THE Sandiganbayan Fifth Division said that prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman have presented sufficient evidence to prove all the elements of the plunder charge against former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and businesswoman Janet Napoles.
Unless the defendants can present controverting evidence, the anti-graft court said it has enough basis to convict both.
“Upon review of the records of the case, this Court is convinced that the prosecution has established each and every element of the offense charged, through the detailed and spontaneous testimonies of the witnesses which (were) corroborated by the testimonies of other witnesses and concretized by documentary evidence,” the Sandiganbayan said.
These pronouncements were contained in a 12-page resolution dated September 9, 2019 but released only yesterday, denying with finality motions submitted by both accused seeking leave of court to file demurrers to evidence.
In his motion, Estrada insisted that the indictment was defective and therefore should have been dismissed outright. He argued the information failed to identify who the main plunder is, the same deficiency cited by the Supreme Court in ordering the dismissal of a plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Estrada also invoked the Sandiganbayan’s pronouncement in approving his bail request – that there was lack of proof to the allegation that he received P183 million in commissions or kickbacks from transactions involving his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations that were funneled into bogus foundations created by Napoles.
He insisted that additional evidence presented merely corroborated those that were adduced during his bail hearings but still, the element of “amassing, accumulation, and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth” remained unproven.
Napoles echoed the same challenge to the validity of the information on the absence of a main plunderer.
She said while Estrada and his former staff, Pauline Labayen, were named as defendant public officials, the evidence of the prosecution pointed to her as the principal beneficiary of the profits from the PDAF transactions.
Regardless, she contends that she cannot be the main plunderer because she is a private individual while the Plunder Law (RA 7080 ) states that the principal accused must be a government official.
The Sandiganbayan swept aside all arguments raised by Estrada and Napoles as mere repetitions of previous ones already considered and overruled.
“The matters raised are mere reiterations which had been exhaustively discussed and resolved in the assailed Resolution dated June 13, 2019,” the Sandiganbayan said.
It clarified that, contrary to the defense stand, there is no confusion in the mind of the court on the roles and individual participations of the defendants.
“Estrada’s act of repeatedly making and sending endorsement letters to the IAs (implementing agencies) designating the bogus NGOs as his partner implementers in relation to PDAF-funded projects, started the whole PDAF scheme. Of all the accused in this case, the participation of Estrada is the most vital,” the court said.
It also said the lack of a link between the former senator and the payoff of PDAF kickbacks does not render the case defective, as plunder was already consummated.
“The lack of direct evidence of receipt of Estrada of the commissions and kickbacks is immaterial, since the gravamen of the plunder is the amassing, accumulation of ill-gotten wealth,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Associate Justice and division chairman Rafael R. Lagos penned the resolution concurred in by Associate Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac.