The floodgates have been opened.
“This is very good for us,” the lawyer of alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, said of the Sandiganbayan decision that allowed former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who was accused of plunder and graft, to post bail.
Napoles will again seek bail soon like what Estrada has done on the heels of his temporary release over the weekend, making her the second pork barrel scam suspect encouraged by Estrada’s moves.
Former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who is still detained in Camp Crame, told reporters on Thursday that he would file a second bail plea as well, pending his trial for plunder.
Senators Revilla, Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile were detained in Camp Crame in 2014 for funneling their allocations from the pork barrel Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into foundations set up by Napoles in exchange for kickbacks.
‘Sexy, Pogi, Tanda’
“Sexy” and “Kuya” were the code names for Estrada, while “Pogi” was for Revilla and “Tanda” for Enrile, according to Benhur Luy, principal witness in the scam.
It was Napoles who chose the code names for the senators, Luy said.
On Monday, Napoles’ lawyer Dennis Buenaventura said the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division’s 3-2 vote allowing bail for Estrada was a “favorable development” for his client.
The ruling, Buenaventura said, could be invoked in securing temporary liberty for Napoles, who was detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Unlike the Supreme Court’s August 2015 decision to release Enrile on humanitarian grounds, the Estrada bail ruling “definitely touches the main information” itself, the lawyer said.
The Napoles camp would first try to seek bail in the Fifth Division, which handles the Estrada case, before moving on to the First and Third Divisions, which handle the Revilla and Enrile plunder cases, respectively.
Buenaventura said the Sandiganbayan finding that the prosecution had failed to pinpoint a “main plunderer” in Estrada’s case also applied to Napoles, his coaccused.
Though Napoles was accused of controlling the network of dubious foundations where lawmakers’ PDAF proceeds were funneled, Buenaventura said a private individual like Napoles could not be considered the main plunderer either.
“In the legal definition of plunder, the main plunderer cannot be a private person. It should be a public officer,” he said. “So if it appears like that, this is not plunder.”
He also noted that the Supreme Court’s July 2016 ruling acquitting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder, which formed the Sandiganbayan’s legal basis to grant Estrada bail, bolstered the Napoles camp’s arguments.
“The [Arroyo] case made things clearer. That would be the guide,” he said.
The Sandiganbayan entertained Estrada’s second bail plea and took into consideration the Arroyo ruling, which laid down a stricter standard of evidence in plunder cases.
It initially found the prosecution evidence sufficient to deny Estrada and Napoles bail in its ruling on Jan. 7, 2016. This became final upon the denial of an appeal on May 11, 2016.
Things changed, however, after the Supreme Court acquitted Arroyo of plunder in the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence fund case over the failure to identify a “main plunderer.”
On Sept. 12, 2016, Estrada filed an “omnibus motion” for bail invoking the Arroyo ruling.
The Ombudsman objected to the motion as irregular, saying it was an attempt to skirt the prohibition on a second motion for reconsideration.
This time, however, the Sandiganbayan found that while the prosecution evidence was enough to establish the alleged scheme, it could not establish which of the defendants was the main plunderer.
“In the mind of the court, there is now an ambiguity or even doubt as to who the main plunderer is, given that there are two public officers charged … and the observation that the PDAF scheme apparently was commenced by or originated with Napoles,” the resolution read.
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