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Jinggoy should have been convicted of plunder

You are currently viewing Jinggoy should have been convicted of plunder
Why? Senator Jinggoy was convicted, his colleague Senator Bong acquitted on similar pork-barrel scams. ./

Second of Two Parts

If you read the 396-paged  decision  — based on testimonies of 300 witnesses and over 100,000 documents  — of the Sandiganbayan First Division that  convicted Senator Jose “Jinggoy’ Estrada of the crime of bribery,  you will be, as I was, astounded why the court did not convict him of the original charge of plunder.

The decision concluded that at least half of the P262 million of the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF, the official term used for pork-barrel funds) allocated to Estrada from 2004 to 2008, rather than being used to provide livelihood projects for the poor were instead mainly turned over to Pauline Mary Labayen, Estrada’s deputy chief of staff.  Prosecutors claimed that Labayen was merely his agent in collecting the stolen funds, with half of it going to the pocket of the scam’s architect and operator, Janet Lim-Napoles.

Labayen though vanished since 2014 when the charges were filed, and the prosecution and the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) couldn’t find any bank account – or significant assets – Labayen owned. As discussed below though, it found funds deposited to several of Estrada’s bank accounts made on the day or a few days after the funds were given to Labayen. (It is very strange that authorities aren’t even trying to look for Labayen. Why aren’t they?)

The scheme involved Estrada’s endorsement to the authorized government agencies to release  his pork-barrel funds to six NGOs, which were fake entities set up by Napoles and her gang.

These funds were purportedly to be used to buy tools and materials the NGOs would buy and distribute to farmers, which they will use to undertake income-generating endeavors such as manicure and pedicure services and making vegetable pickles. The Ombudsman even painstakingly got the sworn statements of over 80 farmers that they did not receive such tools and material.  One witness almost hilariously told the investigators: “Why would I do pedicure and manicure, I am a farmer.

According to testimonies of whistle-blowers who had been with Napoles crew Estrada for his action of “endorsing” NGOs to the implementing government agencies –which in effect was an order by the politician to the government office that couldn’t be defied – would be getting as kickbacks amounting to 45 to 50 percent of the PDAF funds he got to release. These were released mainly to Labayen, to Estrada’s alleged friend Ng, and the others.

Smoking gun

The first smoking gun of the crime was the records of whistleblower Luy who acted as Napoles’ record-keeper of the payments intended for Estrada since 2004.  

What then bolstered the authenticity of Luy’s records was the investigation by the Anti Money Laundering Council that scrutinized the bank accounts not just of the NGOS, but of Estrada himself. The AMLC claimed that suspicious would be funds going into Estrada’s bank accounts a few  days after these  were released to Labayen and another of his alleged representative, Ruby Tuason. The AMLC found such inflows into Estrada’s accounts the day or a few days  after these were released, according to Luy’s ledgers.

For example, Luy’s records show that on April 20, 2010,  P6 million was given in cash to Napoles herself. On the same day, P2 million in cash were deposited to Estrada’s account at the Philippine Bank of Commerce. Another example was the release of P30 million in cash again to Napoles on February 3, 2010.  On the very same day, P3 million in cash was deposited to Estrada’s Chinabank account. Still another was the release of P2.2 million to Estrada’s purported representatives on August 25, 2009.  On the same day, P1 million was deposited to Estrada’s Chinabank account.

An intriguing case is that P10 million in two checks from the fake NGO account was released to one Juan Ng on April 20, 2010.  Two days later, Ng issued a check for that amount, which the AMLC found to have been deposited to Estrada’s Philippine Bank of Commerce. A logical conclusion here was that Estrada used Ng to hide his kickbacks. The AMLC claimed that the Ng checks were actually issued by Estrada himself. 

The Sandiganbayan however refused to acknowledge the dubiousness of this case, and struck it out from the AMLC’s list of pork-barrel funds it claimed were given to Estrada or his agents. The Sandiganbayan merely rebuked the prosecution for not calling in to court  Ng to explain.

Explosive

That would have been explosive, if Ng would claim the signatures weren’t his or that he could not be located.

The prosecutors, or the Sandiganbayan, should have asked Estrada to explain the source of the funds deposited to his account. They didn’t. Why?

The AMLC however claimed that out of the P184 million  in PDAF funds alleged to have been siphoned off by Estrada, its investigation showed that only P71 million could be confirmed as indeed ending up in his bank accounts. 

This figure was further reduced by the Sandiganbayan however to only P9 million, without much explanation why.  “A fortiori, the element of plunder covering the threshold amount of Php50,000,000.00 was not established in this case.”

However, the Sandiganbayan convicted Estrada of bribery –based on its conclusion that out of bribe funds from the PDAF released to his employee Labayen in September 2008, P1 million ended up in his Bank of Commerce account. It also upheld the testimony of Ruby Tuazon, one of his agents in the scam that she gave P4.2 million to Estrada as his bribe money for one of nonexistent PDAF project. 

P184 million

I do not understand though why the Sandiganbayan or the prosecutors did not investigate his bank accounts to find out if Estrada had increased his wealth by P184 million or just P71 million, from 2004 to 2008.  His inability to explain this – and I don’t think he can since he has no known profitable business that could generate that huge amount of profits – would bolster the accusation that this could have come only from his pork-barrel kickbacks.

Estrada was sentenced from 9 years to up to 16 years in prison and a fine of P3 million. He was also “to suffer the 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 that of perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage.” 

The Sandiganbayan sentenced Napoles, the brains of the scam, with imprisonment of at most 14 years, and “required her to indemnify government in the amount of P262 million.”

But that is the  total PDAF funds  released to the fake NGOs, as directed by Estrada. Isn’t that an admission by the Court itself that the criminal scheme involved that much, which was way above the Plunder Law’s P50  million threshold, and therefore Estrada and Napoles  should have been convicted of plunder,  which is a non-bailable crime?

It was  absurd though for the Sandiganbayan to conclude that Labayen – a lowly staff way down the ranks – could have pulled off the scam solely  for her benefit,  and that Estrada had no knowledge of it even if it was his endorsements given to the  fake NGOs that got the scheme rolling.

I do hope there is nothing in the Sandiganbayan’s decision that was intentionally put there that would give Estrada some technical basis for the ruling to be reversed,  for this most corrupt politician to evade the long arm of the law.

Anybody reading the decision would be m totally convinced that Estrada so scandalously managed to steal P184 million from the funds intended to help our poor. And he has the gall to brand himself as “Anak ng Masa”, a patent lie from whatever angle you look at it. Estrada is the archetype of the second generation of our immoral predatory political elite, mainly responsible for our nation’s poverty.

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