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Erap guilty of plunder, sentenced to reclusion perpetua

(Updated 11:21 a.m.) The Sandiganbayan meted out a guilty verdict against former President Joseph Estrada on plunder charges and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, or a jailterm of up to 40 years. The ousted leader was allowed continued stay in his Tanay resthouse "until further order of this court." Magistrates "sentenc[ed] the accused, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of plunder defined in and penalized by Republic Act 7080 as amended." "The period within which ... Estrada was under detention shall be credited to him as long as he agrees voluntarily in writing to abide by the same disciplinary rules imposed upon convicted prisoners," the Sandiganbayan ruling read. The antigraft court also agreed to consider the 70-year-old Estrada's more than six years in detention as time served for the offense. As for his perjury charges, the former president was found not guilty. The decision on Estrada's plunder charge was 211 pages thick, while the decision on the perjury case was 57 pages long. Magistrates also ruled the forfeiture of Estrada's bank accounts and real estate property in Quezon City in favor of the Philippine government. It said the ruling covered P542.701 million plus interest and income including the P200-million deposited under the account of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation, P189 million worth of Jose Velarde accounts including interest and income earned and the so-called Boracay Mansion in New Manila, Quezon City. His son, Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, and the ousted leader's lawyer Edward Serapio were acquitted as co-accused in the plunder charge. As a result, their cash bonds were ordered canceled and the hold departure order, revoked. Estrada was accused of violating Republic Act No. 7080 for allegedly receiving P545-million protection money from jueteng operators; diverting P130-million tobacco excise tax share of Ilocos Sur; receiving P189.7-million kickback from Belle Corp. for GSIS, SSS purchase of P1.8-billion worth of shares of stocks and maintaining P3.23-billion "Jose Velarde" account with Equitable-PCIBank Binondo, Manila branch He was also charged with perjury or violation of Article 183, Revised Penal Code for alleged false declaration of his 1999 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. The verdict only covered accused Estrada, Jinggoy and Serapio as other co-accused were still at large and have not been arraigned yet. The other accused were Yolanda Ricaforte, Jaime Dichaves, Alma Alfaro, Eleuterio Tan and Delia Rajas. According to court procedures, a trial cannot proceed unless an accused has been arraigned. The cases of the other accused will be archived until the court acquires jurisdiction over them through arrest or surrender. Meanwhile, another accused, Charlie "Atong" Ang, was sentenced March this year to up to six years in prison on the charge of corruption of a public official after entering a plea bargaining agreement. He admitted delivering part of P130 million tobacco excise tax funds to Estrada's Greenhills residence and pocketing P25 million, which he would return to the government by offering his family's mansion at Corinthian Gardens in Quezon City in lieu of cash. The plunder trial started on October 1, 2001, a little more than five months after Estrada was arrested in April 25 that same year. The prosecution presented 74 witnesses throughout the Estrada plunder trial which include Juetenggate whistleblower and Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, who testified between July and September 2002; star witness Clarissa Ocampo, who testified in November 2002 and bank officials. The government lawyers rested their case in April 2003. Estrada’s lawyers started presenting their witnesses a year later. Among their 76 witnesses called by the graft court from September 2004 to June 2006 were bank officials, politicians, newspaper reporters, former justices, a prominent clergyman, and senator Jinggoy Estrada. Estrada himself took the witness stand 11 times from March to June 2006. Both the prosecution and the defense panels presented their closing arguments on June 15, 2007. Estrada has been detained for more than six years, while the plunder trial is ongoing. He has been allowed to visit his ailing 102-year-old mother, Doña Mary Ejercito, on some occasions. - with reports from Amita Legaspi, Tita Valderama and Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV