A SPECIAL division of the Sandiganbayan has voted 3-2 to allow jailed former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada to post bail in connection with the plunder case filed against him for allegedly misusing P183 million in pork barrel funds, court sources told The Manila Times.
A “blue draft” ruling, considered the final draft before promulgation and release, has been circulated, one of the sources said.
Earlier, two justices were named to the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court’s 5th Division, now a “Special Division of Five Justices,” for the petition of Estrada to post bail, after two of the original members of the 5th Division went against their chairman and agreed to allow bail for the ex-senator.
A source said the three justices who voted in favor of granting bail were Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and Reynaldo Cruz and an additional member of the division of five, Justice Lorifel Pahimna.
The dissenters were Justices Rafael Lagos and Zaldy Trespeses who held that the evidence of Estrada’s guilt was strong.
The source said only a sudden change of heart would alter the voting and release of the decision.
The ruling could be out for promulgation soon, if there was no “supervening event.”
This was because Lagos would be traveling to Washington, D.C. in the United States on Saturday for a 10-day seminar at the International Law Institute.
Estrada, who is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City, has already filed an omnibus motion before the anti-graft court seeking release from detention.
Estrada’s impending release follows that of former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, who was granted bail in August 2015 for humanitarian reasons.
This will leave Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. as the only former senator in jail for the priority development assistance fund or PDAF scam, in which several lawmakers were accused of funneling money for years to fake nongovernment organizations set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for huge commissions.
A source earlier told The Times Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang had expressed fear that bail for Estrada might affect the plunder case against Enrile and aide Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, which is pending before her 3rd Division.
It might also “open the floodgates” for the release of Revilla, the source said.
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.