estrada’s lawyers, was quoted as saying that his client would not cancel his US trip, much less his supposed appearance in Michigan: “We received an invite and we are honoring it. Whatever misunderstanding they (the USPGG) have is already beyond us.”
Which should lead to an interesting spectacle—Estrada perorating in an empty room, or before an audience different from the group that supposedly invited him to expound on “the latest developments in the Philippines.”
In any case, one of his justifications for seeking permission to travel has been proven false. Wouldn’t this, at the very least, constitute material misrepresentation before the court — a grave offense that, especially in a high-profile case involving a former senator of the realm, should demand a stern second look by the Sandiganbayan?
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