Estrada's son gets bail in graft case

He was one of three ex-senators jailed for getting kickbacks in huge 'pork barrel' scam

MANILA • The son of former Philippine president Joseph Estrada who was held in detention for more than three years over a massive "pork barrel" scam was out on bail yesterday.

Former senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, 54, was released after his lawyers posted bail of 1.33 million pesos (S$35,000).

He still faces trial for allegedly skimming 183 million pesos off a "pork barrel" known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund. A "pork barrel" refers to government funds for projects by legislators meant to win votes.

An anti-graft court filed plunder charges against Estrada in June 2014, and he was arrested a month later. The case dragged on for more than three years as his lawyers repeatedly asked the court to allow him to post bail for an offence considered non-bailable.

In allowing Estrada to post bail, the anti-graft court said "there was no strong evidence" that he was the "main plunderer" in a scam to steal 10 billion pesos in public funds.

Estrada is the eldest son of Mr Joseph Estrada, who was president from 1998 till 2001 when he was ousted in a popular revolt over corruption allegations.

The younger Estrada is the second senator in the case to be out on bail. Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, 93, was allowed to post bail on account of his age and health. Another former senator, Ramon Revilla Jr, 50, is also seeking bail.

In his campaign speeches, President Rodrigo Duterte had vowed to have Estrada and Revilla released from detention. He claimed the two were political targets of his predecessor Benigno Aquino.

The cases against the three men came out of an abduction complaint filed by accountant Benhur Luy against his employer and cousin Janet Napoles.

Mr Luy claimed Napoles and her security staff held him at a "retreat house" from December 2012 to March 2013. He said this was because he had threatened to expose a scam purportedly run by Napoles to siphon 10 billion pesos worth of government funds using the "pork barrels" of a number of lawmakers.

Napoles allegedly set up "dummy" foundations that she used to channel funds meant for non-government and charity groups into the private accounts of politicians she dealt with as a consultant and contractor.

She turned herself over to Mr Aquino in April 2013, and later named Estrada, Enrile and Revilla as among those who supposedly received "kickbacks" from her.

She was jailed for 40 years in 2015 for detaining Mr Luy.

After Mr Duterte was elected last year, government lawyers sought to drop the illegal detention case against Napoles. An appeals court then reversed her conviction in May this year.

Napoles, however, remains in jail as she awaits trial for cases over the purported pork barrel scam.

Critics claim she is being cajoled into turning state witness against Mr Aquino, whom Mr Duterte has linked to efforts to destabilise his government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Estrada's son gets bail in graft case'. Print Edition | Subscribe