(ABS-CBN NEWS) Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s former deputy chief-of-staff Pauline Therese Mary Labayen was the one who “primarily benefitted” from the lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), according to the Sandiganbayan decision released on Friday.
“As the evidence proves, the public officer who primarily benefited from the PDAF of Senator Estrada is no other than Labayen. Capitalizing on her connection with Senator Estrada, she would casually drop his name whenever she would transact with Napoles. Prosecution witness Ruby Tuason previously testified that Senator Estrada already declined Napoles’ offer regarding his PDAF allocation. But then, Labayen was able to find her way into the web of scheme plotted by Napoles,” the 396-page document said.
It added that the conspiracy was found between “pork barrel queen” Janet Lim Napoles and Labayen, not Napoles and Estrada.
“Based on the findings of the COA (Commission on Audit) Special Audit Team, Labayen is the signatory in numerous documents relating to the IAs (Implementing Agencies) and NGOs controlled by Napoles. The bank representatives also identified the bank documents of Labayen’s accounts wherein the latter was the payee of the checks funded by Napoles,” the Decision read.
Labayen remains at large.
“The flight of an accused, in the absence of a credible explanation, would be a circumstance from which an inference of guilt may be established ‘for a truly innocent person would normally grasp the first available opportunity to defend himself (or herself) and to assert his (or her) innocence,” the court pointed out.
On Friday, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division ruled that Estrada was not guilty of plunder.
According to the anti-graft court, the mere act of signing endorsement letters for the release of PDAF is not enough ground for plunder.
“Criminal intent on the part of Senator Estrada is absent in this case. Although he maybe negligent for not monitoring his PDAF, Labayen’s involvement in its diversion is incontrovertible,” the Decision stated.
Another reason why Estrada’s plunder case was dismissed was because the prosecution failed to establish the connection between his financial activities and the PDAF scam.
Of the P183 million that the senator supposedly pocketed, only P36.5 million were deposited into his bank accounts, but the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) could not correlate it to the anomalous scheme.
Plunder is a crime where at least P50 million of ill-gotten wealth was amassed through a combination or series of overt criminal acts.
DIRECT BRIBERY, INDIRECT BRIBERY
Estrada was charged with one count of direct bribery and two counts of indirect bribery.
The former was due to his acceptance of P1 million from Napoles after he endorsed the non-government organization Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. (MAMFI).
The indirect bribery happened when the lawmaker accepted P1.5M as “advance commission” since no agreement has been settled between him and Napoles yet.
Estrada later on received P4.2 million again from Ruby Tuason who acted as middleman. This was the second tranche of payment after a Special Allotment Release Order was released.
Although Estrada returned the total of P5.7 million days later for reasons he did not tell Tuason, the court still found him guilty of indirect bribery.
The decision was signed by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, Chairperson of the Division, and Associate Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann Corpus-Mañalac.