‘Indications of money laundering’
Politics is the art of the possible — of eternal resurrection, for one, with elections often serving as the ritual cleansing by which disgraced politicians imagine themselves being reborn and rinsed of their sins.
How else explain the overweening ambition of the Marcoses, who, despite having been chased out of the country for their depredations, are itching for perhaps the greatest comeback in history, and make no secret of their pathological compulsion to reassume leadership of the country they had run into the ground?
How ignore the simmering sibling rivalry afflicting political families — the Binays and the Estradas the latest of them — who have held on to their fiefdoms for several generations now but are still not about to let go, family harmony be damned?
Former senator Jinggoy Estrada is one of the main accused in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Napoles.
Aside from plunder, he is facing 11 counts of graft for allegedly pocketing kickbacks totaling P183 million in the scheme in which lawmakers funneled their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allotments to Napoles’ foundations and ghost projects.
Released temporarily on a P1-million bail in September 2017, Estrada last week lost his petition in the Supreme Court to exclude from his plunder trial the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on his bank transactions, which the agency linked to his pork barrel case.
The AMLC said it found that Estrada had transferred “substantial” amounts to his wife’s bank account on dates covered by the alleged scam.
Several bank transactions showed that the former senator had “total credits” of P629.2 million in nine bank accounts from 2004 to 2013.
Finding no apparent legal or economic justifications for such transactions, the AMLC concluded that these were linked to the plunder case.
The wording in its 90-page report is dry but pretty damning: “Considering all the foregoing, there are indications of money laundering scheme using bank accounts.”
The pork barrel scam came to light in August 2013, when the Commission on Audit released a special report detailing the irregular disbursements of lawmakers’ PDAF from 2007 to 2009.
In the Senate probe that followed, whistleblower and Napoles employee Benhur Luy testified that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Estrada had endorsed their congressional allocations to bogus nongovernment organizations linked to Napoles.
In June 2014, the Ombudsman filed plunder charges against the three senators and several others before the Sandiganbayan. Enrile, Estrada and Revilla were subsequently arrested and detained.
In August this year, the Supreme Court upheld Estrada’s indictment in the PDAF scam.
Well and good — but is this critical exercise in accountability making any real difference?
The high court’s decision against Estrada came a few weeks
after a nationwide survey showed that, remarkably, despite the strong, well-documented evidence linking him to the PDAF racket, Estrada was still among the voters’ top choices for senator in the 2019 midterm elections.
Two more recent Social Weather Stations surveys conducted in September this year, commissioned by two different parties, again showed him bagging the sixth to seventh place on the voters’ list of top 12 senatorial preferences.
It would seem, alas, that voters themselves, for all their railing against corruption in government, are not that bothered by the plunder and graft charges hounding Estrada.
“Indications of money laundering” — by a senator of the realm no less — are apparently not enough to sink his political viability for good.
And if the Filipino electorate can be this forgiving and/or forgetful, who can blame Estrada for thinking that the best way to return to political relevance is by reclaiming his old Senate seat? (That decision has sparked a public feud with his half-brother Sen. JV Ejercito, who said he was thinking of using the Estrada name as well for his reelection bid.)
Seemingly empowered by the public this way, Estrada is banking on the notion that he has more than a fair chance of redeeming himself, not on the strength of evidence and the court’s eventual judgment, but simply by running again on convenient name recall.
He may very well win again, of course — unless the electorate finally wises up to the monumental irresponsibility of voting compromised politicians like him back to power, and say enough is enough with this sordid, self-destructive recycling game.
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