Ombudsman backtracks on Estrada

MANILA — The prosecution wanted to further pin down Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada by amending the plunder charges filed against him. But in doing so, the embattled senator would have to be released from detention.

Faced with the prospect of Estrada being freed, the Office of the Ombudsman decided on Friday to withdraw its amended information.

The withdrawal of the amended information was made by prosecution team from the Office of the Ombudsman after Sandiganbayan Fifth Division Chairman Roland Jurado informed them that Estrada will have to be released should amendments be made on the plunder charges against him.

Jurado explained that the basis of the warrant of arrest against Estrada is the original information on the plunder charge.

“If I were you, I will not amend the information,” Jurado told the prosecution team led by lawyer Danilo Lopez.

“We are just warning you on the effect of the amended information,” Jurado told the prosecution during yesterday morning’s hearing.

PROSECUTION WITHDRAWS

After being appraised of the implications of the amended information, Lopez told the court that the prosecution is now withdrawing its Manifestation with Motion to Admit Amended Information.

Aside from the prospect of Estrada getting released, the amendment may even weaken the plunder charges, contrary to the objective of the prosecution of further developing an air-tight case.

During the hearing, First Division Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo took note of the word “conspiracy” in the original information which was being replaced with “collaboration” in the amended information.

Gesmundo told the prosecution that “conspiracy” and “collaboration” are two distinct legal concepts in criminal law. He explained that “conspiracy” means “the act of one is the act of all” while collaboration is of lesser impact.

Collaboration was further explained by lawyer Alexis Abastilla Suarez, one of Estrada’s lawyers, after the hearing. She said that “in collaboration kasi iba ang participation ng kada tao (in collaboration, the participation of each person is different).”

“Iba yung word na conspiracy. Iba ang legal concept ng conspiracy sa collaboration (the word conspiracy is different. The legal concept of conspiracy is different from collaboration,” said Suarez, who noted that in changing the information the prosecution is also changing their theory on the crime.

Suarez was glad the amended information was withdrawn since “yung pinapalabas nila kasi sa amended information na yung mastermnid nung lahat na ito ay si Senator Estrada (what they are trying to show in the amended information is that Senator Estrada is the mastermind).”

NAPOLES WITHDRAWS MOTION

At the same hearing, lawyer Stephen David, the counsel of Janet Lim Napoles, also withdrew the motion to quash the plunder charges against his client.

David said he wanted the arraignment proceedings against Napoles and Estrada to push through on Monday.

Seeing how weak the plunder information when the prosecution attempted to push for amendments, David stressed that he wanted to fight the original information and, hopefully, get the case dismissed.

“Nung hinawakan ko ang kaso, pinag-aralan ko. Maniniwala talaga ako na walang plunder kaya malakas ang loob ko na magpa-arraign para matapos na (When I got the case, I studied it. I believe there is no plunder case that’s why I want the arraignment to proceed to finally put a closure to the case),” he told reporters after the hearing.

If the case gets dismissed, he said Napoles can’t be subjected to double jeopardy since under the principle of law a person shall not be held to answer on an act twice.

Like Suarez, David said that the amended information put emphasis that Estrada is the primary person who benefitted from the pork barrel scam and not Napoles.

In the original information, David said that “kung ang private individual ang sinasabing utak at nakikinabang ng pork barrel scam, bakit plunder, di naman siya public officer (if Napoles is being accused of being the mastermind of the scam, why should she be charged with plunder when she is not a public officer)?”

David has been emphasizing before the courts that in the crime of plunder, the public officer is the primary person who enriches himself, which is contrary to what the information alleges in the Estrada case. In the information, it was Napoles who enriched herself and she only gave advances to Estrada to ensure that he releases his PDAF to her.

MINOR SETBACK

Despite the setback of the prosecution, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima maintained that the denial of the Ombudsman’s motion to amend the case information of Revilla was just a minor and temporary legal setback, which would not affect the totality of their case against the legislator.

She remains confident that the government can still bring those who took part in the illegal, multi-billion racket of Napoles behind bars.

De Lima also wondered what prompted the Sandiganbayan to throw out the Ombudsman’s motion to amend the information when in fact it was within the right of the prosecution to amend the information prior to arraignment.

“It is elementary under rules of court na before arraignment, it is a matter of right for the prosecution to amend whether formal or substantial amendment. So bakit ‘di pinayagan?” De Lima asked.

‘PORKLESS 2015 BUDGET

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon urged yesterday the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to ensure that no pork barrel fund allocations would be incorporated in the proposed 2015 national budget.

Drilon said the Senate, which chose to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) after several of its members were implicated in the pork barrel fund controversy implicating several of its members, will exercise stringent measures to ensure the pork barrel system isn’t revived in next year’s financial plan.

The Senate chief made the call while the Executive department is currently drafting the proposed 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which would be the basis for Congress to deliberate and approve this year.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad had said the DBM will submit its P2.606-trillion general appropriation bill to Congress after President Aquino delivers his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) on July 28.

Next year’s budget is 15 percent higher than this year’s approved budget which is P2.264-trillion. A total of P3.2-billion, which comprises Vice President Jejomar Binay and 15 senators’ pork barrel funds, was deleted from the original proposed 2014 budget.

Drilon suggested that funding allocated for PDAF in previous years be directly channeled to agencies which are considered the country’s instruments for social services such as “massive backing for public hospitals, free public education in higher levels, poverty alleviation program, and assistance to the agricultural sector.”