SENATOR Jinggoy Estrada and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles were acquitted of plunder charges by the Sandiganbayan on Friday, January 19, 2024, in relation to the pork barrel scam due to reasonable doubt.
Estrada, however, was convicted of bribery charges for transferring his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to fake non-government organizations owned by Napoles, receiving a sentence of eight to nine years for one count of direct bribery and two to three years for each of the two counts of indirect bribery.
The senator also faces suspension from holding public office, temporary disqualification from voting, and a P3 million fine.
On the other hand, the court also convicted Napoles on five counts of corruption of public official through direct bribery, sentencing her to up to 10 years imprisonment for each count and imposing a P29.63 million fine.
She was also found guilty on two counts of corruption of public officials through indirect bribery, receiving a similar sentence for each count.
Napoles was also ordered to indemnify the government with P262.03 million, including interest, in civil liability.
The corruption charges against Napoles stemmed from giving bribes to Estrada, totaling P1 million on September 18, 2008, and transactions facilitated through his former deputy chief of staff, Pauline Therese C. Labayen, with a combined amount of P8.87 million on four different dates.
The indirect bribery involved P1.5 million initially received by Estrada through an intermediary, which he later returned.
The charges encompass transactions from 2004 to 2012, where the accused engaged in kickbacks and commissions, representing a percentage of project costs to be funded from Estrada's PDAF.
This was in exchange for endorsing NGOs controlled by Napoles that were designated as recipients and implementors of ghost or fictitious projects purportedly spanning various areas across the Philippines.
In a report by SunStar Philippines in 2014, Estrada denied that he amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth and said that he has no participation or knowledge in the transfer of any amounts forming part of his PDAF allocation to anyone other than its legally intended beneficiaries.
He also further said that he did not receive any amount from Napoles or any person associated with her or the NGOs she supposedly owned or controlled.
Estrada also said that he had no hand in the implementation of the projects under the PDAF, and that his participation was limited to identifying a project from a menu of projects for funding as provided by law.
The senator asserted that his endorsements of certain NGOs from a limited list of duly and previously accredited NGOs were “recommendatory at best” with the choice of NGO still left to the implementing agency.
The Sandiganbayan said that Estrada's actions, including requesting PDAF allocations and endorsing Napoles' NGOs, were linked to his role as a senator, where he had full control over fund release and project decisions. The Court emphasized that these endorsements would not have occurred without his position as a public official.
"A public officer commits an offense in relation to his office if he perpetrates the offense while performing, though in an improper or irregular manner, his official functions and cannot commit the offense without holding his public office," it added.
In an ambush interview from the Philippine News Agency, Estrada said the decision is "appealable" and they will exhaust all legal remedies.
"Well, nothing is final. That is appealable. We will file the necessary motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan. I will instruct all my lawyers to exhaust all legal options, all legal remedies," Estrada said.
Senator JV Ejercito, his brother, said in a statement that he still believes in the country's justice system and asked everyone to respect the decision.
"The Sandiganbayan has handed down its verdict. I urge everyone to respect the wisdom and fairness of our justice system. Our justice system, despite its imperfection, is there to maintain law and order, protect our rights, and provide justice," Ejercito said. (JGS with a report from PNA/SunStar Philippines)