(This is a digest of the Plunder Case against former President Joseph Estrada, Senator Jinngoy Estrada and Atty. Edward Serapio. The findings of facts will be covered in subsequent posts.)
On 4 April 2001, an Information for plunder was filed against former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada (â€œFPres. Estradaâ€), together with Jose â€œJinggoyâ€ Estrada, Charlie â€˜Atongâ€ Ang, Edward Serapio, Yolanda T. Ricaforte, Alma Alfaro, Eleuterio Tan, a.k.a. Eleuterio Ramos Tan or Mr. Uy, Jane Doe a.k.a. Delia Rajas, and John & Jane Does, for the crime of Plunder defined and penalized under R.A. No. 7080, as amended by Sec. 12 of R.A. No. 7659. The Information was subsequently amended, as follows:
The undersigned Ombudsman Prosecutor and OIC-Director, EPIB, Office of the Ombudsman, hereby accuses former PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES, Joseph Ejercito Estrada a.k.a. â€œASIONG SALONGAâ€ AND a.k.a. â€œJOSE VELARDEâ€, together with Jose â€˜Jinggoyâ€™ Estrada, Charlie â€œAtongâ€ Ang, Edward Serapio, Yolanda T. Ricaforte, Alma Alfaro, JOHN DOE a.k.a. Eleuterio Tan OR Eleuterio Ramos Tan or Mr. Uy, Jane Doe a.k.a. Delia Rajas, and John DOES & Jane Does, of the crime of Plunder, defined and penalized under R.A. No. 7080, as amended by Sec. 12 of R.A. No. 7659, committed as follows:
That during the period from June, 1998 to January, 2001, in the Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Joseph Ejercito Estrada, THEN A PUBLIC OFFICER, BEING THEN THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, by himself AND/OR in CONNIVANCE/CONSPIRACY with his co-accused, WHO ARE MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY, RELATIVES BY AFFINITY OR CONSANGUINITY, BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, SUBORDINATES AND/OR OTHER PERSONS, BY TAKING UNDUE ADVANTAGE OF HIS OFFICIAL POSITION, AUTHORITY, RELATIONSHIP, CONNECTION, OR INFLUENCE, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass, accumulate and acquire BY HIMSELF, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount OR TOTAL VALUE of FOUR BILLION NINETY SEVEN MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY THREE PESOS AND SEVENTEEN CENTAVOS [P4,097,804,173.17], more or less, THEREBY UNJUSTLY ENRICHING HIMSELF OR THEMSELVES AT THE EXPENSE AND TO THE DAMAGE OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE AND THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, through ANY OR A combination OR A series of overt OR criminal acts, OR SIMILAR SCHEMES OR MEANS, described as follows:
(a) by receiving OR collecting, directly or indirectly, on SEVERAL INSTANCES, MONEY IN THE AGGREGATE AMOUNT OF FIVE HUNDRED FORTY-FIVE MILLION PESOS (P545,000,000.00), MORE OR LESS, FROM ILLEGAL GAMBLING IN THE FORM OF GIFT, SHARE, PERCENTAGE, KICKBACK OR ANY FORM OF PECUNIARY BENEFIT, BY HIMSELF AND/OR in connivance with co-accused CHARLIE â€˜ATONGâ€™ ANG, JOSE â€˜Jinggoyâ€™ Estrada, Yolanda T. Ricaforte, Edward Serapio, AND JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, in consideration OF TOLERATION OR PROTECTION OF ILLEGAL GAMBLING;
(b) by DIVERTING, RECEIVING, misappropriating, converting OR misusing DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, for HIS OR THEIR PERSONAL gain and benefit, public funds in the amount of ONE HUNDRED THIRTY MILLION PESOS [P130,000,000.00], more or less, representing a portion of the TWO HUNDRED MILLION PESOS [P200,000,000.00] tobacco excise tax share allocated for the Province of Ilocos Sur under R.A. No. 7171, BY HIMSELF AND/OR in CONNIVANCE with co-accused Charlie â€˜Atongâ€™ Ang, Alma Alfaro, JOHN DOE a.k.a. Eleuterio Tan OR Eleuterio Ramos Tan or Mr. Uy, and Jane Doe a.k.a. Delia Rajas, AND OTHER JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES;
(c) by directing, ordering and compelling, FOR HIS PERSONAL GAIN AND BENEFIT, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) TO PURCHASE, 351,878,000 SHARES OF STOCKS, MORE OR LESS, and the Social Security System (SSS), 329,855,000 SHARES OF STOCK, MORE OR LESS, OF THE BELLE CORPORATION IN THE AMOUNT OF MORE OR LESS ONE BILLION ONE HUNDRED TWO MILLION NINE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SEVEN PESOS AND FIFTY CENTAVOS [P1,102,965,607.50] AND MORE OR LESS SEVEN HUNDRED FORTY FOUR MILLION SIX HUNDRED TWELVE THOUSAND AND FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY PESOS [P744,612,450.00], RESPECTIVELY, OR A TOTAL OF MORE OR LESS ONE BILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FORTY SEVEN MILLION FIVE HUNDRED SEVENTY EIGHT THOUSAND FIFTY SEVEN PESOS AND FIFTY CENTAVOS [P1,847,578,057.50]; AND BY COLLECTING OR RECEIVING, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, BY HIMSELF AND/OR IN CONNIVANCE WITH JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, COMMISSIONS OR PERCENTAGES BY REASON OF SAID PURCHASES OF SHARES OF STOCK IN THE AMOUNT OF ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS [P189,700,000.00], MORE OR LESS, FROM THE BELLE CORPORATION WHICH BECAME PART OF THE DEPOSIT IN THE EQUITABLE-PCI BANK UNDER THE ACCOUNT NAME â€œJOSE VELARDEâ€;
(d) by unjustly enriching himself FROM COMMISSIONS, GIFTS, SHARES, PERCENTAGES, KICKBACKS, OR ANY FORM OF PECUNIARY BENEFITS, IN CONNIVANCE WITH JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, in the amount of MORE OR LESS THREE BILLION TWO HNDRED THIRTY THREE MILLION ONE HUNDRED FOUR THOUSAND AND ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY THREE PESOS AND SEVENTEEN CENTAVOS [P3,233,104,173.17] AND DEPOSITING THE SAME UNDER HIS ACCOUNT NAME â€œJOSE VELARDEâ€ AT THE EQUITABLE-PCI BANK.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
After the prosecution finished presenting its evidence, FPres. Estrada filed, with leave of court, a demurrer to evidence. The demurrer, however, was denied by the court. Accused Serapio opted not to present his own evidence, and instead adopted the evidence presented by FPres. Estrada and Jinggoy Estrada.
Incidentally, in 2007, the Sandiganbayan approved the Plea Bargaining Agreement between the prosecution and accused Atong Ang, the latter pleading guilty to a lesser offense of Corruption of Public Officials under Article 212 in relation to Article 211 of the Revised Penal Code. Accused Atong Ang was sentenced to two years and four months of prision correccional minimum, as minimum, to six years of prision correccional maximum, as maximum, and to pay the amount of P25,000,000.00 to the Government as his civil liability. Accused Atong Ang is now out of jail under probation.
The elements of the crime of plunder, pursuant to RA 7080 and as laid down by the Supreme Court in the earlier case of Joseph Ejercito Estrada vs. Sandiganbayan (G.R. No. 148560, 19 November 2001), are as follows:
(1) That the offender is a public officer who acts by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons;
(2) That he amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of the following overt or criminal acts described in Section 1 (d) of R.A. No. 7080 as amended; and
(3) That the aggregate amount or total value of the ill-gotten wealth amassed, accumulated or acquired is at least P50,000,000.00.
The terms â€œCombinationâ€ and â€œSeriesâ€ were likewise defined in the above-cited case. â€œCombinationâ€ refers to at least two acts falling under different categories of enumeration provided in Sec. 1, par. (d), e.g., raids on the public treasury in Sec.1, par. (d), subpar. (1), and fraudulent conveyance of assets belongings to the National Government under Sec.1, par. (d), subpar. (3). On the other hand, to constitute a â€œseriesâ€, there must be two or more overt or criminal acts falling under the same category of enumeration found in Sec. 1, par. (d), say, misappropriation, malversation and raids on the public treasury, all of which fall under Sec. 1, par. (d), subpar. (1).
Section 1 (d) reads:
Ill-gotten wealth means any asset, property, business enterprise or material possession of any person within the purview of Section Two (2) hereof, acquired by him directly or in directly through dummies, nominees, agents, subordinates and/or business associates by any combination or series of the following means or similar schemes:
1) Through misappropriation, conversation, misuse, or malversation of public funds or raids on the public treasury;
2) By receiving, directly or indirectly, any commission, gift, share, percentage, kickbacks or any other form of pecuniary benefit from any person and/ or entity in connection with any government contract or project or by reason of the office or position of the public officer concerned;
3) By the illegal or fraudulent conveyance or disposition of asset belonging to the National Government or any of its subdivision, agencies or instrumentalities or government-owned or â€“controlled corporations and their subsidiaries;
4) By obtaining, receiving or accepting directly or indirectly any shares of stock, equity or any other form of interest or participation including promises of future employment in any business enterprise or undertaking;
5) By establishing agricultural, industrial or commercial monopolies or other combinations and/or implementation of decrees and orders intended to benefit particular persons or special interests; or
6) By taking undue advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines.
The prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt the elements of plunder as against former President Estrada, thus:
(a) The principal accused Joseph Ejercito Estrada, at the time of the commission of the acts charged in the Amended Information was the President of the Republic of the Philippines;
(b) He acted in connivance with then Governor Luis â€œChavitâ€ Singson, who was granted immunity from suit by the Office of the Ombudsman, and with the participation of other persons named by prosecution witnesses in the course of the trial of this case, in amassing, accumulating and acquiring ill-gotten wealth as follows:
(i) by a series of acts of receiving bi-monthly collections from â€œjuetengâ€, a form of illegal gambling, during the period beginning November 1998 to August 2000 in the aggregate amount of P545,291,000.00. Out of this amount, P200,000,000.00 was deposited in the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation; and
(ii) by a series consisting of two acts of ordering the GSIS and the SSS to purchase shares of stock of Belle Corporation and collecting or receiving commission from the sales of Belle Shares in the amount of P189,700,000.00 which was deposited in the Jose Velarde account.
These two acts – (i) and (ii) – correspond to sub-paragraphs (a) and (c) of the Amended Information. However, there is uncertainty as to the participation of Jinggoy Estrada and Serapio in the allegations under sub-paragraph (a) of the Amended Information (both are not included in sub-paragraph [c] of the Amended Information).
With respect to Jinggoy Estrada, there was no evidence that the money he turned over to Gov. Singson or the latterâ€™s representatives was part of the jueteng protection money collected from Bulacan or that he received funds from a certain Viceo. The prosecution did not also rebut the bank certification presented by the defense that Jinggoy Estrada did not have an account with the United Overseas Bank, disproving the testimony of Emma Lim that the deposit slip in the amount said to be part of jueteng money was turned over to her by Jinggoy Estrada from his account at the United Overseas Bank. The gaps in the prosecutionâ€™s evidence as to Jinggoy Estrada create uncertainty in the mind of the Court as to the participation of Jinggoy Estrada in the collection and receipt of jueteng money.
With respect to Serapio, neither Gov. Chavit Singsonâ€™s testimony nor the ledger entries proved that Serapio was involved in any way in the collection or disbursement of jueteng protection money. It is difficult to presume any criminal intent on the part of Serapio to conceal or launder jueteng protection money in order to contribute to the amassing and accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by FPres. Estrada in connection with the transfer of the P200,000,000.00 to the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation.
On the other hand, the prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt the allegations under sub-paragraph (b) and (d) of the amended Information:
1. Acts under sub-paragraph (b) of the Amended Information. – With respect to the act of divesting, receiving or misappropriating a portion of the tobacco excise tax share allocated for the Province of Ilocos Sur, the paper trail in relation to the P130,000,000.00 diverted tobacco excise taxes began with Gov. Singson and ended with Atong Ang. This Court does not find the evidence sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that FPres. Estrada or any member of his family had instigated and/or benefited from the diversion of said funds. The prosecution failed to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, who among the accused benefited from the misappropriation of the excise tax share of Ilocos Sur and in what amounts.
2. Acts under sub-paragraph (d) of the Amended Information. – While the prosecution presented overwhelming evidence that there were numerous deposits of astoundingly large sums of money into the Jose Velarde account, it failed to prove the predicate act/s as defined under Section 1(d) of R.A. No. 7080 through which the said deposits could have been acquired or amassed, except for the amount of P189,700,000.00, representing illegal commissions from the sales of Belle shares and the money collected from illegal gambling. It is not per se the accumulation of wealth which is proscribed by the Anti-Plunder Law. The acquisition of wealth of not less than P50,000,000.00 must be linked to the commission of overt or criminal acts falling within the ambit of the said law. All that the prosecution has succeeded in showing is that the Jose Velarde account is the repository or receptacle of vast wealth belonging to FPres. Estrada.
However, the two different series of predicate acts outlined above (particularly, first, the regular and methodical acquisition of ill-gotten wealth through collections from illegal gambling, and, second, the receipt of unlawful commissions from the sales of Belle shares twice), whether taken separately or independently of the other or in combination with each other, unquestionably constitute the crime of plunder as defined by Section 2, in relation to Section 1(d) of RA 7080 as amended.
A pattern was established by the carefully planned system of jueteng money collection on a regular bi-monthly basis from the dfferent provinces nationwide to enrich FPres. Estrada with the connivance and/or participation of Gov. Singson, Yolanda Ricaforte, Emma Lim, Carmencita Itchon, SPO2 Artates, Jamis Singson and other jueteng collectors referred to in the Amended Information as â€œJohn Doesâ€ and â€œJane Does.â€ As proven, the collections in â€œseveral instancesâ€ from illegal gambling money went way beyond the minimum of P50,000,000.00 set by the Anti-Plunder Law. These repeated collections of jueteng money from November 1998 to August 2000 would fall within the purview of a â€œseriesâ€ of illegal acts constituting plunder. The said series of acts, on its own, would have been sufficient to convict the principal accused, FPres. Estrada. However, this Court also finds that FPres. Estrada is criminally liable for plunder for receiving commissions from the purchase of Belle Shares by the GSIS and by the SSS in grave abuse of his power on two separate occasions as charged in sub-paragraph (b) of the Amended Information. Clearly, the receipt of these commissions on two occasions likewise meets the definition of a series of two similar unlawful acts employing the same scheme to accumulate ill-gotten wealth.
It is unnecessary to indulge in an exposition of whether the two series of acts falling under sub-paragraphs (a) and (c) of the Amended Information, proven in the course of the trial could have amounted to two (2) counts of plunder. It would be a purely academic exercise, as the accused cannot be convicted of two offenses or two counts of plunder on the basis of a single Information, clearly charging him of only one count of plunder, because that would violate his constitutional rights to due process, given the severity of the crime charged in this case.
The predicate acts alleged in sub-paragraphs (a) and (c) of the Amended Information, which formed two separate series of acts of a different nature, were linked by the fact that they were plainly geared towards a common goal which was the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth for FPres. Estrada and that they shared a pattern or a common method of commission which was the abuse or misuse of the high authority or power of the Presidency.
In sum, the Court finds that prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt the commission by the principal accused former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada of the crime of plunder but not so in the case of former Mayor Jose Jinggoy Estrada and Atty. Edward Serapio.
Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada is GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of PLUNDER, defined in and penalized by Republic Act No. 7080, as amended. On the other hand, for failure of the prosecution to prove and establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Court finds the accused Jose â€œJinggoyâ€ Estrada and Atty. Edward S. Serapio NOT GUILTY of the crime of plunder, and accordingly, the Court hereby orders their ACQUITTAL.
The penalty imposable for the crime of plunder under Republic Act No. 7080, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, is Reclusion Perpetua to Death. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstances, however, the lesser penalty shall be applied in accordance with Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code. Accordingly, accused Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and the accessory penalties of civil interdiction during the period of sentence and perpetual absolute disqualification.
Moreover, in accordance with Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7080, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, the Court hereby declares the forfeiture in favor of the government of the following: (1) The total amount of P545,291,000.00, with interest and income earned, inclusive of the amount of P200,000,000.00, deposited in the name and account of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation; (2) The amount of P189,000,000.00, inclusive of interests and income earned, deposited in the Jose Velarde account; and (3) The real property consisting of a house and lot dubbed as â€œBoracay Mansionâ€ located at #100 11th Street, New Manila, Quezon City.