JAILED former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada is close to regaining his freedom, with magistrates at the Sandiganbayan deciding on whether bail could be granted in connection with a P183-million plunder case filed against the politician in connection with the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
Estrada, who is detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, has asked the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court to allow him to post bail for his provisional liberty.
Court sources told The Manila Times a “Special Division of Five Justices” was formed after two of the original members of the 5th Division agreed to allow the former senator to post bail. These are Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Reynaldo Cruz.
The source said the chairman of the 5th Division, Justice Rafael Lagos, issued a dissenting opinion and held that Estrada should stay in prison because the evidence of his guilt was strong.
The three justices are all appointees of former president Benigno Aquino 3rd. Cruz and Arcega are also said to be very close to Aquino’s executive secretary, Paquito Ochoa.
Because of the 2-1 voting, Justices Zaldy Trespeses and Lorifel Pahimna were added to the Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division to resolve the matter.
Trespeses was the senior lawyer and staff of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno while Pahimna, formerly a judge in Taguig City, is the latest appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte to the Sandiganbayan.
Another source told The Times Trespeses had cast his vote against Estrada, a former movie star like his father, former president and now Manila mayor Joseph Estrada.
With the vote at 2-2, the “swing vote” belongs to Pahimna, who the source said would cast her vote this week.
The second source told The Times Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang had expressed fear that bail for Estrada might affect the plunder case against former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and aide Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, which is pending before her 3rd Division.
It might also “open the floodgates” for the release of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., also in jail for pork barrel misuse.
Estrada’s lawyers had argued that the charge sheet failed to allege and identify the senator as the main plunderer, and that there was no proof that he acquired ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million, the threshold amount for plunder.
The defense also referred to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that dismissed for lack of evidence the plunder case filed against former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds during her presidency. That decision led to Arroyo’s freedom.
It added that the former senator had endured varied ailments or diseases during his detention that have deteriorated his physical, mental and emotional state, “accented by his indescribable deepening depressions and disturbing emotions, triggered by the absence/longing of the members of his family…aggravated by his lonely and sleepless nights, etc. to live a life and liberty that he used to enjoy before his unwarranted confinement.”