THE Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed for lack of merit the petition of former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada to drop Benhur Luy as a witness against Janet Lim Napoles and several lawmakers charged with plunder and graft in connection with the “pork” barrel scam.
In a nine-page resolution dated January 24, 2017 but was released only recently, the SC en banc threw out Estrada’s petition for certiorari and prohibition that sought to suppress and exclude the cash/check disbursement reports and testimony of Luy in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
Estrada claimed that the Sandiganbayan 5th Division acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion when it refused to exclude Luy’s testimony and records. He said these were obtained illegally and were inadmissible as evidence.
But the high court said the anti-graft court did not commit any violation.
“The constitutional guaranty against unlawful searches and seizures is intended as a restraint against the Government and its agents tasked with law enforcement. It is to be invoked only to ensure freedom from arbitrary and unreasonable exercise of State power. If the search is made upon the request of law enforcers, a judicial warrant must be generally be first secured if the search is to pass the test of constitutionality. But if the search is made at the behest or initiative of a private individual without the intervention of police authorities, the right against unreasonable search and seizure cannot be invoked considering that only the private individual is involved. In fine, the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be extended to the acts committed by private individuals so as to bring the search and seizure within the ambit of alleged unlawful intrusion by the Government,” the tribunal said.
“Luy was indubitably a private individual. The significance of this fact to the issue at hand is that the prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure in the Constitution did not apply to him,” it pointed out.
“Such admission of Luy to become a state witness in the case against Estrada did not immediately equate to his becoming an instrument of governmental intrusion into Estrada’s privacy. Luy’s copying of the files he had encoded as an employee of JLN Corporation remained to be his act as a private individual because there was no interference or participation from the Government or its agents at the time of the encoding, copying, and obtaining of the files,” it added. “As a witness admitted pursuant to Republic Act No. 6981, Luy was granted immunity to embolden him to testify despite the threats of criminal suit, and to enable him to help the Government with his knowledge of the matters relevant to the PDAF issues, the status of being a State Witness included immunity from criminal liability.”
Estrada was accused of receiving millions in kickbacks from the use of his PDAF for projects undertaken by Napoles, most of which were reportedly non-existent.