By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
Former Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada is appealing the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division’s resolution that denied his demurrer to evidence, insisting that his plunder case should be dismissed due to the insufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence.
Estrada, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, his Deputy Chief of Staff Pauline Therese Mary C. Labayen, and John Raymund De Asis were slapped with a violation of Section 2 of R.A. 7080, otherwise known as plunder, because they reportedly pocketed P183,793,750 from Estrada’s priority development assistance fund (PDAF) by endorsing Napoles’ fake non-government organizations (NGOs) back in 2004.
Estrada and Napoles filed their respective demurrers to evidence, which is an act made by the defense arguing that the prosecution’s evidence is weak or insufficient to reach a guilty verdict.
On June 13, both demurrers were denied. Estrada now filed his motion for reconsideration and argued that the element of “amassing, accumulation of ill-gotten wealth,” which is the gravamen of plunder, was lacking in his case.
He said the prosecution failed to prove his direct or actual receipt of the alleged kickbacks from Napoles. If the direct evidence of receipt of money was indeed available, Estrada said the prosecution would not have bothered to present the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Bank Inquiry Report.
Even if the actual receipt of money was not essential in proving the plunder charge, Estrada said that the alleged amount that was acquired – P183,793,750 – should be divided among all of the accused because “there is no way of ascertaining how much ill-gotten wealth each of the accused amassed, accumulated or acquired.”
If this were the case, then each of the accused would have reportedly pocketed less than P50 million, which is the threshold for the crime of plunder.
At the same time, the principal witnesses – whistleblowers Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, and Merlina Suñas – all testified that they have no personal knowledge about the acts allegedly committed by Estrada.
“At no time did these witnesses claim that they were privy to or have personal knowledge about any participation, agreement or involvement which accused Estrada may have in any overt plan, plot or scheme purportedly formulated by Napoles or the other accused to carry out the alleged PDAF scam,” the MR read.
The prosecution likewise relied on the endorsement letters made by Estrada supporting Napoles’ fake NGOs. However, Estrada argued that these letters alone are not enough to prove their alleged conspiracy.
There was nothing in the letters that suggest their intention to commit any crime. His involvement in the release of the PDAF was also very limited, because “it goes under scrutiny before it can be released and utilized.”
“Although the prosecution may have shown that several letters were issued to endorse NGOs, this sole act does not in itself constitute competent evidence of an overt act that may point to the existence of a glaring connection between Estrada and accused Napoles,” the MR stated.