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Sandiganbayan denies bail for Revilla, Estrada

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Photo from Philippine Star

 

QUEZON CITY â€” After securing the denial of the petition for bail of detained Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. in 2014, Ombudsman prosecutors scored another victory after the Sandiganbayan rejected Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada's petition for bail for his alleged involvement in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

 

"We welcome this as good development and I extend my congratulations to our prosecutors," Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said, adding that "this is in line with my advocacy to whip the corrupt into line."

 

In a 215-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division said that the "prosecution has presented strong evidence of guilt against Estrada."

 

During the bail hearings, prosecutors presented expert witnesses from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Commission on Audit (COA), Field Investigation Office (FIO), local officials as supposed beneficiaries, and whistle-blowers Ruby Tuason, Benhur Luy, Mary Arlene Baltazar, Marina Sula and Merlina Suñas.

 

In finding probable cause against Estrada, the Sandiganbayan said that Estrada's letters and project listings "spurred the release of his PDAF allocations" and that "as soon as the SAROs were released to the implementing agencies, Estrada himself indorsed a particular NGO for implementation."

 

The post-audit performed by the COA and the field investigation conducted by the Ombudsman's FIO show that Estrada's chosen NGOs, namely: Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc. (SDPFFI) and Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI) are dubious and that the project implementation turned out to be "bogus."

 

The FIO validated that "the supposed recipients of the projects denied having received or benefitted from any of the agricultural livelihood programs."

 

The Sandiganbayan observed that the COA and FIO findings "confirmed the simple yet massive irregularities and anomalies made."

 

It said that "it should behoove Senator Estrada to fully realize that it was his own legislative fiat which actually determined how such funds were utilized."

 

"As the lawmaker who pre-selected not only the implementing agency concerned but also went as far as indorsing an NGO...no amount of buffering should shield Senator Estrada from an apparent liability under the present charge," the Sandiganbayan said.

 

Likewise, the Sandiganbayan also denied the bail petition of co-accused Janet Lim Napoles.

 

Napoles is the alleged "brains" behind the PhP10-billion pork barrel and the PhP900-million Malampaya Fund scams.

 

The Sandiganbayan resolution said that "Senator Estrada's endorsement of SDPFFI and MAMFI provided the crucial edge for Napoles to gain control in the diversion on his PDAF allocations" as "the prosecution evidence at this instance was profuse enough to decipher what was inherently wrong."

 

The Sandiganbayan threw out Napoles' defense of denial and said that "the prosecution witnesses Luy, Suñas, Sula and Baltazar have positively identified her as the mastermind in organizing the diversion of the PDAF funds."

 

Expert witness from the AMLC testified that "the control by Napoles over these NGOs became more obvious as fund transfers were directly made from the accounts of SDPFFI and MAMFI to JLN Corporation."

 

On the existence of conspiracy, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division said that "the conspiracy in the Estrada case was said to resemble the wheel conspiracy" wherein "the diversion of the PDAF allocations was controlled by a single hub, namely: Senator Estrada as the lawmaker who gave the impetus to release his PDAF allocations to favor Napoles who controlled the spokes of the conspiracy through her networking scheme."

 

The Sandiganbayan added that "primary whistle-blowers Luy, Suñas, Sula, Baltazar and Tuason were just among the many spokes of the wheel, the others being the heads of the implementing agencies, suppliers and others who contributed to the realization of the conduit scheme."

 

In appreciating the testimony of Tuason, the Sandiganbayan said that "whatever her motives are, Ruby Tuason is plunging deeper and digging the truth of the PDAF scandal."

 

The Sandiganbayan gave emphasis on its observation that Senator Estrada "did not deny" or "even attempt to deny" Tuason's account of "stealthily handing him the money from the transactions using his PDAF."

 

The Office of the Ombudsman filed the plunder and graft charges against Estrada in connection with the PDAF scam wherein he allegedly received PhP183 million in kickbacks.

 

Co-accused Pauline Therese Mary Labayen and John Raymund De Asis remain at-large.

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