Sandiganbayan upholds Estrada bail

MANILA —  The Sandiganbayan has upheld its resolution granting bail for the temporary liberty of former Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada for his plunder case in connection with his alleged involvement in the multi-billion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” anomaly.

In a four-page resolution written by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and promulgated on Nov. 10, 2017, the Sandiganbayan Special Fifth Division denied the motion for reconsideration (MR) of the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) for lack of merit, saying that the prosecution failed to present new arguments that would convince the magistrates to reverse their decision.

“A careful examination of the instant motion reveals that the issues raised by the prosecution are the very same issues already discussed and passed upon by the court in the assailed resolution and finding no new matters that could merit the reconsideration of its previous resolution, the court finds no cogent reason to depart from it,” the anti-graft court said.

Concurring were Associate Justices Rafael Lagos, Reynaldo Cruz, Zaldy Trespeses and Lorifel Pahimna.

In its MR, the Ombudsman said that the Sandiganbayan made a “serious error” when it allowed Estrada to post bail worth PHP1.3 million.
Ombudsman prosecutors argued that the Sandiganbayan should not base its ruling on the Supreme Court (SC) decision that granted former President and now Pampanga (2nd) Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence.

Under the SC ruling dubbed as the “Arroyo doctrine”, Arroyo’s plunder case was insufficient as it failed to identify that she was “main plunderer” in connection with the alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) PHP366 million intelligence funds.

The same ruling was adopted by the legal team of Estrada in their omnibus motion, which the Sandiganbayan approved by a vote of 3-2.

Estrada is facing plunder and 11 counts of graft for allegedly pocketing PHP183.8 million in “kickbacks” by allocating his PDAF to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) allegedly owned by Janet Lim Napoles.

Napoles is the alleged “brains” behind the PHP10-billion pork barrel and the PHP900-million Malampaya fund scams.

However, the anti-graft court ruled that it is “duty bound to follow and apply the Supreme Court’s ruling” on the Arroyo case, saying that the prosecution failed to identify the mastermind behind the scheme in their arguments to the court.

“Since there is no strong evidence identifying the accused as main plunderer there can also be no showing of strong evidence against him,” the Sandiganbayan resolution said.

“In fine, for failure of the prosecution to present sufficient evidence to identify the mastermind/main actor of the whole plunder scheme, who had amassed ill-gotten wealth and who principally benefitted therefrom, the grant of the application for bail is in order,” it added.

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