MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Sandiganbayan on Monday entered a not guilty plea for Senator Jinggoy Estrada following his refusal to enter one himself, in the plunder case filed against him in connection with the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations or pork barrel funds.
Estrada told the court he cannot enter a plea because he has two pending petitions at the Supreme Court.
“I respectfully refuse to enter a plea, your honor,” he said.
Estrada asked the SC on June 24 to stop the Sandiganbayan from hearing his plunder and graft cases and to invalidate the arrest warrant issued against him.
Alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty.
Accused of plunder before the anti-graft court’s First Division are Estrada, Napoles, Estrada’s chief of staff Pauline Labayen and Napoles’ driver John Raymund de Asis. Labayen, and De Asis remain at large.
Estrada allegedly diverted his PDAF allocation to fake NGOs put up by Napoles, and pocketed P183.79 million in kickbacks.
Aside from one count of plunder, Estrada is also accused of 11 counts of graft.
In a separate interview before Estrada’s arraignment, his lawyer Jose Flaminiano said the senator has a good chance of being granted bail for plunder, a non-bailable offense.
Flaminiano said the prosecution’s case and pieces of evidence against Estrada are “very weak.”
“Palagay ko malakas ang laban sa bail. Katunayan gusto amyendahan ng prosecution ang kanilang demanda dahil napakahina ang kanilang demanda. ‘Yung ebidensya nila very weak and insufficient kaya malaki ang laban sa bail,” the lawyer said.
Flaminiano refused to divulge the defense camp’s strategy to secure Estrada’s acquittal on plunder and graft charges.
Last week, the Ombudsman attempted to amend Estrada’s plunder case by emphasizing that the senator “amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his accused public officer and private individuals.”
Prosecutors however ended up withdrawing their motion to amend Estrada’s plunder case after Associate Justice Roland Jurado, Sandiganbayan Fifth Division chairperson, warned them that revisions in the case may lead Estrada’s release from detention.
Immediately after Estrada’s surrender last June 23, his lawyers filed a petition before the Sandiganbayan to allow the senator to post bail, claiming the evidence against him “is not strong.” (MNS)