MANILA - Despite being charged with plunder for their alleged role in the pork barrel scam, there is no reason for them to seek forgiveness from the people as demanded by a Catholic bishop since the court has yet to establish their guilt.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada made this clear yesterday in reaction to calls by a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that they apologize for betraying the people’s trust.
The two senators and another colleague, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., have been charged with plunder and graft for allegedly embezzling their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in collusion with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Enrile, a veteran lawyer, stressed that the trial of their case is just about to start.
“There is no reason for us to be stressed. Regarding the apology they’re demanding – why should we apologize? We’re not yet sentenced. Our trial is just getting started, right?” Enrile said in a phone patch interview with members of the media.
Asked about his health condition, Enrile said his blood pressure remains normal because he is taking maintenance medicine. He said he continues to read some books and play his favorite games on his iPad mini.
Enrile said he is convinced the government does not have strong evidence to pin him and his colleagues for plunder. “But we cannot really say,” he said.
Enrile said he also keeps himself busy by preparing materials on the history of political theory. He said he would take with him a biography of Nelson Mandela as well as a book of poems. He is also preparing a list of things that he might need in jail like a magnifying glass for reading.
Before the interview, Enrile asked Estrada how he was doing. “Are you alright? Just relax,” Enrile told Estrada.
Estrada replied he is doing okay, taking developments a step at a time.
Twenty political leaders from Cagayan led by Cagayan Gov. Alvaro Antonio trooped to the Senate yesterday to dramatize their support for the former Senate leader.
At a weekly media forum early in the day, Estrada said he is ready to surrender to the Philippine National Police (PNP) through Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director Benjamin Magalong.
Estrada added there is no basis for the call of the CBCP for him to apologize.
“Me? Why will I say sorry? Why should I apologize? There is no basis for me apologizing because my conscience is clear,” said Estrada, adding that waiting for the issuance of the warrant of arrest against him and his colleagues has been “mental torture.”
Estrada said he is leaving it up to the Sandiganbayan to dictate where he should be detained.
Estrada’s legal team is headed by former prosecutor Jose Flaminiano, Sevino Acup and Noel Malaya.
The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth division is still hearing his petition for determination of probable cause.
Asked what advice he could give to Revilla, Estrada said, “Stay cool, always pray.”
Estrada told Revilla he sought refuge in prayer when he was jailed for plunder, along with his father now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
The younger Estrada was eventually granted bail and the plunder case against him dismissed.
He said prayers had worked well for him, prompting him to regularly go to Our Lady of Perpetual Help shrine in Baclaran since he was freed in 2003.
Estrada also said he is not ruling out the possibility that he would testify in his own trial.
Estrada admitted he still has fear of getting jailed again but he has to be strong not just for his family, but also for his supporters.
“The fear is always there. The mere thought of getting jailed again, gives me goose bumps. I keep thinking of my children,” Estrada said yesterday.
“This is the price I have to pay… I know that since I entered politics, this is going to be a dirty game. I will never give up,” he said.
“For those who criticize me, you will not be a reason to give up this fight,” said Estrada.
The elder Estrada, meanwhile, insisted the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and implementing agencies were largely to blame for the PDAF scam because it’s their responsibility to check the legitimacy of non-government organizations involved in government projects.
“They are the ones releasing the money, not the senators. They are the ones, not the senators, who are handling the money,” Mayor Estrada told The STAR.
Estrada said during his stint as senator he had allowed his secretary to handle the allocations of his pork barrel provided the application was in order.
He said as a senator he did not know where his pork barrel went.
“Before the money is released, the Department of Budget and Management is the one checking the legitimacy of the NGOs where the money goes. They are the overseer of the money. That is not the responsibility of the senators because it is the obligation of the DBM,” Estrada said.
He also said the pork barrel scam could have been the handiwork of the Department of Justice (DOJ), in collusion with the whistle-blowers, to pin down the opposition senators.
“That is the way I look at it. Like for example, Ruby Tuason. She was just there to save herself from prosecution. Ruby Tuason had nothing when she was still working in Malacañang. Then suddenly she bought a house in Dasmariñas Village,” Estrada said, referring to his former social secretary when he was president.
Estrada said the DOJ could easily coach whistle-blowers into saying what it wanted the public to hear.
“They (whistle-blowers) are only after saving themselves from prosecution,” Estrada said.
In Malolos City, meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III vowed to inspect the jails and special quarters being prepared by the government for his three Senate colleagues.
As chair of the Senate justice committee, he said it is his responsibility to review protocols on arrest and detention of the accused.
“During our hearings in the justice committee, all these things came up, so I have to check,” the senator said. “It is time we update ourselves and see if we are in compliance with our international commitment in relation to detention of prisoners.” –With Dino Balabo, Jose Rodel Clapano