(POLITIKO) Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division of plunder concerning the use of his of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) worth P183 million but was found guilty direct and indirect bribery. Estrada faces jail term and other penalties over the bribery conviction.
Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has been acquitted on Friday (Jan. 19) by the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division of plunder concerning the use of his of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) worth P183 million but was found guilty direct and indirect bribery.
“A fortiori, the element of plunder covering the threshold amount of Php50,000,000.00 was not established in this case,” reads the 396-page decision of the anti-graft court.
With this, the Fifth Division acquitted Estrada and his co-accused, businesswoman, Janet Lim Napoles, of plunder.
However, the Fifth Division found Estrada guilty of one count of direct bribery and two counts of indirect bribery.
For direct bribery, the anti-graft court sentenced Estrada to imprisonment ranging from eight years to nine years and four month; a fine of P3 million; special temporay disqualfication; accessory penalty of temporary absolute disqualification; and perpetual disqualification from the right of suffrage.
The Fifth Division also sentenced the senator to imprisonment ranging from two years and four months to three years, six months and 20 days for each count of indirect bribery; suspension and public censure; accessory penalty of suspension from public office; right to follow a profession or calling; and perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage.
The tribunal also convicted Napoles of five counts of corruption of public officials under Article 212 in relation to 210, parargaph 2 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and was sentenced to imprisonment ranging from eight years to 10 years and eight months; and ordered to pay a fine of P29.625 million.
She was also found guilty of two counts of corruption of public officials under Article 212 in relation to Article 211 of the RPC and was sentenced to imprisonment ranging from two years and four months up to four years, nine months, and 10 days; and sentenced to suffer the penalty of public sencure.
Napoles was also ordered to indemnify the government “the amount of Php262,034,000.00 with interest of 6% per annum reckoned from the finality of this decision until full payment, by way of civil liability.”
Under the case, the Sandiganbayan noted, in releasing the PDAF funds amounting to P183,793,750 to projects that turned out to be non-existent, “Senator Estrada would receive kickbacks or commissions in exchange of his endorsements of Napoles-contolled IAs (implementing agencies) and NGOs (non-government organizations).”
Citing the documents presented in during the trial by whistleblower and former Napoles associate Benhur Luy, the tribunal said “the total amount of transactions or entries from Luy’s Summary of Rebates that the prosecution was able to prove for inclusion to determine whether the Php50 million threshold was breached is Nine Million Eighty Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand Pesos (Php9,875,000.00).”
Among the points it raised, the Sandiganbayan said it ”took judicial notice of the fact the endorsement letters, the NGOs’ articles of incorporation, liquidation documents, and even the lawmakers’ letterheads were forged or falisified by either Marina Sula, Merlina Sunas, Mary Arlene Baltazar and Benhur.”
“With these considerations, Senator Estrada’s mere act of signing the endorsement letters is insufficient to conclude that he is a co-conspirator in the instant case,” it said.
As to the use of the Juan Ng bank account the funnel funds, the graft court ruled that “the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to establish the ownership or identity of the Juan Ng accounts i.e. whether Juan Ng is simply an alias used by Estrada or whether he is simply a fictitious person.”
“The Court notes that the testimonies of the prosecution’s witness or documentary evidence offered to prove that petitioner amasses, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of over criminal acts as described in Section 1(d) of the Plunder Law and as alleged in the Information did not pass the test of proof beyond reasonable doubt,” the tribunal said.
In convicting Estrada with one count of direct bribery, the court citred that it “was established by evidence in one instance where the amount of Php1,000,000.000 was deposited” to his Bank of Commerce account and corroborated by “Benhur Luy’s records and the AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council) Report.”
As to indirect bribery, the court cited that Estrada received, through Ruby Tuason, P1.5 million and P4.2 million.
“Nothwistanding the fact that Senator Estrada later returned the money through Tuason, the crime of indirect bribery was already consumated the moment he accepted the bribe money,” said the Fifth Division.