By Czarina Nicole O. Ong
Former Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Saturday walked free from detention after completing the final procedure of his bail process.
He submitted himself to finger-printing and signing of documents before he was finally reunited with his family and gave thanks to God at the Pinaglabanan Church in San Juan City.
Estrada appeared in high spirits with his family, who accompanied him all the way from Camp Crame in Quezon City. With him were wife Precy and children, San Juan Vice Mayor Janella, Julian Emilio, Joseph Luis Manuel, and Julienne. His brother Jude was also present.
In an interview with reporters, Estrada said he has no words to explain how he feels, adding that God and the magistrates of the Sandiganbayan are to be thanked for his newfound freedom.
Estrada was sent to jail over three years ago after he was charged with plunder in relation to the illegal use of his P183-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which went to fictitious non-government organizations (NGOs) owned by Janet Lim Napoles.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense, but the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division recently voted 3-2 to allow him to post bail. Because of this, Estrada said he can now attend his trial without policemen and guards watching over him. “I’m a free man already, but I would still religiously attend the hearings of my plunder case,” he committed.
He also maintained his innocence on the charges against him and left everything to the court’s ruling. “I deny all the allegations against me, wala po ako ninakaw (I stole nothing),” he said.
Estrada was in such a good mood that he even cracked casual jokes about what he plans to do now that he is out of jail. “Hahalikan ko lagi [ang] asawa ko, (I will kiss my wife very often),” he said in a jest.
Despite the happiness he feels after being released from jail, Estrada admitted he felt sad to parted with long-time friend and former colleague, ex-senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who is still detained for his alleged involvement in the same PDAF scam.
He is “praying hard” that Revilla will also be granted bail soon. “Sabi ko lakasan niya loob niya, at balang araw at makakamit din niya ang kalayaan niya, (I told him to stay strong, since one day he will get his freedom, too).”
Before he appeared, his lawyers already paid his bail bond for plunder and graft, which totalled to P1,330,000 – P1 million for plunder, and P330,000 for his 11 graft charges.
Estrada expressed gratitude to the votes of Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, Reynaldo Cruz, and Lorifel Pahimna. On the other hand, Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Zaldy Tespeses offered dissenting opinions to his bail grant.
The 15-page Fifth Division resolution allowed Estrada to post bail because he is not the “main plunderer” in the controversial PDAF scam. The court caved into his argument that assuming the scheme was indeed perpetrated, it was done not singularly by Estrada, but also by other lawmakers.
“Although there is evidence to show that there were glaring irregularities in the disbursement of accused Estrada’s PDAF allocations and that he received a sum of money from his participation in these irregularities, there is no strong evidence to show that he is a main plunderer within the contemplation of the plunder law,” the resolution reads.
The court said that the evidence on record does not really show which person was intended to be enriched or benefitted, so there is “confusion” as to who is the main beneficiary of the entire scam.
The prosecution has established that Napoles is the “catalyst” in the scheme, and she was the one who established its network and is therefore considered the “epicenter.” “There is also evidence detailing the participation of accused Napoles, whose control over the scheme appears to be extensive,” the resolution adds.
Estrada actually sought to have his case dismissed, arguing that there is insufficiency of evidence against him. But the court ruled otherwise, saying there was no defect in his charge sheets that would warrant a dismissal of his case.
So even though Estrada is now out of his detention cell, his plunder trial will still push through on Monday and every other Monday after that.
Meanwhile, Estrada said President Duterte’s statement about selective justice being implemented in the PDAF scam is true. He said there were several other public officials affiliated with a different political party who managed to slip under the radar, while he and others identified with the opposition were immediately charged with plunder.
Still, Estrada is not closing down the doors on politics and said he will “cross the bridge when he gets there.”
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