In a 396-page decision, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division found Estrada and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles not guilty of plunder based on reasonable doubt. [Click here for full text of the decision.]
The court, however, found Estrada guilty of one count of direct bribery and two counts of indirect bribery beyond reasonable doubt.
Under direct bribery, Estrada was sentenced to eight years to nine years and four months in prison with temporary disqualification, temporary absolute disqualification, and perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage. He is ordered to pay a fine of P3 million.
Meanwhile, under indirect bribery, Estrada was sentenced to suffer imprisonment from two years and four months to three years, six months, and 20 days, for each count, or up to a total of six years.
The court also imposed penalties of suspension and public censure with the accessory penalties of suspension from public office, from the right to follow a profession or calling, and perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage.
‘Very big victory’
Interviewed after the promulgation, Estrada welcomed his plunder acquittal, calling it a “vindication.”
“After 10 years… I was exonerated by the court. That means I am not guilty of anything. I did not steal any money. I did not receive any money from whoever,” Estrada said.
Asked if he was surprised by the guilty verdict for bribery, Estrada said he has yet to read the decision.
In a separate interview on Super Radyo dzBB, Atty. Alexis Abastillas Suarez, Estrada’s legal counsel, said they consider the decision as a “very big victory.”
“Pero sa charges ng direct and indirect bribery, hindi po muna namin alam kung anong basis ng court for the charges. Kasi bribery is not part of the information, so hindi siya connected sa information on the crime of plunder,” she said.
(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.)
She said bribery is a crime charged under the Revised Penal Code while plunder is under special laws.
“So titignan muna namin, basahin muna natin ‘yung decision ng court kung anong basis nila for the bribery. But we take this as a very, very big victory for us kasi he was exonerated of the crime of plunder,” Suarez said.
(So we will see, we will read the decision of the court regarding their basis for the bribery. But we take this as a very, very big victory because he was exonerated for the crime of plunder.)
Suarez said the decision is not yet final and executory as they still have legal remedies available.
Former senator Leila de Lima, who headed the Department of Justice (DOJ) when the plunder complaint was filed with Office of the Ombudsman, meanwhile, said they filed a strong case against Estrada.
In a statement, De Lima said she is curious why the evidence was deemed insufficient to support a conviction.
Still a senator
In a separate statement, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Estrada will remain a senator despite his bribery conviction, noting that there are still legal remedies available for Estrada.
“He has the right to exhaust all of these (legal remedies). He can still file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Sandiganbayan; he can still file an appeal by certiorari with the Supreme Court,” Zubiri said.
“Until and unless the decision becomes final and executory, Sen. Jinggoy is duty-bound to continue performing his functions as Senator of the Republic,” he added.
Estrada’s brother, Senator JV Ejercito, meanwhile urged everyone to “respect the wisdom and fairness of our justice system.”
“Our justice system, despite its imperfection, is there to maintain law and order, protect our rights, and provide justice,” Ejercito said in a separate statement.
In June 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman filed plunder charges against Estrada and two other senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile, along with Napoles.
Estrada was accused of pocketing P183.79 million from his pork barrel funds from 2004 to 2010. He has maintained his innocence.
According to the Sandiganbayan, the law on plunder provides that it is committed by “a public officer who acts in connivance with…,” which it said implies knowledge and assent.
However, the court said that Estrada was not aware of the scheme concocted by Napoles and that she had been making a business out of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the formal name of pork barrel, even before 2004.
The Sandiganbayan said evidence shows that Mary Labayen, Estrada’s then-deputy chief of staff, capitalized on her connection with the senator and would casually drop his name in transactions with Napoles. It also said a prosecution witness also testified that Estrada had declined Napoles’ offer regarding his PDAF allocation.
“Criminal intent on the part of Senator Estrada is absent in this case. Although he may be negligent for not monitoring his PDAF, Labayen’s involvement in its diversion is incontrovertible,” the court said in its ruling.
Further, the court said that though Estrada admitted to signing endorsement letters, it is insufficient to conclude that he is a co-conspirator.
The Sandiganbayan also said it failed to see concrete evidence that the senator gained, benefited, or used the monies from the alleged transactions.
Meanwhile, the court said that though the evidence is not sufficient to establish the crime of plunder, Estrada may still be convicted of a lesser offense under the variance doctrine. It said the variance doctrine “allows the conviction of the accused for a crime proved that is different from but necessarily included in the crime charged.”
According to the court, direct bribery and indirect bribery is necessarily included in the crime of plunder.
The court found that Estrada received bribe money in the amount of P1 million which was deposited through his bank account in September 2008.
“The amount deposited to Estrada’s account was correlated to the entry in the Summary of Rebates dated September 18, 2008, where it is indicated that the cash in the amount of P5,000,000 was disbursed to Labayen,” it said.
Meanwhile, the court said that indirect bribery was already consummated when Estrada received P1.5 million “advance commission” from Napoles through prosecution witness Ruby Tuason.
“Senator Estrada obviously intended to appropriate the money as his own since he accepted the money without hesitation. In fact, he even thanked Ruby Tuason after receiving the said amount,” the court said.
“These acts unambiguously establish bad faith on the part of Senator Estrada His claim of innocence is further negated when he subsequently received the amount of P4,200,000.00,” it added.
The court said that it did not matter if Estrada returned the entire amount later as the crime was already consummated.
In September 2017, the Sandiganbayan granted Estrada’s motion for bail. He posted a P1-million bail for plunder and P330,000 for 11 counts of graft also in connection with the alleged misuse of his pork barrel, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund, from 2008 to 2009.
In March 2023, the Sandiganbayan also ruled that state prosecutors are not suppressing evidence in the 11 counts of graft filed against Estrada. This decision, however, was only released in June 2023.
Estrada had previously been cleared of a separate plunder charge for allegedly conspiring with his father, former President Joseph Estrada, in amassing billions of pesos in ill-gotten wealth from jueteng operations and kickbacks from tobacco excise taxes.
He was acquitted for the plunder charges in 2007 while the elder Estrada was convicted but was pardoned by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
As for Revilla and Enrile, the Sandiganbayan acquitted Revilla of plunder in December 2018 while in October last year, it allowed Enrile to file a motion to dismiss the plunder case filed against him.
Enrile’s trial is still ongoing.
Though she was acquitted of plunder, the court found Napoles guilty of five counts of corruption of public officials under Article 212 of the Revised Penal Code and two counts of corruption of public officials under Article 211.
For the conviction of five counts, the court sentenced her to suffer imprisonment from eight to 10 years and eight months for each count or over 50 years.
She was also ordered to pay a fine of P29.6 million.
For the two counts, Napoles was sentenced to jail from two years and four months to four years, nine months, and ten days for each count or over eight years in total.
The court also sentenced her to suffer the penalty of public censure.
Napoles was directed to indemnify the government in the amount of P262 million with an interest of 6% per annum from the finality of the decision until payment. —KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News