MANILA - Malacañang on Monday defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to endorse former Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who is running for the Senate in the May polls even as he faces plunder and graft charges in connection to the pork barrel scam.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Estrada is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by the court.
“Former senator Estrada is charged with corruption, and the Constitution says unless you are convicted a final judgment, you are presumed to be innocent,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“He’s been granted bail and the reason for the court’s grant of provisional liberty is anchored on the act that the evidence of guilt is not strong.”
Panelo added, Duterte cannot be “begrudged… for endorsing a man who’s presumed to be innocent under the law.”
He also dismissed the opinion that Duterte’s endorsement of Estrada goes against the President’s anti-corruption platform.
“A ‘whiff of corruption’ doesn’t mean a reckless receipt of an allegation of corruption and a decision to fire the person subject of that information,” Panelo said. “The President, as a lawyer, investigates any allegation of corruption before he makes any move.”
Panelo also argued that the President was not in the position to make any judgment on Estrada’s case.
“The President, to my mind, has not received any evidence of corruption vis-à-vis Mr. Estrada. First, he’s not a member of the Cabinet. He was a member of the legislature at that time. Second, he was not yet President at the time of the alleged commission of corruption,” Panelo said.
He added that while endorsing Estrada may be criticized, “surveys will tell you the President has made many perceived to be unpopular decisions yet the survey remains very high.”
“In other words, the Filipino people trust this man. They are confident and believe in his judgment,” he said.
“This man could not care less. For as long he repeatedly says, ‘I am mandated by Constitution to serve and protect, any action that I make will be on that basis alone.’”
Estrada, who has been out on bail since September 2017, is accused of pocketing P183 million in kickbacks from fake projects, purportedly with help from businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged scam mastermind.
He was granted bail by the anti-graft court on the basis that he was not the “main plunderer.”
In a peace and order summit in Legazpi City, Albay last Friday, Feb. 8, Duterte raised Estrada’s hand.
Estrada is included in the senatorial slate being endorsed by Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party of the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
Duterte will reportedly come up with his own senatorial line-up, aside from the five-man slate of the ruling party, PDP-Laban, chaired by the President.
Panelo explained that Duterte possibly coming up with his own senatorial slate would be borne out of his “personal preference” and show that “he has a deep bench of senatorial hopefuls.”
“I think what he’s doing is he’s presenting certain candidates that, to his mind, would be good material for the Senate,” Panelo said.
“[It] can only mean there’s a large number of highly qualified candidates that anyone of them winning will make the President pleased and confident [since] they will support any measure that will redound to the benefit of the Filipino people.”
But Panelo said the administration must accept the fact that not all of its bets will make it to the so-called Magic 12 in the senatorial race.
“Even if a president endorses an entire slate, there never was [an instance in] history that an entire slate won. There is always somebody outside of the slate that gets the approbation of the people,” he said.