Chip off the old block
Lost in the hubbub of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines is an important development in the ongoing plunder and graft cases against Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one that appears to tie him down more firmly to the charges against him.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council has presented evidence to the Sandiganbayan that Estrada appears to control three bank accounts under the name of Juan Ng, in whose accounts multimillion-peso deposits of cash were made by two foundations identified with Janet Lim Napoles before these were subsequently withdrawn and transferred to Estrada’s own accounts. According to the AMLC in its 90-page report, these were “indications of [a] money laundering scheme using bank accounts,” though it also added the caveat that there is “a need to conduct further investigation to determine the extent of the subject’s participation and identify the other monetary instruments that were possibly involved in the laundering scheme.”
Still, the AMLC was sufficiently confident to call the court’s attention to such a possibility on the basis of a curiosity it found in the mass of documents relating to Estrada et al.’s bank transactions. The inquiry conducted by an AMLC team led by Orlando Negradas Jr. uncovered checks issued by Ng’s accounts that appear to have been signed by Estrada, writing under the name of the former. What the AMLC calls the “conventional” signatures of Ng, said to be a steel roofing businessman in the Estrada family’s bailiwick of San Juan City, are what appear on the government-issued ID cards that he used to open bank accounts in Metrobank branches in QC Rotonda Center and N. Domingo, and at the Chinabank branch in Corinthian Hills. But another account he supposedly opened in a Metrobank branch at Greenhills-Wilson in San Juan carried a far different signature, one that, the AMLC concluded, bore a striking similarity to Estrada’s penmanship.
A visual comparison of Ng’s “conventional” and “unconventional” signatures drove home the point—the former “a series of convoluted circular strokes,” according to a report in this paper, “while his unconventional signature is just a simple spelling of his name in longhand.” That simpler Juan Ng signature would appear on other checks, and not necessarily coming from Ng. A Unionbank check amounting to P300,000, for instance, issued by Estrada to Ng, had the words “Juan Ng” written on the line “Pay to the order of”—and it was nearly identical to the businessman’s “unconventional” signature.
What’s going on? “It is clear that the handwriting on the checks issued… was very much similar to the handwriting on the checks issued by Senator Estrada while very much different from the handwriting on the checks issued by Juan Tang Ng… from his other accounts using his conventional signature,” said the AMLC.
If the new allegations hold up, these would only confirm how Estrada is very much a chip off the old block. Then President Joseph Estrada is said to have employed the same tack by signing his name as “Jose Velarde” on a bank check while the account itself was claimed by a businessman-crony of his, Jaime Dichaves. That sleight of hand, brought to light during his impeachment trial, doomed the elder Estrada the first time. What was the son thinking in, as the AMLC report indicates, repeating the same scheme?
This is another sterling piece of work from the AMLC. Earlier, it managed to buttress forcefully the charges against Estrada’s coaccused, Sen. Bong Revilla, when it detailed to the court how the money flow in Revilla’s bank accounts appeared to match the transactions attested to by whistle-blower Benhur Luy, in which money from the senator’s pork barrel funds were allegedly siphoned off to foundations controlled by Luy’s principal, Napoles, and then funneled back to Revilla’s accounts. The Sandiganbayan eventually cited the persuasive nature of the AMLC’s testimony as one reason for denying Revilla’s petition for bail.
The new revelations against Estrada—who has had the temerity to ask the court to set an amount for his bail even as the hearings for his petition are ongoing—should similarly sway the court into denying the petition. The AMLC’s findings, though still marked with qualifications at this time, should be enough reason to keep Estrada in detention—and for the public to take renewed interest in seeing the pork barrel scam through to its just conclusion. Without it, the cases might soon be on their way to becoming another casualty of the nation’s all-too-fickle attention span.
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.