Erap ‘guilty’ on plunder

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Ousted President Joseph Estrada was yesterday convicted by the Sandiganbayan Special Division on plunder, basing the conviction on two specifications: the jueteng payoffs and the Belle shares commissions and acquitted on the minor charge of perjury.

After the verdict, Estrada returned to his Tanay estate, where the court ruled he would be staying after handing down a sentence of reclusion perpetua, which carries a 20 to 40 years imprisonment term.

His son and co-accused in the “conspiracy to commit plunder” Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, along with Estrada’s lawyer, Eduardo Serapio, were acquitted by the court.

Estrada called the Sandiganbayan a “kangaroo court,” saying he expected the special court to convict him, but added it didn’t matter, as the people had already acquitted him.

Both father and son scored the court for allowing Malacañang to influence its decision, with the father saying that it was the people at the top that directed the justices to hand a guilty verdict.

Although acquitted of plunder charges, the senator said he was dismayed over the alleged “discrepancies” in the court’s guilty verdict saying the justices “believed only one polluted source,” evidently referring to Luis “Chavit” Singson, who was repudiated by the voters last May.

Minority Floor Leader Ronaldo Zamora, an Estrada ally, remarked: “I have just read the decision and frankly, it’s not worth the paper it is written on,” he said Wednesday, after Estrada was found guilty of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Sandiganbayan

“Just to pose one question, out of many possible questions, when you charge three defendants with conspiracy, how do you end up acquitting two and finding the third guilty?” he asked. “In the end, this is a decision founded not in the law but in the justice of winners, victorious indeed if not in law. President Estrada must appeal,” he said.

The former president said his lawyers and friends warned him about placing himself under the anti-graft court’s jurisdiction but he said it was the only forum where he could tell the Filipino people of his innocence.

He said he “took a gamble” and thought that the rule of law will be observed “but this is a kangaroo court.”

He said what is important is that he has already been acquitted by the people. He also asked his supporters to remain calm.

Senator Jinggoy said his father has suffered from the miscarriage of justice “not once, but twice.” adding he is convinced that the case was decided not on the basis of merits, not on evidence, and certainly not on the canons of law and established jurisprudence, but to justify the unconstitutional and forcible removal of a sitting President duly elected by our people and given the highest majority in the history of presidential elections in our country.

He stressed that the verdict was intended to “legitimize the occupancy of an illegal tenant in Malacañang,” and that the people will take the decision with “moral outrage and disgust.”

He pointed out that the people know the decision was influenced by Malacanang for Mrs. Arroyo to be able to justify her power grab.

He stressed that it is the President and her aides who are now embroiled in scandal after scandal, in anomaly after anomaly, and has institutionalized a culture of impunity, pointing to the many cases of whitewash and cover-ups, along with abductions and forced disappearances.

“This verdict today (Wednesday) will always be a grim reminder for the coming generations of how the ends and pursuit of justice were sacrificed to legitimize the claims of a usurper who grabbed power and stole the election from its legitimate winner,” he said.

The former President said the Sandigabayan justices were “pressured” to declare a guilty verdict in his plunder trial.

Estrada gave a brief statement to reporters before he was whisked to Tanay, Rizal .“It is a political decision and I believe that I cannot blame those justices. They were pressured so much by top people there,” he said.

He said that against the advice of his lawyers, sons and close friends he submitted himself to the anti-graft court in order to defend himself following the aborted impeachment trial against him in 2001.

“I said to myself that I will take the chance because this is the only forum that I can ventilate myself and show the people my innocence. But in spite of that, I think the decision was already dictated by those people on top,” the former president added.

He also asked the public to pray for him and for the country. He also urged the Arroyo administration not to prevent the people from seeking the truth.

“I am at peace with myself, notwithstanding the guilty verdict because you my beloved countrymen have overwhelmingly acquitted me,” Estrada said, noting his wife and two children were elected to public office despite his case.

“I disagree with the findings and conclusions of the court. These conclusions however, did not come as a surprise to us,” he said.

He said he believed his case was solid, but noted that the “direct and indirect pressures” applied on the court allegedly by the government “must have been too much to bare.”

He told his supporters that “all is not lost” and that he remained confident that the decision would be reversed on appeal.

In a separate interview with CNN, Estrada accused Arroyo of usurping his power and said he would try to calm down his supporters.

“Of course, I’ll try to calm them. It’s not yet the end of the road, we still have (an) option to appeal our case to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, in a statement said: “We knew that Erap was bound to be convicted regardless of the facts of the case, or else GMA’s ascension to the Presidency in 2001 cannot be deemed anything else but illegal and contrary to proper procedure. Within that context, they had to find him guilty.”

Binay said the case of former president Estrada is a clear example of selective prosecution, in which the political enemies of Mrs. Arroyo are “prosecuted with the zeal and dedication that you do not see applied to her friends and political allies.”

“Justice applied unevenly is actually injustice. You cannot have one set of rules and laws for yourself and your associates, and another set for your political opponents,” he stressed.

According to lawyer Jose Flaminiano, Estrada’s lead counsel, they had expected the guilty verdict from the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

“History has it that special courts were made to convict an accused,” Flaminiano said even as he pointed out that the first case tried by a special court was Jesus Christ. Other supporters of the former president echoed Flaminiano’s opinion. Flaminiano also said that Estrada was expecting an acquittal.

Rep. Didagen Dilangalen of Shariff Kabunsuan, Estrada’s former spokesperson, said that based on the evidence presented Estrada could have been acquitted but that the case was “politically loaded.”

“We did expect a guilty verdict,” Dilangalen said.

Flaminiano, in open court, told the justices of the special division that they are going to study their options including the filing of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Dean Pacifico Agabin of the Lyceum’s law school, also one of Estrada’s lawyers, said that he does not expect the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Estrada.

“This is the same court which decided against him,” he said.

Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, said the verdict was expected. He was more blunt in saying that the guilty verdict was the best option (for Malacañang) because acquitting Estrada would have dire political repercussions for the Arroyo administration.

“They (Malacañang) would look stupid if Erap was acquitted,” Hagedorn said. “That was a painful verdict.”