MANILA, Philippines – Senator Jinggoy Estrada surrendered after the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court said it found probable cause to proceed with the charges and issued an arrest warrant for allegedly plundering millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, Monday.
The Sandiganbayan released the signed resolution upholding the finding of probable cause by the Ombudsman against Estrada and ordering his arrest, a court insider told Rappler.
“I never stole a single centavo from government coffers,” a defiant Estrada stated, as he accused President Benigno Aquino III of playing politics and cracking down on his opponents.
The Business World reported that Estrada is one of the 54 people indicted for an alleged scam in which lawmakers, their staff, and other officials are accused of embezzling billions of pesos allotted for development projects.
In particular, Estrada is accused of pocketing P183 million in “pork barrel” funds that were allegedly diverted to ghost projects since 2004 to 2012. He has been charged with one count of plunder, a non-bailable offense referring to massive corruption, punishable by life imprisonment. He also faces 11 lesser counts of graft.
The 5th division, which is handling the plunder and graft charges against Estrada and his co-accused, is composed of Justice Roland Jurado as chairman, Justice Alexander Gesmundo as member, and Justice Alex Quiroz as temporary member pending the appointment of a new justice signed the resolution. The resolution was filed after the three justices reviewed the case transmitted by the Ombudsman.
“In the case at bar, after personally perusing and assessing the Informations and evaluating the joint Resolution dated June 4, 2014 of the Office of the Ombudsman, the evidence in support thereof and the records of the preliminary investigation attached thereto, the Court finds that sufficient grounds exist for the finding of probable cause for the purpose of issuing warrants of arrest against the accused,” the four page resolution read.
The Fifth Division also denied multiple motions by Estrada and his co-accused, saying that these are better discussed during the trial proper.
“The arguments raised by the accused movants in their respective motions are matters of defense which shall be best threshed out during the trial on the merits if these cases. Thus their prayers for the Court to suspend the proceedings and/or to defer the issuance of the warrant of arrest or to dismiss the cases are denied,” the resolution said.
Also ordered arrested were 25 of Estrada’s co-accused including alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, who is already detained in Sta Rosa, Laguna. Another co-accused, Dennis Cunanan, former head of the Technology Resource Center, already posted bail on Friday, June 20, ahead of his arrest.
“At the end of the day, I will prove my innocence,” the senator said. “I will face all charges against me in court.”
-JEFFREY D. CONSULTADO
LNU, ABCOM INTERN