Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada is now in jail on plunder and graft charges over a multibillion pork barrel scam that saw the fall of two other senators and dozens of other public officials and private individuals.
Estrada, 51, preempted police plans to apprehend him on Monday by giving himself up to the authorities after the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan said it found probable cause to proceed with the charges and issued an arrest warrant.
“I never stole a single centavo from government coffers,” the senator, defiant, told reporters as he accused President Benigno Aquino 3rd of playing politics and cracking down on his opponents.
“At the end of the day, I will prove my innocence,” he said. “I will face all charges against me in court.”
Flanked by his father, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the senator boarded a
white van trailed by a long line of media vehicles and proceeded to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame, Quezon City, where he turned himself in.
The younger Estrada is among 54 people indicted for the pork barrel scam in which they are accused of embezzling P10 billion allotted for countryside development projects.
En route from his father’s house to Camp Crame, he was accompanied by his wife Precy Vitug and their children Janella Marien, Joseph Luis Manuel, Julian Emilio and Julliene.
The senator said leaving his family is a “heavy” load for him to carry that is exacerbated by the “baseless” charges filed against him.
He and his family reached the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame at 11:20 a.m., where Estrada underwent medical and physical examination. He was finger-printed and had his mug shots taken. His father was with him throughout the 15-minute booking procedure.
Estrada is the second senator to be jailed in just three days in connection with the pork barrel scam that shocked the nation.
Last Friday, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. also turned himself in but to the Sandiganbayan.
The anti-graft court has yet to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.
The police earlier said Estrada will be locked up in a cell that is adjacent to that of Revilla, who earlier complained of migraine due to the heat. Their detention center was formerly officers’ quarters.
Another accused in the pork barrel racket, businesswoman and alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, is detained at Fort Santo Domingo in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
In particular, Estrada is accused of pocketing P183 million (about $3.4 million) in priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel that was allegedly diverted to ghost projects.
The case erupted last year when Napoles was accused of colluding with lawmakers to embezzle an estimated P10 billion ($230 million) from legislators’ pork barrel funds, or money for their pet projects.
The businesswoman initially denied any wrongdoing, then in a failed effort to turn state witness gave prosecutors a list implicating more than 100 lawmakers. She has also been charged with plunder.
Two of those on the list are now Aquino Cabinet members, although they deny the charges and say Napoles is trying to spread false information to deflect blame from herself and the other key players.
Corruption has long been a problem in the Philippines’ brand of free-wheeling democracy and accounts for much of the poverty in the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million.
The elder Estrada himself was ousted from the presidency midway through his six-year term in 2001 for massive corruption and incompetence.
He was later convicted but was subsequently pardoned. Last year, he was elected as mayor of the nation’s capital Manila, in what he said was a vindication, proving his innocence.