The Sandiganbayan is expected to issue warrants for the arrest of senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada on Wednesday , despite the lawmakers’ protestations that there is no probable cause for the anti-graft court to order their incarceration, sources said on Sunday.
Last week, the First Division issued a warrant for Sen. Ramon ‘Bong” Revilla Jr. All three senators were charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense, and several counts of graft.
A source of The Manila Times at the Sandiganbayan said on Sunday that from what they have read of the complaints, the justices are of the belief that there is probable cause against Enrile and Estrada. The source added that the court may not grant Enrile’s appeal that he be allowed to post bail.
“It’s likely that the divisions will come out with the arrest warrants on Wednesday,” the source told the Times. He noted that the court will not delay its rulings on the determination of probable cause because the public is also awaiting the Sandiganbayan’s decision.
“Masyadong mainit sa mata ng tao ang mga kaso, kaya di pwedeng i-delay (The cases are hot and the public is closely following them, so they should not be delayed),” he said.
Enrile, 90, earlier said regardless of the presence or absence of probable cause, he should not be jailed because of his “poor” and “frail” condition.
The prosecution had opposed his motion for bail.
Pleadings related to the two cases were submitted for resolution before the two divisions last Friday.
Estrada is accused of pocketing P183 million in kickbacks by channeling his pork barrel or priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) owned by Janet Lim-Napoles. Enrile was alleged to have received P172 million also in “pork” kickbacks.
Also last Friday, Enrile’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza challenged the prosecution to pick out from the documents the piece of evidence that will nail down his client.
He later told reporters that his client “did not receive nor steal even just one peso of public money.”
“Ombudsman, why did you charge Senator Enrile with plunder?” Mendoza asked.
He claimed that the charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman did not meet the constitutional requirement that the accused be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation.
But the prosecution insisted that the charges against the two senators are supported by evidence.
Government lawyers said the complaints were based on affidavits of witnesses and documents, contradicting Estrada’s claim that he was charged based on hearsay evidence and speculation.
“The records of the case in possession of the Honorable Court would already sustain the proposition that sufficient evidence exists not only for the issuance of arrest warrants, but also for the conviction of the accused,” the prosecution said.
It noted that among the documents presented to the court are copies of special release allotment orders (Saros), the list of pork barrel-funded projects that have been verified as ghost projects by the Ombudsman’s field investigation office, the alleged project beneficiaries, project costs, NGOs and corresponding memorandums of agreement (MOA), as well as a special report of the Commission on Audit.
Stephen David, counsel for Napoles, also questioned the plunder complaint filed against his client. He said Napoles is not a public official who can be held liable for plunder.
But the prosecution maintained that she had direct participation in the offense, and the complaints filed against Enrile and Estrada detailed how she aided the senators in committing plunder.
Estrada, through his chief of staff Pauline Labayen, allegedly chose the NGOs and in exchange for his endorsement of Napoles’ NGOs to implement his pork barrel projects, he got millions in kickbacks.
Citing Ruby Tuason’s testimony, the prosecution alleged that Estrada repeatedly received huge amounts from Napoles. Tuason testified that she was a “go-between” of Napoles and Estrada and that she had personally delivered money to him.
Amid the swapping of charges and denials, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Samuel Martires gave assurances that they will not be swayed by public opinion when they sit down and deliberate on the many pleadings filed before the court.
“We will not be swayed by public opinion. We will only be guided by what is on record,” Tang said.
Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said they will carefully study the allegations.
Quiroz serves as the “warm body” to fill the vacancy in the Fifth Division, which handles Estrada’s case since President Benigno Aquino 3rd has not yet appointed a justice.
by JOMAR CANLAS AND REINA TOLENTINO
SENIOR REPORTER AND REPORTER Manila Times
SENIOR REPORTER AND REPORTER Manila Times