THE Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) on Sunday expressed dismay over the decision of the Sandiganbayan to grant provisional liberty to former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, saying it is a “travesty of justice.”
Estrada is facing plunder and graft charges for allegedly misusing his Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel.
The group, led by its founding chairman Dante Jimenez, called on the Supreme Court and Congress to conduct an investigation to determine if there are loopholes in the law that allows those facing plunder to post bail.
Republic Act 7080 or the law on plunder punishes public officials who accumulated ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts involving P50 million. Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
“This is a travesty of justice and unjust in the highest form,” Jimenez said in a statement.
“The VACC condemns the granting of bail by the Sandiganbayan to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. We urge the Supreme Court to investigate,” he added.
The Sandiganbayan’s Special Fifth Division voted 3-2 to allow Estrada to post P1.3 million bail — P1 million for plunder and P30,00 for each of the 11 counts of graft.
The VACC also called on congress to review the plunder law and look for ways on how to further strengthen it.
Meanwhile, Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said there is nothing surprising about the release of Estrada.
He explained that the former senator’s release was already expected when the anti-graft court freed former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile from detention. Enrile was also charged with plunder and graft by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pouring his pork barrel to non-government organizations controlled by Janet Lim Napoles.
Casiple said there is no telling if President Rodrigo Duterte had a hand in the release of Estrada because those handling the cases were mostly appointees of the previous administration.
“Unless there are matters that we are not aware of, it is hard to say if Malacañang has a hand on it,” Casiple added.
Estrada’s release, he said, could mean that majority of the Sandiganbayan justices were not convinced that the former senator was one of the masterminds in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
Another former senator – Ramon “Bong” Revilla, is also facing plunder and graft charges in connection with the pork barrel scam. He is detained at the Philippine National Police’s custodial center.
Members of the so-called “macho bloc” in the Senate welcomed Estrada’s release from detention, saying they look forward to his possible comeback in the chamber in 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said Estrada would be a good addition to their group which currently has three members — Senators Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan 2nd and him.
“Gaganda na ang line up namin. Lalong lalakas ang grupo namin sa Senate (With Jinggoy in the Senate, our lineup will improve. Our group will be strengthened),” Sotto said.
Estrada and Enrile were part of the “macho group.”
Honasan said as long as there is no legal prohibition, Estrada can seek a Senate seat in 2019.
If Estrada runs and wins, he will be replacing Honasan, who is on his last term, in the macho bloc.
There is also a possibility that Estrada will work with his half-brother, Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito if the latter will seek reelection.