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De Lima on Estrada’s bail: We may as well decriminalize plunder

Leila de Lima

Sen. Leila de Lima. (File photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Congress might as well do away with the crime of plunder and the antigraft law for being useless following the release from detention of former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who was allowed to post bail on plunder and graft charges, according to Sen. Leila de Lima.

Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also assailed the release of Estrada, saying President Rodrigo Duterte’s anticorruption campaign is a farce.

Estrada was accused of conspiring with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in funneling his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from 2004 to 2010 into alleged ghost projects in exchange for P183 million in kickbacks.

In a statement, De Lima said: “The exoneration of plunderers under this administration is almost complete.”

She cited the outcome of plunder cases of certain personalities that went in their favor under the Duterte administration.

She was referring to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and even the Marcoses, whose cases are reportedly under review in exchange for the return of their hidden wealth.

Plunder is supposed to be a nonbailable offense.

Voting 3-2, the Fifth Division of the Sandiganbayan accepted Estrada’s argument in his motion that the prosecution had failed to prove that he was the “main plunderer,” or mastermind in the pork barrel scam.

Arroyo used the same argument in winning an acquittal from the Supreme Court in 2016 on charges she plundered funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

“ … (C)ongress might as well decriminalize the crime of plunder and repeal the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act because they have become useless and worthless under (Mr.) Duterte and his virtual amnesty program for the country’s top plunderers,” De Lima said.

The senator is detained on drug charges at the same facility in Camp Crame, where Estrada and former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile used to be detained and where former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. is still being held.

As justice secretary of the Aquino administration, De Lima led the prosecution of Enrile, Estrada and Revilla in connection with the alleged misuse of their pork barrel funds and of Napoles.

She said Revilla and the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind, Napoles, might also be released.

False promise

In a statement, Sison said Mr. Duterte’s promise of anticorruption drive was false.

“By undermining the corruption charges against the big shots, Mr. Duterte has been paying his political debts to the Arroyo, Marcos and Estrada dynasties for the Luzon bailiwick votes that added to his own Mindanao bailiwick vote,” he said.

Like De Lima, Sison also expected Napoles to be released.

“Napoles can be expected to get off the hook, too, because she contributed a huge amount to the campaign of Mr. Duterte,” he said.

The CPP founder said the Filipino people were “victims of one corrupt regime after another.”

Impunity

De Lima also found “doubly alarming” the “trademark impunity” of the executive branch finding its way into the judiciary.

She said the release of Estrada, who got out after three years of detention as he awaited the outcome of his plunder trial, came after his bail was initially denied by the Sandiganbayan on the ground that the evidence against him was strong.

“ … (A) reconstituted Sandiganbayan division with Duterte appointees suddenly finds cause to set Estrada free not because they now find the evidence weak, but because the court thinks that Estrada is not a flight risk,” De Lima said.

“Is the judiciary now introducing new procedure and doctrines just to accommodate the whims of the President?” she said.

De Lima said if this was the new reason of the antigraft court, then she was qualified to be granted bail by the court since she had shown she was not a flight risk.

She noted that she had returned home from a trip abroad despite knowing she would

be arrested for the illegal drug trafficking case to be filed against her.

“When the time of my arrest came, I voluntarily surrendered to the arresting officers. If that is not being a flight risk, then I don’t know what is,” she said.

De Lima said the country was under an “absolute dictatorship” because Mr. Duterte was able to dictate on Congress and now the judiciary.

She expressed that fear the country was going back to a cowed judiciary similar to that during the martial law years.

With officials saying the President would declare martial law this week, she said there was no need for Mr. Duterte to do so.

“We are already under a dictatorship, with Congress and the judiciary under Duterte’s thumb. A martial law proclamation would just be a formality,” De Lima said. Reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Delfin T. Mallari Jr.

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