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Sandiganbayan rules there's enough proof for trial to proceed vs. Jinggoy, Napoles

The Sandiganbayan has ruled that the prosecution presented enough evidence for the trial to proceed in the case of former Senator Jinggoy Estrada and convicted plunderer Janet Lim Napoles over their alleged misuse of P183 million worth of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel.

The anti-graft court’s Fifth Division made the ruling after it denied the respective demurrers to evidence of Estrada and Napoles.

A demurrer is a motion seeking the outright dismissal of a case due to weak evidence. In Estrada and Napoles' case, the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution had enough proof to find them guilty.

"This court is convinced that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence, both testimonial and documentary, which established each element of the crime of plunder against the accused," the Sandiganbayan said.

“This, if unrebutted by contrary evidence, is sufficient to support a conviction,” it added.

Estrada, son of former President and outgoing Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, ran but lost in the May 13 senatorial elections. He is currently out on bail.

Demurrer arguments

Estrada, in his petition, said the prosecution failed to cite the mastermind in his case, which continued to operate even without his supposed participation in the scheme between 2004 to 2012. 

The former lawmaker said the Sandiganbayan already ruled that the evidence against him cannot support a guilty verdict when it granted his application for bail in 2017.

Estrada said even the whistle-blowers failed to link him to the scheme, noting that none of them saw him receive his supposed kickbacks from Napoles.

He also said his letters to various implementing agencies endorsing the Napoles-led non-government organizations (NGO) Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc. are not enough to prove his criminal liability.

Napoles, who faces a maximum prison term of 40 years for the misappropriation of re-elected Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr.'s P224-million PDAF, for her part, said she cannot be the "main plunderer" since the plunder law states only a public officer can be the mastermind in a scheme. 

Napoles said the mastermind should either be Estrada or his at-large former chief of staff, Pauling Labayen.

Money trail

However, the Sandiganbayan said prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman showed how Napoles and Estrada conspired with each other to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of public funds.

The Sandiganbayan said Estrada received his first tranche of kickbacks from Napoles after the signing of the project listing, while the second would be given after the release of the special allotment release order.

All transactions were recorded by scheme whistle-blower Benhur Luy in his computer and later in an external hard drive, according to the Sandiganbayan.

It said once the Department of Budget and Management releases the PDAF of Estrada, the checks will then be issued to the Napoles NGOs for withdrawal and will be kept at the vault of the JLN Corporation.

"The commissions of Estrada from all the transactions with Napoles' NGOs were paid through his representatives who personally came to the JLN Office, where cash payments were being made and corresponding vouchers were signed as proof of payment," the June 13 resolution read.

The Sandiganbayan said Napoles then submits fake liquidation documents to hide the scheme from the Commission on Audit, with the detained businesswoman ordering Luy to shred all documents related to the NGOs and the PDAF to cover up her role. —KBK, GMA News