Ombudsman files criminal charges against Estrada
MANILA, April 4 Kyodo
(UPDATING WITH ESTRADA’S REACTION, DEFINITION OF PLUNDER)
The Philippine government’s chief corruption prosecutor on Wednesday formally filed plunder and corruption charges against ousted President Joseph Estrada, alleging he committed a series ”criminal or overt acts” to enrich himself and his family during his 30 months in office.
Estrada said he was saddened by the Supreme Court decision, adding, ”There is no more rule of law in this country. I am so frustrated.”
He told reporters he believes that the people who elected him will have the final say, not the Supreme Court, and said he would exhaust all legal remedies to fight the charges against him, which he labeled ”fabricated”.
The Office of the Ombudsman, the government’s chief corruption investigator, filed one charge of plunder and seven other corruption charges with the Sandiganbayan, the country’s special antigraft court.
Also charged with plunder and named Estrada’s ”conspirators” in amassing illegal wealth are his son Jinggoy, his close friend Charlie Ang and several others.
Ombudsman Aniano Desierto said Estrada, 63, ”was found to have taken advantage of his official position and influence to amass ill-gotten wealth.” He said Estrada plundered more than 4.098 billion pesos ($80.5 million).
Any government official who — alone, or in connivance with members of his family, business associates, subordinates or other persons — amasses ill-gotten wealth with a total value of more than 50 million pesos is considered guilty of the crime of plunder.
Estrada is also facing seven other charges — violation of the antigraft law, perjury, illegal use of public funds, misuse of public funds, violation of ethical standards, illegal gambling and illegal use of the alias ”Jose Velarde” to conceal his secret bank accounts.
Estrada’s wife, Luisa, was also charged for receiving 20 million pesos from the 130 million pesos collected in tobacco excise tax.
Desierto said the Office of the Ombudsman is looking into four more plunder cases filed with the Ombudsman by other concerned parties. In the Philippines, plunder is punishable by lifetime imprisonment or death.
The Sandiganbayan is now expected to conduct its own investigation into the charges to see if there are grounds to prosecute the former president. If grounds are found, it is expected that Estrada will be arrested.
The filing of the criminal charges with the Sandiganbayan followed the Supreme Court on Tuesday again ruling that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, not Estrada, is the country’s legitimate president. It was the second Supreme Court ruling handed down in the matter.
The Tuesday ruling also stripped Estrada of immunity from prosecution for criminal actions, which is given to presidents while in office, quashing any chance he might be reinstated as president.
Estrada was elected as president in a May 1998 landslide victory, winning the most popular votes ever for a presidential candidate, and was sworn on June 30, 1998 as the Philippines’ 13th president.
His constitutionally mandated single six-year term was to have ended in June 2004.
But Estrada’s presidency began to crumble on Oct. 5 last year when Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson, an erstwhile Estrada drinking and gambling buddy, alleged Estrada was taking kickbacks from gambling syndicates.
On Nov. 13, the House of Representatives impeached Estrada on accusations of bribery, graft and corruption, betraying public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution. His impeachment trial on the four charges began Dec. 7 before the Senate.
A subsequent popular uprising, triggered by the collapse of the impeachment trial, led to Estrada’s ouster, forcing him and his family to hurriedly vacate the Malacanang presidential palace Jan 20.
Chief Justice Hilario Davide swore then Vice President Arroyo into office the same day after the Supreme Court declared the presidency vacant.
The Tuesday ruling upheld a March 2 decision that had been appealed by Estrada’s legal team.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Kyodo News International, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group