Ombudsman braces for possible grant of Jinggoy's bail plea

By Elizabeth Marcelo


The Sandiganbayan granting Estrada bail could have a "domino effect" on PDAF cases at the anti-graft court, sources warn. AP/Bullit Marquez, file
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman is now charting its next move in case the Sandiganbayan allows former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to post bail.
In an interview with select reporters, three higly-placed sources from the Ombudsman admitted that they are anticipating the anti-graft court's Fifth Division to grant Estrada's omnibus motion filed on September 12, 2016 which prayed to the court to allow him to post bail for his plunder case.
One of the sources said that this early, they are already preparing a motion for reconsideration as they are anticipating a 3-2 vote in favor of Estrada's bail.
The source said they are also prepared to go before the Supreme Court should the Sandiganbayan deny their appeal.
The plunder case stemmed from Estrada's alleged amassing of P183-million worth of kickbacks by allocating portions of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to bogus foundations allegedly owned by the alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
Estrada and Napoles have been in detention since the filing of the case in June 2014.
'Not main plunderer'
Estrada's petition for bail had earlier been denied with finality by the Fifth Division, but in September last year, his camp filed an Omnibus Motion, which again prayed for bail on the groud of the supposed failure of the prosecution to establish the elements of plunder.
Estrada's camp also argued that the prosecution failed to identify him in the charge sheet as the "main plunderer" in the case.
Estrada argued that if the alleged P183-million kickback is to be divided among him and his three co-accused, each's share would only amount to P45.9-million, below the P50 million threshold amount of illegally amassed fund for a crime to be considered as plunder.
Further, Estrada also maintained that he is not a flight risk and his continued detention has already caused him "irreparable" loss of right to liberty.
The three Ombudsman sources admitted that the grant of Estrada's bail might affect PDAF cases pending before the anti-graft court.
"The grant of the motion for bail after the second [denial] will create a domino effect," said one of the sources.
"There was already an assessment the first time around that the evidence is strong. The composition of the [Fifth] Division might have been different now but as to the grounds for bail, the same have been proffered to justify a departure from the original order," the source added.
The three Ombudsman sources maintained that Estrada raised no new arguments or new evidence in his omnibus motions other than those he already presented during the hearings of his original petition for bail.
Past petitions
It can be recalled that the Fifth Division denied Estrada and Napoles' petition for bail on January 7, 2016 maintaining that the prosecution's evidence against them was strong.
Estrada appealed the ruling through a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied on May 11 of that year.
At the time, the court was composed of Associate Justice Roland Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo, and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta.
The Fifth Division's composition has changed since.
Its regular members now are Associate Justices Rafael Lagos, Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, and Reynaldo Cruz, which means that a new set of justices would decide on Estrada's omnibus motion.
"If the motion is granted, the original denial is reversed, ipso facto they mis-granted," the second source said.
The source said they could only hope that Estrada's bail would be granted on "humanitarian considerations" and not on the former senator's claim that the evidence against him is weak.
"Our fear is that it may affect the other PDAF cases," the source said.
Former Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile are also facing plunder and graft cases before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Revilla's petition for bail had earlier been denied by the Sandiganbayan First Division.
He and Estrada are detained at the Philippines National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezpn City.
Enrile was granted bail by the Supreme Court in August 2015 due to “humanitarian considerations”.
Special division for Estrada
A source from the Sandiganbayan confirmed that the a special division of five had already convened to decide on Estrada's motion.
The source said a special division was convened after the three regular of the Fifth Division failed to reach a unanimous decision.
Under the Revised Internal Rules of the Sandiganbayan a "unanimous vote of the three Justices" is required when granting or deciding on a motion.
If a unanimous decision is not reached, the Presiding Justice would have to designate two other justices from other divisions to participate in the voting.
The Sandiganbayan source said Associate Justices Zaldy Trespeses and Lorifel Pahimna were already chosen to participate in the voting.
Pahimna was an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte.
When asked for confirmation regarding the special division's composition, Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang advised the reporters to just "wait for the official promulgation of the resolution once it is finally reached".

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