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Estrada acquitted of plunder, convicted of bribery–Sandiganbayan

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada speaks to reporters following his acquittal Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, of the plunder charges filed before the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division. (Office of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada/ Rey Javelosa)
Macon Ramos-Araneta

The Sandiganbayan has cleared Senator Jinggoy Estrada of plunder charges, but found him guilty of direct and indirect bribery, in relation to his involvement in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. The fifth division of the anti-graft court released its verdict, Friday morning, Jan. 19.

The cases stemmed from his reported transactions with controversial businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who set up fake non-government organizations (NGOs) that received Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or ‘pork barrel’ from public officials.

The Office of the Ombudsman launched its investigation on the matter in 2013. Estrada was charged with plundering P183.8-million worth of public funds on June 6, 2014 together with his then deputy chief of staff Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, Napoles and her assistant John Raymund de Asis.

Republic Act 7080 or the “Plunder Law” defines the crime as the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth by any public officer in connivance with other parties in the aggregate amount of at least P50-million. Based on its 396-page ruling, the Sandiganbayan found Estrada and Napoles “not guilty” of this offense.

But the anti-graft court found reasons to convict Estrada of one count of “indirect bribery” under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). He was sentenced to face eight to nine years of imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of P3-million.

Estrada was also found “guilty” of two counts of “direct bribery,” where he is sentenced to face a minimum of two years and maximum of three years in prison, under Article 11 of the RPC, according to Sandiganbayan.

Napoles, on the other hand, was found “guilty” on separate counts of “corruption of public officials” as defined and penalized under Articles 210 and 211 as well of the RPC. She was ordered to serve additional years behind bars owing to this development.

Estrada attended the hearing with his wife, Precy, and two of their children including daughter Janela, who currently works as undersecretary of the National Authority for Childcare. He told reporters that he did not sleep well the night before the promulgation, but he is keeping his faith in our justice system.

“We will file the necessary motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan. And, yes, I will instruct all my lawyers again to exhaust all legal options, all legal remedies,” he said. “But I still believe in our justice system,” Estrada added.

Lawyer Alexis Abastillas Suarez, one of the legal counsels for the senator, said they consider the Sandiganbayan decision a “very big victory.” He was referring only to the plunder charges, which they welcomed after 10 years of trial.

“For the charges of direct and indirect bribery, we’re not sure as to the basis of the court for the charges, because bribery is not part of the information. It’s not connected to the information on the crime of plunder,” Suarez was quoted saying.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said that as an incumbent legislator, Estrada is still duty-bound to continue performing his functions “until and unless the decision (of the court) becomes final and executory.”

Estrada also reserves the right to exhaust all legal remedies to appeal the guilty verdict on indirect and direct bribery, such as filing a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan, or petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court.

Zubiri noted that the Senate takes due notice and respects the decision of the anti-graft court on the cases filed against Estrada. The Upper Chamber also recognizes the fact that there are still remedies available to Estrada under existing laws and the rules of the court.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito also called on everyone to respect the wisdom and fairness of our justice system following the Sandiganbayan ruling on the complaints against his half-brother. “I wish him well and will continue to pray for Senator Jinggoy Estrada and his family,” he said.

Sandiganbayan fifth division chairperson and Associate Justice Rafael Lagos wrote the decision certified by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.

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