The privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada last Wednesday, 25 September, revealed some intriguing things not just on his colleagues in the Senate, but also on himself. While he took to task certain members of Congress on the abuse of the pork barrel, his 17-page “The Untold PDAF Story that the People Should Know” speech did not touch on any single line to refute the charges against him that would defend his honor.
No less than Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago observed that Mr. Estrada did not even bother to deny and disprove the allegations against him. The former Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge, who was also elected judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, Netherlands, exclaimed that “silence means consent!” This is perhaps similar to a saying in the legal parlance that “flight means guilt.”
The son of former President Joseph Estrada (Erap), whose real name is Jose Pimentel Ejercito, Jr., believes that “we have been singled out,” together with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla, Jr. The three senators have been charged with the crime of plunder, a non-bailable offense, with the Office of the Ombudsman based on the affidavits of the whistleblowers of the P10- billion pork barrel scam and the Special Audit Report of the Commission on Audit (CoA).
Senator Estrada also lambasted the CoA for its “selective justice,” which he said is “injustice” itself. However, what the son of the former President, who was convicted for plunder in 2007 by the Sandiganbayan, did not say is that the CoA had given him the opportunity to explain his involvement in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. He seemed to have conveniently forgotten to mention in his speech that CoA wrote to him and Senators Enrile and Revilla to get their side of the story.
In an interview on ANC television the following day on Thursday, 26 September 2013, CoA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan divulged that she wrote to the three senators and it was only Mr. Jinggoy Estrada who did not respond to their letter. So it is crystal-clear that Jinggoy had every opportunity to clarify his role and clear his name on the PDAF scandal and yet he chose to simply ignore the letter of CoA Chair Pulido-Tan.
In the same interview with ANC TV, the CoA chief further revealed that she received a call from someone on 16 August 2013, the day when they were scheduled to have their press conference on the findings of the CoA Special Report. The request from the emissary who called was for the name of Senator Jinggoy Estrada not to be included and mentioned in the Special Report on the pork barrel that covered the period 2007-2009.
Going back to his privilege speech, the expose of Mr. Estrada that the senators who found then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty in the impeachment trial later received an additional P50 million in PDAF was confirmed by former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson. The laconic former senator said that it was announced by then Senate Finance Committee Chairman Franklin Drilon in a caucus called after Corona’s conviction.
The big difference between Senators Estrada and Lacson is that Jinggoy availed of the same P50 million additional PDAF, while Ping did not because he had not been touching his P200 million pork barrel like former Senator Joker Arroyo. Of course, the good senator from San Juan, Metro Manila, said that his decision to convict the former was never influenced by any future reward.
In his speech before the Senate, Mr. Estrada reassured the Filipino people: “I was never influenced by this incentive, which came after the fact.” Yet he still availed of the same extra P50 million in PDAF, which he clarified is “not a bribe” but “an incentive.”
In the same privilege speech, Jinggoy lashed at a senator and declared “Don’t be too righteous. And most of all, don’t be too hypocritical.” It is the Height of Hypocrisy for Senator Estrada to admonish a colleague not to be “too hypocritical” and yet accept and avail of the additional P50 million in PDAF. He justified his action by saying that “this incentive (extra PDAF) came after the fact (conviction).”
I am reminded of a story that happened almost 40 years ago to an uncle, the only brother of my mother. He was an RTC judge, a graduate of the UP College of Law. The story goes that after deciding on a court case, my uncle was given a gift of gratitude by the party who won the case. However, he did not accept the gift from the grateful party whom he decided in their favor.
Still young then, I asked my uncle why he did accept the generous gift when his decision on the case was not influenced by the future reward that “came after the fact,” as Senator Jinggoy Estrada puts it. I do not remember his answer. Perhaps he did, but I was too young to understand and appreciate the meaning of decency or “delicadeza.” The same perhaps for words like “honor” and “integrity.”
Unlike Senator Jinggoy Estrada who is building a P120 million house on a 3,000 square-meter lot worth over P200 million in the exclusive village of Wack-Wack in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, my uncle never owned a house in Metro Manila for himself and his family. He was content just renting a room where he was assigned here and going to his modest home in his home province during the weekends whenever he can.
If and when Jinggoy Estrada is convicted of the crime of plunder, he and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada will make history. This will be the first time in Philippine history that a father and son, a former president and a sitting senator, are convicted of the same crime of plunder. Hopefully, P-Noy will not commit the same mistake as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did in granting executive clemency to ERAP – in indecent haste.
Rick B. Ramos at firstname.lastname@example.org