On the day the Estrada verdict was announced last week, a client who needed help in his claim for social security benefits in the Philippines professed sympathy for the former president, expressing his hope that he would be shown mercy because he had “suffered enough.”
Like most people, my client had not read the 212 page decision of the Philippine Anti-Graft Court (Sandigan Bayan) finding former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada guilty of plunder. If he had read the complete decision, he would have discovered the connection between his problems with the SSS and the plunder verdict. (For the transcripts, log on to http://www.manilamail.com).
It took six years for the Sandigan court to try the Estrada case, most of it due to delays caused by Estrada himself. At one point, he fired all his attorneys so that a mistrial could occur. But after the court provided him with new attorneys, whom he rejected, Estrada retained new counsel and proceeded with the case. His strategy then was to delay it until his closest personal friend, Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ), whom he personally coaxed into running, could win the presidency in the May 2004 elections and dismiss all the charges against him.
But when FPJ lost, Estrada had no choice but to proceed with the trial, with a strategy directed towards destroying the credibility of the court and depicting the trial as "politically motivated" to justify his removal from office. Very little was done by his lawyers to debunk the voluminous evidence presented in court.
Dozens of witnesses described how Estrada collected billions of Philippine pesos in "jueteng" protection money which, witnesses testified, they regularly delivered in cash to his Polk Street mansion in San Juan in Metro Manila. It was like a mob scene from "The Sopranos." Credible witnesses also testified that when Estrada was president, he directed his appointees in the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS) to purchase a combined total of 681,733,000 shares of stock of the Belle Corporation worth P1,847,578,057.50 ($40-M).
Carlos Arellano testified that he was a childhood friend of Estrada who appointed him chairman and president of the SSS in 1998. On October 6, 1999, he received a call from Pres. Estrada instructing him to buy Belle Corporation stock. He said he hesitated to do so because the SSS had an investment committee which selected the stocks to invest in for the millions of Filipinos who had contributed to it. However, after further prodding from Estrada, Arellano purchased P900-M (pesos) in Belle stocks on October 21, 1999, just 15 days after he was directed to do so.
Federico Pascual testified that he was the president of the GSIS in 1999, appointed by Estrada, when he was instructed to purchase Belle shares. He hesitated to do the president’s bidding, he said, because the Belle Corporation was involved in jai-alai and gambling and had a “speculative flavor”. But after receiving another call from Estrada on October 9, 1999, he went ahead and authorized the purchase by GSIS of P1.1-B (pesos) in Belle stock.
A close crony of Estrada, Jaime Dichaves, facilitated the transaction. Belle Corporation executives testified that they issued a cashier’s check to Dichaves in the amount of P189-M (International Exchange Bank Check No. 6000159271 dated November 5, 1999) as his 10% commission for securing the purchase by SSS and GSIS of close to P2-B (pesos) in Belle stocks.
Bank executives then testified that Dichaves deposited the check into his account and issued a check in the same amount, which he then deposited in to the Equitable Bank account of “Jose Velarde.” Dichaves deposited an additional amount of P74-M (pesos) into the same account.
Clarissa Ocampo, an Equitable Bank manager, testified that she personally witnessed Estrada sign his name as “Jose Velarde” in withdrawing funds from the Equitable Bank, an allegation that was openly admitted by Estrada himself. Bank executives testified that other bank accounts in the same bank were in the names of Jose Velarde and Loi Ejercito (Estrada’s legal wife).
Bank executives also testified that it was from this same Jose Velarde account that Estrada purchased the “Boracay Mansion” near Wack-Wack Golf Club for the use of his favored mistress, Laarni Enriquez. The man who facilitated the purchase of this mansion was Jose Luis Yulo who, because of this “housing”
experience was then appointed Estrada’s Secretary of Housing, replacing the very competent Karina Constantino-David.
The evidence was just too overwhelming and too blatant for the Sandiganbayan justices to ignore. Estrada was guilty of plunder, beyond a reasonable doubt. Estrada had so much hubris (yabang) that he did not believe he would ever have to account for his actions so he did not care who knew what he was doing.
Unfortunately for him, stupidity is not a legal defense.
When GSIS and SSS bought Belle stocks in 1999, they were priced at P3.14 a share. One year later, on December 29, 2000, their value had sunk dramatically to 60 centavos a share. Two years later, they had gone down to 40 centavos a share. Now they are virtually worthless.
My client and millions of other Filipinos who deposited hard-earned money into the SSS and GSIS may never receive the funds they are entitled to because Estrada squandered their money, for a 10% commission to buy a pricey mansion for his mistress.
While I congratulate the Sandiganbayan judges for their courage in convicting Estrada, my only regret is that Estrada was never charged for his possible role in the abduction and murders of Bubby Dacer, Emmanuel Corbito and Edgar Bentain.
According to members of his family, Bubby Dacer was last seen in Malacañang where he was summoned by Estrada to explain why he was working with his political opponents to discredit him. Shortly after that confrontation where Estrada screamed at him, Dacer and his driver, Corbito, were abducted by members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) headed by Gen. Panfilo Lacson, tortured and executed. The PAOCTF soldiers who admitted killing Dacer and Corbito pointed to Col. Glenn Dumlao as their commanding officer.
Before he fled to the US, Col. Dumlao pointed to Col. Cezar Mancao and Col. Michael Ray Aquino as the officers who gave him the orders. Before they could point their fingers as to who directed them, Mancao and Aquino fled to the US upon instructions of Lacson. If Lacson had been fingered by Mancao and Aquino, would he have pointed the finger at Estrada?
Edgar Bentain was a casino worker at the Casino Filipino (located at the former Silahis Hotel in Manila) when he secretly released to the press the videotape of Estrada playing high-stakes poker with his crony, Atong Ang. The embarrassing videotape was then shown on TV. Shortly after his identity was
revealed, Bentain was picked up by uniformed men in front of the casino and was tortured and killed. Who gave the orders to kill Bentain?
Still feel sorry for Estrada?