FOR LACK of merit, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division denied former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s plea to dismiss 11 counts of graft filed against him and subsume these under a separate plunder case in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
The court pointed out that the plunder case rests on the alleged accumulation of ill-gotten wealth arising from supposed kickbacks, while the graft cases rest on the issues of alleged undue injury caused to the government and alleged unwarranted benefits and advantage given to private persons through evident bad faith and manifest partiality.
“These two different issues involve distinct elements and facts, punishable under two different statutes,” it said in a seven-page resolution, adding that each of the 11 graft charges involves a distinct transaction and different sets of co-accused.
In May, Estrada filed a motion to dismiss the graft cases, as he argued that these were deemed “absorbed” by the plunder case.
But the court agreed with the prosecution that the fact that the charges arose from the same acts did not justify Estrada’s argument of absorption.
The prosecution, it said, correctly pointed out that “Criminal liability under both laws can be prosecuted independently because they have ‘fundamentally diverse indispensable elements.’”
Estrada insisted that a motion to dismiss was the proper remedy for the “mischief and folly” of the prosecution in filing graft charges which were already “absorbed” in the plunder case.
But the court held in part, “Trial has not even started in these cases and this court cannot as yet, make any finding.”
Associate Justice Rafael Lagos penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justice Roland Jurado, who leads the court’s Fifth Division, and Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.
Estrada is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center over the graft charges and the P183-million plunder case he is facing in connection with the PDAF scam.
He was among three senators who were charged by the Office of the Ombudsman in June 2014 at the Sandiganbayan, along with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and several others.
The other two senators were Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. who is also detained at the PNP Custodial Center, and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who is out on on humanitarian grounds.
REINA C. TOLENTINO