MANILA, Philippines – Plunder defendant and senatorial candidate Jinggoy Estrada has formally started the process of seeking an outright dismissal of his P183-million plunder case over the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
Estrada filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on February 22 a Motion For Leave to File Demurrer To Evidence – a pleading that seeks to convince the court that Estrada no longer needs to present his own evidence, because the prosecution’s evidence is weak enough to warrant a case dismissal.
“An accused need not even attempt to prove his innocence and should not be made to wait until the entirety of trial is completed to assert his right to be presumed innocent,” Estrada said in his motion.
Estrada has been out on bail since September 2017, when the Sandiganbayan 5th Division granted his petition for bail in a close 3-2 vote.
If the 5th Division grants the leave, Estrada can proceed to file the actual demurrer. If the 5th Division denies the leave, Estrada can take the risk of still filing the actual demurrer.
The court twice denied the motion for leave of former senator Bong Revilla, Estrada's friend and fellow pork barrel scam defendant. Revilla was forced to present his own evidence but limited his presentation to two Napoles employees who had a sudden recantation.
Revilla was eventually acquitted. Revilla is also running in the 2019 senatorial elections.
Like Revilla, the prosecution possesses an explosive Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report that shows, among others:
In October 2018, the High Court ruled that the AMLC report can be used against Estrada. The Court, in a narrow 6-4-4 decision in August 2018, upheld the plunder charges against Estrada.
In Revilla’s case, the AMLC found unexplained wealth in the bank accounts, evidence which was “glossed over" by the 3 justices of the 1st Division who acquitted him, according to dissenting Justice Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta.
Estoesta noted that Revilla didn’t even contest the AMLC report, leading her to say that the majority justices “took up the cudgels” for the former senator.
By filing the Motion for Leave, Estrada is also avoiding having to address his own AMLC report.
Aside from the AMLC report, one of the prosecution's witnesses against Estrada is Ruby Tuason who said she personally delivered kickbacks to either Estrada's residence or his office at the Senate when he was still a lawmaker.
“An evaluation of the Prosecution’s evidence is warranted given the Honorable Court’s determination that Senator Estrada is entitled to bail given the weakness of the Prosecution’s evidence and in light of recent judicial pronouncements on the crime of plunder,” said Estrada in his motion.
When the 5th Division granted bail to Estrada by a vote of 3-2, the majority resolution largely touched on the merits of the case. Ombudsman sources said they had hoped the Sandiganbayan would grant bail only on humanitarian grounds.
The 3 5th Division justices who granted bail to Estrada were Associate Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, Reynaldo Cruz, and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna.
5th Division Chair Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses dissented. Lagos, Cruz, and Arcega were the regular division members; Trespeses and Pahimna had to be brought in to break the impasse because Sandiganbayan Rules state that division votes have to be unanimous among the 3 members.
The 5th Division today has changed, Cruz is in another division, and was replaced by Associate Justice Maryann Corpus-Mañalac.