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(Update) SC upholds bail for Jinggoy

August 15, 2007 3:31pm

(Updated 4:05 p.m.) Voting unanimously, the Supreme Court upheld the Sandigabayan's decision to grant bail to Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada in connection with his plunder case now awaiting promulgation before the graft court.

In an 18-page decision, the high court en banc dismissed the petition seeking to reverse and set aside two resolutions of the Sandiganbayan Special Division in favor of Jinggoy's bail.

It also noted that there was a possibility "at this time" that Jinggoy would not be meted capital punishment should he be rendered a guilty verdict.

Thirteen magistrates favored the dismissal, while two justices did not participate in the proceedings.

"In all, the Court rules that public respondent Sandiganbayan (Special Division) did not commit grave abuse of discretion when, after conducting numerous bail hearings and evaluating the weight of the prosecution's evidence, it determined that the evidence against individual respondent was not strong and, on the basis of that determination, resolved to grant him bail," the SC said in a decision penned by Justice Cancio Garcia.

Jinggoy's father, deposed President Joseph Estrada, is a co-accused in the P4.1-billion plunder case.

After six years of litigation, a decision on the plunder case is expected to be rendered sometime during the second week of September.

The SC said that, "It is not amiss to state that, at this time, there looms the possibility that, in case of conviction, [respondent Jinggoy's] criminal liability would probably not warrant the death penalty or reclusion perpetua."

Government prosecutors had questioned before the high bench the Sandiganbayan resolutions dated March 6, 2003 and May 30, 2003, which granted Jinggoy bail and denied their motion for reconsideration, respectively.

Justices ruled that the granting of bail does not prevent the graft court, as a trier of facts, from making a "full assessment" on the evidence at hand.

"In all, the Court rules that public respondent Sandiganbayan (Special Division) did not commit grave abuse of discretion when, after conducting numerous bail hearings and evaluating the weight of the prosecution’s evidence, it determined that the evidence against individual respondent was not strong and, on the basis of that determination, resolved to grant him bail," the Court said.

The high bench also shrugged of the government's arguments that Jinggoy should have been granted bail since the senator was a "co-conspirator" with the former president because of his indispensable cooperation and/ or direct participation in the crime.

It ruled that Jinggoy "can be held accountable only for the predicate acts [illegal gambling] he allegedly committed as related in sub-paragraph (a) of the Amended Information which were allegedly done in conspiracy with the former President whose design was to amass ill-gotten wealth amounting to more than P4 billion."

"At bottom, the petitioner assumes that the ruling accorded 'benefits' to respondent Jinggoy that were inexistent at the start of that case. But no such benefits were extended," said the Court.

Plunder is a capital offense punishable with life imprisonment and forfeiture of any asset deemed ill-gotten by the court.

Meanwhile, the SC also ruled that Jinggoy, as a duly elected senator of the Philippines, was not a flight risk.

"The likelihood of escape on the part of the respondent is almost nil, given his election on May 10, 2004, as Senator of the Republic of the Philippines. The Court takes stock of the fact that those who usually jump bail are shadowy characters mindless of their reputation in the eyes of the people for as long as they can flee from the retribution of justice," it said.

Concurring with Garcia were Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Antonio Carpio, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Adolfo Azcuna, Dante Tinga, Presbitero Velasco Jr and Antonio Eduardo Nachura.

Justices Minita Chico-Nazario and Ruben Reyes did not take part in the deliberations. - GMANews.TV
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