(CNN PHILIPPINES) Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 19) — The Sandiganbayan acquitted Senator Jinggoy Estrada of plunder in the multimillion-peso scandal involving discretionary funds for pet projects of lawmakers, but found him guilty of direct and indirect bribery which are punishable by a total of up to 15 years imprisonment.
The anti-graft court handed down its verdict on Friday, almost a decade after the case was filed in June 2014.
During an ambush interview after hearing the court’s decision, Estrada said he was “elated” as he was exonerated from the major case slapped against him.
“I’m not guilty of anything. I did not steal any money,” Estrada told reporters.
Two state witnesses, including an employee of businesswoman and alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, implicated Estrada in the controversy. Napoles herself is serving time over the scam.
The senator was accused of receiving ₱183 million in kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel. He was previously detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center before posting bail in 2017.
According to the ruling posted on its website, the Sandiganbayan said it believes Estrada’s endorsement of Napoles-linked NGOs was not enough to establish his liability.
“Criminal intent on the part of Senator Estrada is absent in this case,” the anti-graft court said.
“Although he maybe negligent for not monitoring his PDAF, Labayen’s involvelment in its diversion is incontrovertible… His negligence cannot be construed as an overt act in furtherance of conspiracy with Napoles and the other accused,” it added.
Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, also a co-accused in the pork barrel scam, was Estrada’s former deputy chief of staff.
“The public officer who primarily benefitted from the PDAF of Senator Estrada is no other than Labayen,” the Sandiganbayan said. “Capitalizing on her connection with Senator Estrada, she would casually drop his name whenever she would transact with Napoles.”
The court added that Labayen remains at large.
Napoles was also acquitted of plunder in the same case, but was convicted of corruption of public officials.
Although Estrada still needs to face graft charges over a similar issue, the lawmaker has to deal with the “sudden” verdict of the Sandiganbayan.
He was found guilty of one count of direct bribery and two counts of indirect bribery.
“I’m confused since the charge against me is only plunder. But I’m confused why all of a sudden this bribery case came up,” he told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Friday.
“Nevertheless, I still believe in our justice system,” he said.
Estrada said he would ask his lawyers to “exhaust” all legal options to junk the case against him.
“One thing is for sure, nothing is final yet. The case is appealable. I will ask my lawyers to file the necessary motion for reconsideration at the Sandiganbayan,” he added.