Son of former Philippine leader Estrada out on bail in graft case after over 3 years in detention

Philippine Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada waving to supporters as he gets into a police car on his way to a detention center after surrendering to authorities at police headquarters in Manila on June 23, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

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 on Saturday (Sept 16).

Former senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, 54, was released after his lawyers posted 1.33 million pesos (S$35,000) in bail. 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 please voters and win votes.

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

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

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 second senator implicated in the case to be allowed to post 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 still being held inside a compound at the Philippine police headquarters in Manila. He is also seeking bail.

In his campaign speeches, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to have Estrada and Revilla released from detention. He claimed the two had been targeted by his predecessor Benigno Aquino for political persecution.

The cases against the three senators grew out of an abduction complaint filed by an accountant, Mr Benhur Luy, against his employer and cousin Janet Napoles.

Mr Luy claimed Napoles and her security staff detained him inside a "retreat house" from December 2012 to March 2013. He said he was held there because he threatened to blow the whistle on 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 organisations into the private accounts of politicians she dealt with as a consultant and contractor.

She turned herself over to Mr Aquino in April 2013, after she briefly went into hiding.

Napoles later named the three senators - Estrada, Enrile and Revilla - as among those who supposedly received "kickbacks" from her.

A regional trial court sentenced Napoles to 40 years in prison in 2015 for detaining Mr Luy.

After Mr Duterte was elected last year (2016), government lawyers sought to drop the illegal detention case against Napoles. An appeals court then reversed Napoles' conviction in May this year, saying it found the evidence against her "grossly insufficient to sustain a conviction".

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

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

Mr Aquino is facing accusations that he himself circumvented the law in bypassing Congress to fund his infrastructure projects.

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