Government prosecutors on Friday abandoned their plan to amend the plunder complaint filed against Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada after being warned by the Sandiganbayan that the senator would be released if the information was revised.
Prosecutor Danilo Lopez told the anti-graft court that they will be withdrawing their manifestation and motion to admit the amended information.
The change of heart came a day after the Sandiganbayan’s First Division rejected a move of the prosecution to amend the information filed against Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Janet Lim-Napoles.
On Friday, the court’s Fifth Division told prosecutors that amending the complaint against Estrada would lead to his release since the senator’s arrest order was based on the original information filed.
“It’s up to you. Take note, if there is no arraignment you can amend the information as a matter of right. I’m just warning you of the effect of that information, the accused will be released,” Fifth Division Chairman Roland Jurado said.
Estrada and Napoles will be arraigned on Monday.
In the hearing on Friday that was attended by newly appointed Associate Justice Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, the prosecution was repeatedly asked why it changed the word “conspiracy” to “collaboration.”
Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo noted that “conspiracy” and “collaboration” are two different concepts in penal law. He said “conspiracy” meant “the act of one is the act of all,” which is different from “connivance.”
“Every word in the information must be precise,” he said.
The prosecutors, however, maintained that there was no substantial change in the amended charge sheet.
The amended version read that Estrada “by himself and/or in connivance with” his chief-of-staff “committing the offense in relation to their respective offices, collaborating with private individuals Janet Lim Napoles . . . ”
The original information read that the senator and his chief-of-staff “committing the offense in relation to their respective offices, conspiring with one another and with Janet Lim Napoles . . . ”
The foiled moves of the prosecution to amend the criminal complaints against Estrada and Revilla triggered suspicion that the prosecutors may have committed a fatal mistake in rushing the filing of the charges.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the prosecution might have overlooked part of the information in filing the case.
“I have a lingering suspicion that the prosecution made a fatal mistake in the first information. This could have been avoided had the administration not engaged in the PR stunt of filing the cases against only three senators,” he added.
The anti-graft court’s Third Division is yet to determine whether probable cause exists to order the arrest of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was also charged with plunder.
Estrada was accused of receiving P183 million in kickbacks from projects funded by his Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel.
His co-accused include Napoles, John Raymund de Asis and his chief-of-staff Pauline Labayen.
The Sandiganbayan is still deliberating on Estrada’s petition to be allowed to post bail.
Defense lawyers said Estrada is entitled to bail because the evidence against him is not strong.
“The prosecution, which has the burden of proof in order for bail to be denied, has not demonstrated probable cause, much less, that evidence of guilt is strong against Senator Estrada,” they added.
The prosecution is yet to file its comment to the senator’s bail petition.
Also on Friday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she was puzzled why the prosecution would want to revise the complaint against the senators.
She belied allegations of former President and Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada that she prejudged the plunder case against his son, Jinggoy.
“With due respect to Mayor Erap, I don’t think I’ve said anything that could be interpreted as prejudgment of the case against Senator Jinggoy. Whenever I’m asked if we are confident that our cases and evidence will withstand the test of trial, my consistent answer is “yes, we are confident.”
“Is that the same as saying or concluding that they are guilty? I’m not the court. I cannot say that,” she told reporters in an interview.
Estrada reportedly criticized de Lima over her alleged prejudgment of the case and even called for her resignation.
“I don’t know why President Erap would say such thing against me. What exactly did I say for him to react that way?” she asked.
Meanwhile, former Technology Resource Center Director General Dennis Cunanan also on Friday asked the Sandiganbayan to let him travel to Japan and the United States for two months to continue fulfilling his duties as the first Filipino secretary general of youth service organization Junior Chamber International (JCI).
Cunanan is one of those facing graft charges at the anti-graft court in connection with the pork barrel scam.
He asked the court to lift the hold departure order earlier issued against him.
Cunanan said as secretary-general of the JCI, he is expected to guide and supervise the training of incoming JCI national presidents from 120 countries and Japanese delegates.