SEN. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada has no plans of going on leave even if the Office of the Ombudsman has recommended the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against him, two other senators and several personalities linked to the pork barrel scam.
Estrada, who is in the United States, maintained that he did not commit any wrongdoing that would require him to abandon his job as a lawmaker.
“Bakit ako magli-leave of absence? Malinis ang aking konsensya. Wala akong kasalanan. Wala akong ninakaw sa taumbayan [Why would I go on leave? My conscience is clear. I didn’t steal anything from the people],” he said in a television interview on Thursday.
Sen. Ramon ‘Bong” Revilla Jr., who, like Estrada, is also facing plunder charges, also insisted he is innocent.
The Ombudsman announced on Monday there is probable cause to indict Estrada, Revilla and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile for plunder and graft for their involvement in the misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
The lawmakers are accused of pouring part of their PDAF to non-government organizations (NGOs) owned by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Enrile is yet to issue any statement regarding the Ombudsman’s recommendation to file charges against him and his two colleagues before the Sandiganbayan.
The Ombudsman also recommended the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against Napoles, the alleged brains of the PDAF scam, and other government officials and personalities.
The Senate blue ribbon committee, which conducted a separate investigation of the pork barrel anomaly, also recommended the filing of charges against the three senators and their staff.
Estrada, however, insisted that the series of events that happened in relation to the pork barrel scam is part of a plan to destroy the opposition.
According to him, there is an effort to go after lawmakers identified with the opposition.
Estrada questioned Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s supposed failure to file appropriate graft complaints against the third batch of individuals that were also implicated in either the PDAF or Malampaya fund scam.
“Ombudsman [Conchita Carpio] Morales earlier said it would take a year or so to review all the voluminous documents, but it only took the Ombudsman six months to come up with its recommendation and even timed the release with the Senate blue ribbon committee report on the pork barrel issue. So there is really a plan,” he noted.
The three senators, Napoles and the other personalities named in Ombudsman resolutions have until April 7 to file their motions for reconsideration.
Under the rules, the Ombudsman has 60 days to act on the motions of the senators and other respondents. If the Ombudsman denies the motions, it will then file a complaint before the Sandiganbayan.
At this point, the respondents have the option to go to the Court of Appeals (CA) or the Supreme Court (SC) and ask for a temporary restraining order.
Once denied, the Sandiganbayan can proceed with the raffle of the case to a division and the division will then issue the warrants of arrest against the senators and the other accused.
“It will be up to the Sandiganbayan. We will follow the orders of the court,” Estrada said when asked what he will do once the case is filed before the anti-graft court.
In a separate interview, Revilla said the sustained effort to implicate him and other senators to the PDAF scam is nothing but politics.
He added that he is ready to face the charges and clear his name.
“I’m prepared for anything they want to do to me. All I can say is that I have done no wrong nor do I have the capability of committing such illegal acts. To the people who are doing this to me, I will leave it to God,” Revilla said.
Malacañang also on Thursday said it is still too early to say if Enrile can avoid jail time because of his old age.
Two Palace spokesmen—Secretary Edwin Lacierda and Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.—explained that only the court can decide whether Enrile should go to jail.
“It’s premature to comment and inappropriate to speculate. Let’s allow the law to take its course,” Coloma said in a text message to The Manila Times.
“We will need to defer to the court’s discretion as this issue on detention may be brought up to the court for disposition,” Lacierda, a lawyer, said in a text message.
According to the two officials, President Benigno Aquino 3rd wants the conviction of all those involved in the pork barrel case.
On Wednesday, Coloma said they are confident that all the
accused will be arrested once the case has been elevated to the Sandiganbayan.
But retired Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno explained that unlike his “younger” co-accused, Enrile can enjoy “privileges” under the law. Enrile is 90 years old. He was born on February 14, 1924.
According to Zuno, the senator can escape jail because the Revised Penal Code allows mitigating circumstances to lower the penalty or punishment for indicted people who are 70 years old and above. Thus, if the verdict is life imprisonment, the penalty will be lowered by one degree. He said Enrile can ask to be detained in a hospital if he is sickly, or request that he be placed under the custody of the Senate President since he is a sitting senator.
If he is convicted, Enrile can also automatically appeal for presidential pardon because of his age.