MANILA - The Supreme Court has junked former Senator Jinggoy Estrada's bid to exclude the testimony of "pork barrel" scam primary whistleblower and prosecution witness Benhur Luy in Estrada's trial before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
This, as the high court also denied Estrada's plea for the suppression and exclusion as evidence of the cash/check disbursement reports presented by the prosecution.
In a nine-page resolution dated January 24, 2017, the high court ruled that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the anti-graft court in allowing Luy's testimony as well as the disbursement reports to form part of the case of the Office of the Ombudsman against the former lawmaker.
In his petition, Estrada claimed that such evidence were obtained in violation of his constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure, and inadmissible as evidence. He specifically questioned JLN (Janet Lim Napoles) Corporation files Luy had encoded, copied, and surrendered to the Ombudsman.
However, the high court ruled that since Luy is a private individual, Estrada cannot invoke the above-stated right because the constitution provides a guarantee against unlawful searches and seizures by government agents and law enforcers.
"If the search is made upon the request of law enforcers, a judicial warrant must be generally be first secured if the search is to pass the test of constitutionality. But if the search is made at the behest or initiative of a private individual without the intervention of police authorities, the right against unreasonable search and seizure
cannot be invoked considering that only the private individual is involved.
"Such admission of Luy to become a state witness in the case against Estrada did not immediately equate to his becoming an instrument of governmental intrusion into Estrada's privacy. Luy's copying of the files he had encoded as an employee of JLN Corporation remained to be his act as a private individual because there was no interference or
participation from the government or its agents at the time of the encoding, copying, and obtaining of the files," the resolution read.
The SC also stressed that state witnesses are granted immunity under Republic Act (RA) No. 6981, also known as the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, so they may freely testify.
The immunity granted to Luy was intended "to embolden him to testify despite the threats of criminal suit, and to enable him to help the government with his knowledge of the matters relevant to the PDAF issues," the SC added.
Estrada stands accused of allegedly pocketing P183.79-million in kickbacks from alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles for allocating portions of his PDAF to bogus foundations and/or non-government organizations linked to Napoles.
There have been fears the trial of the PDAF cases against several lawmakers may be negatively affected by a move by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to manifest before the Court of Appeals (CA) that it disagrees with the conviction of Napoles in the serious illegal detention case filed by Luy before a lower court.
Government had stressed that the serious illegal detention case is separate from the PDAF cases, and the position of the OSG will not affect Luy's credibility as star witness in the trials before the Sandiganbayan.