The Manila Bulletin Today
June 15, 2007


After numerous courtroom clashes in the last six years, accusers and defense lawyers of former President Joseph Estrada will meet today for the last time to give their closing arguments at the oral summation of the R4-billion plunder case against the detained opposition leader.

The prosecution and defense attorneys will make their final attempts to convince the three-member Sandiganbayan Special Division of their side of the story in the historic trial.

After this event, the countdown shall begin for the most awaited decision to be written by anyone among Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Associate Justices Francisco Villaruz Jr. and Diosdado Peralta.

The court had issued a produce order to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure Estrada’s attendance at the oral summation.

The former Chief Executive’s son and co-accused, Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, will not appear in court today as he is in the United States. Another co-accused, Edward Serapio, who is also out on bail like Jinggoy, had manifested his intention to attend the hearing.

After today, Estrada and his co-accused will have to come back during the promulgation of the decision in the case, which the court has yet to put on its calendar.

Last Tuesday, the parties submitted their memorandums highlighting the testimonial and documentary evidence they presented during the protracted trial.

According to Sandiganbayan executive clerk of court and court spokesman Renato Bocar, today’s event is a first in the Sandiganbayan’s 29-yearold history.

"I don’t recall that an oral summation was done here in the past. Ordinarily, the court would directly proceed with the writing of the decision after the parties have filed their respective memoranda," Bocar told reporters in an interview.

It was the prosecution panel, led by Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, who actually insisted on the holding of oral summation, which is not a regular feature of Philippine court proceedings as it is more identified with the United States jury system.

Villa-Ignacio cited two reasons in pushing for an oral summation — to speed up the decision in the case and "refresh the memory of the people."

The chief Ombudsman prosecutor will represent the prosecution in the summation, while former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza will speak on behalf of the principal accused.

In his memorandum, Estrada maintained that he is innocent and the court should acquit him of all the charges leveled against him.

The prosecution, on the other hand, claimed it has "proven with absolute certainty, and with unassailable document trail with testimonial evidence" against Estrada and his coaccused.

Political, legal bases for Erap’s acquittal cited


Politically and legally, former President Joseph Estrada, his son Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, and all of their co-accused in the crime of plunder filed against them by the Arroyo government should be acquitted, Congressmanelect Rufus Rodriguez, spokesman of Estrada’s political party, the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), said yesterday.

Politically, Rodriguez said citing a 276-page memorandum submitted by Estrada to the Sandiganbayan, Estrada was acquitted by the people when they overwhelmingly voted his wife, Dr. Luisa "Loi" Estrada, and their son, Jinggoy, to the Senate in the 2001 and 2004 elections, respectively.

He added that most of the senatorial and local candidates endorsed by Estrada in the last May 14 mid-term elections also won, while his accuser, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, was resoundingly repudiated by the Philippine electorate in the same elections.

Legally, Rodriguez continued, Estrada’s defense lawyers stressed that "the acts imputed to the accused do not constitute plunder, apart from obvious inadequacy of proof (of his guilt)."

The Amended Information does not sufficiently charge him with plunder under Republic Act 7080, or, assuming that it charges him with plunder, failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the offense, he said.

"The allegations on jueteng pay-offs, predicate of one of the plunder charges, which the prosecution even emphasized were given "in consideration of toleration, or protection, of illegal gambling," presented no evidence as to the existence of "jueteng."

Rodriguez said not a single witness testified on the nature and character of jueteng or its existence.

"Except for the uncorroborated testimony of Chavit Singson, no evidence was presented to show that the accused tolerated ‘jueteng’ or that pay-offs were made to police or government officials so that Estrada could tolerate gambling," he said.

Rodriguez added there is no evidence that jueteng operators made payments to the accused "because not one jueteng operator was presented to show that they were guilty of bribing police and government officials."

The allegations of misappropriation of RA 7171 funds was also debunked in the defense memorandum, since the only misappropriation that was done was made by the government’s principal witness, Rodriguez said.

While Estrada and Singson were, in fact, known to each other, "mere companionship does not establish a conspiracy in the commission of the crime of plunder; there must be more than a combination or series of two or more acts; there must be several acts showing a pattern which is indicative of the over-all scheme or conspiracy."

Allegations of irregular transactions involving Belle Resources were likewise unproven since even the witnesses presented by government lawyers testified that the transactions were valid and regular, and in accordance with the investment guidelines of the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Rodriguez said.

"The facts bear us out: Belle Resources was already in the investment portfolio of the SSS even before the transaction in question was entered into," Rodriguez said. "And with respect to both the SSS and the GSIS, the purchase price of the Belle shares was in conformity with the prevailing price at the time of the purchase."

Rodriguez said no pressure was exerted by the accused on the chairman or president of the SSS or GSIS, "and their testifying before the anti-graft court was motivated by their desire to be excluded from prosecution."

On the ownership of the Jose Velarde account, Rodriguez said none of the accused could be held liable for the charge.

"First, the source of the funds that went into the account is known; second, the names in the list of contributors are obviously fictitious; and third, no consideration for the issuance of the checks that were deposited into the account was shown," Rodriguez said.

The testimony of bank official Clarissa Ocampo was not sufficient to establish that the accused was "Jose Velarde," he said.

"For one, President Estrada signed for ‘Velarde’ under the heading ‘By,’ meaning he signed for the real Velarde," Rodriguez said.

It is likewise important to note that Equitable-PCI Bank did not honor Estrada’s signature "precisely, because it knew that he was not Jose Velarde."

"Clearly, the prosecution has failed to meet the quantum of proof, required to prove any of the four predicate crimes of plunder, and what is evident beyond reasonable doubt is that Estrada did not commit plunder and deserves acquittal," Rodriguez said.


Why it took time to take action on the case? This will be a big challege for the GO to defend their boss.