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Editorial

Plunder made to wither

/ 05:12 AM March 23, 2019

It was bewildering enough in September 2017 that Jinggoy Estrada was granted bail, ostensibly because, according to the Sandiganbayan Special Fifth Division, the evidence so far showed he was not a “main plunderer” in the pork barrel scam said to have been orchestrated by Janet Lim Napoles. The vote was 3-2.

Now, after savoring the delights of freedom including five-star vacations overseas, the ex-senator who is campaigning to return to the Senate despite being accused of plundering P183 million of his pork barrel funds and of 11 counts of graft, has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division to seek the outright dismissal of his plunder case. Napoles herself has likewise been allowed by the court to file a demurrer to evidence; if it is granted, it would not only free them of the task of submitting their own evidence to counter that presented by the prosecution, but also lead to the dismissal of the charges against them.

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“After a meticulous examination of the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution, both testimonial and documentary,” the court said in the resolution addressing Estrada’s case, it “resolves to… sufficiently provide him an opportunity to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence establishing the material elements of the offense charged to support a judgment of guilt.” The resolutions were issued on March 13, but were released to the media only a week later.

Anyare? the flabbergasted observer would want to know. It’s been a while since the grand looting of taxpayer money was exposed to the withering light of day, and people forget even the most shameless scandals, but there is, after all, the damning report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC)  on Estrada. It was only in October 2018 that the Supreme Court allowed the use in his plunder trial of the 90-page report stating, among others, that during the period 2007-2012: (1) Estrada received kickbacks amounting to P157.6 million from the funneling of his pork barrel allocations to dubious nongovernment organizations and Napoles-controlled foundations; (2) there was an extraordinary increase in investments made by him, as reflected in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth; and (3) he withdrew P76 million from his bank accounts when the Department of Justice was preparing to indict him for plunder. Did the Sandiganbayan’s “meticulous examination” of the prosecution’s evidence exclude these points?

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It doesn’t help raise the morale of those awaiting a just resolution of the P10-billion pork barrel scam that the actor Bong Revilla, Estrada’s former colleague in the Senate and himself accused of plunder in the same scam, has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan despite the AMLC report on his “burgeoning wealth”—for example, that the bank deposits and investments made by the action star and his family members came up to P87 million during the period April 2006-April 2010.

“That would have triggered the court to say, ‘Okay, this is a red flag,’” law professor Theodore Te, a former spokesperson of the Supreme Court, told ANC after Revilla’s acquittal last December. “There is an AMLC certification. There is a testimony [by whistleblower Benhur Luy], there is something that says this part of the money went to his bank account.”

But the surreal scenario continues to unreel, to include the conviction of Revilla’s two coaccused, Napoles and his former chief of staff Richard Cambe (both now imprisoned for the crime). To jog the memory further, there is the Supreme Court’s grant of bail in August 2015 to the third in the “plunder triumvirate,” Juan Ponce Enrile. Then 92, Enrile was granted bail for the supposed nonbailable crime on humanitarian grounds—his advanced age and the “fragile state of his health”—which in point of fact he did not even raise.

Anyone moved to look back at other seeming instances of her blindfold slipping off Lady Justice may recall how plunder accused Gloria Macapagal Arroyo miraculously ditched her neck brace and emerged from hospital arrest looking none the worse for wear in July 2016, after the Supreme Court acquitted her in midtrial at the Sandiganbayan for the P365-million scam at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. The antigraft court had earlier denied her demurrer to evidence, but her lawyer Estelito Mendoza raised her case to the Supreme Court, which eventually acquitted her on the basis of the “main plunderer” principle.

And thus do plunder cases wither on the vine….

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TAGS: acquittal, arroyo, Bong Revilla, Cambe, editorial, Enrile, Janet Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, plunder, Sandiganbayan, SC, Supreme Court
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