P876M deposits, house forfeited
CAGAYAN de Oro Journal (Peter Tabingo / Sept 13) FORMER President Joseph Estrada was convicted yesterday of the crime of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a maximum of 40 years.
But the Sandiganbayan Special Division acquitted him of the crime of perjury for lack of evidence.
Estrada’s co-accused in the plunder case, Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada and lawyer Edward Serapio, were acquitted for insufficient evidence.
The Special Division decided to allow Estrada to be detained at his Tanay rest house pending his appeal owing to his stature as former president.
Estrada’s lawyers will file a motion for reconsideration.
The Sandiganbayan ordered the forfeiture of his documented bank accounts and a house and lot dubbed as "Boracay Mansion" in New Manila, Quezon City, which the graft court held was purchased by Estrada using P142 million from jueteng payola.
The bank deposits included the P200 million in the bank account of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation and the P189 million Estrada was supposed to have received as commission from the purchase of Belle Corporation Shares by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System.
All in all, he stands to give up P876.29 million.
Estrada was barred from holding public office either by election or appointment.
The court session which was broadcast live started at 9:20 a.m. and adjourned 15 minutes later as defense lead counsel Jose Flaminiano manifested the wish of Estrada that only the dispositive portions of the decision on the plunder and perjury cases be read.
Estrada arrived at around 8:40 a.m. and was brought to the holding room at the sixth floor.
He was led to the courtroom at 9:13 a.m., accompanied by former Sen. Luisa "Loi" Estrada, and his sons, Jinggoy, San Juan Mayor Jose Victor Ejercito, Jude Estrada and daughter Jackie Ejercito-Lopez.
Also in the courtroom were former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, Sen. Loren Legarda, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, Malabon Mayor Toby Tiangco, Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn, former Estrada spokesman and Shariff Kabunsuan Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, and Estrada spokesman Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
Ma. Teresa Pabulayan, special division clerk of court, read the perjury ruling first and although Estrada was acquitted, there was no cheering or hardly any sound from either side as both waited for the court’s pronouncement in the main case of plunder.
TEARS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
When Pabulayan announced that Estrada was guilty in the plunder charge, the former president shook his head twice while Jackie broke down in tears.
Later, JV and Jude Estrada also cried. Estrada made his way out of the courtroom barely controlling his tears.
The former president himself had red-rimmed eyes as he made his way out of the courtroom.
But he consented to requests from reporters for his reaction.
"It (conviction) was to be expected. I subjected myself to the rule of law against the advice of my close friends. This was a special division created to convict me," Estrada said.
Rene Saguisag, co-lead counsel for Estrada, told the court that the former president would rather be jailed in the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City.
"President Estrada has absolutely no intention of seeking special treatment, Your Honors. Far be it from him to seek special privileges. This may be confirmed by the convict himself," Saguisag said.
Flaminiano said they had expected the guilty verdict noting: "History has it that special courts were made to convict an accused."
Saguisag and Flaminiano said that Estrada secretly nurtured a hope he would be exonerated.
"In his heart of hearts, he believed that it was a case of ‘guilt not proven,’" Saguisag said.
Prosecutors secured Estrada’s conviction in two of the four predicate crimes that formed Estrada’s indictment for plunder.
The graft court held that evidence of Estrada’s involvement in illegal gambling protection as well as his application of pressure on the GSIS and SSS to buy P1.88 billion worth of Belle Corp shares were each sufficient to convict him for plunder.
"(The) repeated collections of jueteng money from November 1998 to August 2000 would fall within the purview of a "series" of illegal acts constituting plunder," the court declared.
"It is unnecessary to indulge in an exposition of whether the two series of acts… proven in the course of the trial could have amounted to two counts of plunder. It would be a purely academic exercise, as the accused cannot be convicted of two offenses or two counts of plunder on the basis of a single Information," it added.
The court said the prosecution failed to connect the alleged illegal diversion of P130 million tobacco excise tax funds to Estrada since none among the alleged "couriers" were even connected to Estrada.
"Not a scintilla of evidence links former President Estrada to any of the obscure personalities who withdrew the P130 million namely, Delia Rajas, Alma Alfaro, and Eleuterio Tan and to any of the official bank documents that made possible the diversion and misappropriation of the aforesaid public funds," the court noted.
"In sum, the paper trail in relation to the P130 million diverted tobacco excise taxes began with Gov. Singson and ended with Atong Ang. This Court does not find the evidence sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that President Estrada or any member of his family had instigated and/or benefited," it stressed.
What drove the court to convict Estrada in relation to illegal gambling protection were the testimonies of various bank officials and the paper trail of the gambling money including the P200 million that eventually found its way to the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation.
"The slew of bank documents, involving mind-boggling amounts of money and authenticated by competent and credible bank officers, convinces the Court that collection of jueteng money for former President Estrada indeed took place and the entries in the ledger were not manufactured by Gov. Chavit Singson," the court said.
JV’S CHECKS HELPED CONVICT ERAP
Ironically, the court found that seven checks containing P182.76 million traced from the Urban Bank account of JV Ejercito were strong proof that Estrada was the owner of the "Jose Velarde" account.
"The evidence of the Prosecution which showed that three Urban Bank Manager’s checks for the amounts of P10.88 million, P42.72 million and P54.16 million received by JV Ejercito as well as the four Urban Bank Manager’s Checks totaling P75 million were deposited to EPCIB S/A No. 0160-62501-5 of Jose Velarde constitutes corroborative evidence that, as between Estrada and (Jaime) Dichaves, it can be inferred that JV Ejercito, being the son of Estrada, would contribute to the account of his father but not if the account were owned by Dichaves," the court said.
Prosecutors claimed the Velarde account at one time contained P3.2 billion but the deposits were drained shortly after Estrada’s ouster in January 2001, before the court could issue a freeze order on his assets.
The Sandiganbayan held that Estrada’s admission that he signed bank instruments as "Jose Velarde" in front of prosecution witnesses Clarissa Ocampo and Manuel Curato, former officials of Equitable-PCI Bank, was additional evidence that he and Velarde were the same person.
"Being a judicial admission, no proof is required and may be given in evidence against him. Being an admission against interest, it is the best evidence which affords the greatest certainty of the facts in dispute. The rationale for the rule is based on the presumption that no man would declare anything against himself unless such declaration was true," the court said.
Another crucial evidence against Estrada was his office trustee, Baby Ortaliza, who was identified by bank officials testifying for the prosecution as the one who transacted various businesses relative to the Velarde account and the other accounts of the Estrada couple.
"The evidence of the Prosecution which showed that Baby Ortaliza - a trusted person of former President Estrada and who enjoyed (his and Loi Ejercito’s) confidence - transacted the various personal bank accounts of (the Estrada couple) as well as the Jose Velarde accounts, also constitutes corroborative evidence that the Jose Velarde Accounts are owned by former President Estrada and not by Dichaves," the court ruled.
Documents on the purchase of the Boracay mansion showing that the funds came from the Velarde account clinched the prosecution’s case against Estrada.
"The evidence of the Prosecution that the Boracay Mansion was purchased from funds coming from the Jose Velarde accounts is another corroborative evidence that the Jose Velarde accounts are owned by former President Estrada. The documents found in the Boracay Mansion show that the beneficial owner is former President Estrada and is used by Laarni Enriquez whose relation to former President Estrada was never denied," the court held.
On accusations that Estrada profited from the GSIS and SSS purchases of Belle Corporation shares, the court said that "Estrada took advantage of his official position, authority, relationship, connection and influence to unjustly enrich himself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines."
Although the defense claimed that Estrada merely made suggestions to former SSS chairman Carlos Arellano and former GSIS president Federico Pascual over the Belle purchases, the court held that, coming from an appointing power, the calls had coercive effect particularly when repeatedly made.