MILF, ASG rebels’ presence cited
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada maintained his stand against the prosecution’s move to transfer him to an ordinary jail under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), saying the jail there holds members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
The ASG is a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda while the MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group that signed a peace deal with the government early this year.
The senator’s lawyers said, “[T]he BJMP facility in Camp Bagong Diwa [Bicutan, Taguig City, Metro Manila] houses members of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF—elements against whom Senator Estrada’s father, former President Joseph Estrada, waged war during his incumbency.”
This fact further poses grave risks and security issues, they added.
The senator filed a memorandum last week, about 30 pages, to further support his opposition to the transfer.
In persuading the court to deny a request of prosecutors for his transfer, his lawyers cited a recent report on how guns were allegedly smuggled in by the driver of a high-risk, high-profile detainee.
Also, Senior Supt. Romeo Salazar Vio, director of the BJMP-National Capital Region (Metro Manila), told the court on August 29 that there is a “75 percent probability” that a riot will occur because of overcrowding in the jail.
“Notably, unlike the PNP [Philippine National Police], the BJMP does not have sufficient weapons and armaments to secure Senator Estrada,” defense lawyers said.
Government lawyers had asked the court to conduct an onsite inspection of the BJMP facility.
“In the interest of justice and public interest, there is an urgent need for this Honorable Court to itself appreciate the prevailing conditions of Camp Bagong Diwa. Such an inspection will clarify, once and for all, if Senior Supt. Vio’s opinions are indeed warranted,” they said.
Vio testified that because of the population of its inmates, the BJMP cannot afford to place the senator alone in his jail cell to ensure that he will not be harmed.
He said he cannot fully guarantee the accused’s safety in transporting the latter from there to the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan and back during court proceedings.
But the prosecutors pointed out that there is a “workable alternative” that can be taken, proof of which is the BJMP officer’s statement that they would have to convert an office space into a detention quarter if compelled to bring the senator or other high-profile detainees there.
Earlier, they asked the court to order his transfer with the argument that the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City is not a jail because it is not run by the BJMP.
But Sen. Estrada’s camp objected on the ground that the law recognizes detention in places other than an ordinary jail and that other personalities facing other criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan are also detained at the PNP facility.
There is no point transferring him, they said, because the PNP Custodial Center “will equally serve” the purpose of limiting his movement and ensuring that he answers charges against him.
The senator is facing a P183-million plunder case before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Among others, the defense cited the case of the older Estrada, who was detained in his property in Tanay, Rizal, while undergoing trial for plunder years ago before the Sandiganbayan.
Likewise cited was his successor, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) while facing a plunder charge, also before the Sandiganbayan.
“There is noting in the law that says that an accused must be detained only in a BJMP jail, and no place else,” they argued.
Further, that Estrada’s detention there is no special treatment because he is “differently situated” from other detainees.
“Senator Estrada is not an ordinary citizen. He is an incumbent Senator . . . He is a son of a former President and a member of the former first family. He was a Mayor of the City of San Juan for so many years,” they said.
Considering all their arguments, the defense closed that the prosecution’s move to have him transferred “can only be from spite and has absolutely no basis.”