Philippine authorities arrested a son of former President Joseph Estrada after a court found sufficient evidence to try him on charges of stealing at least 183.8 million pesos ($4.2 million) of development funds.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada handed himself in to police after the anti-graft court known as Sandiganbayan issued a warrant for his arrest for plunder, a non-bailable offense that involves pocketing at least 50 million pesos of public funds. Estrada was the second lawmaker to be arrested in less than a week over a 10 billion-peso corruption scandal.
“The court finds that sufficient grounds exist to the finding of probable cause,” it said in an order released today.
Estrada’s arrest comes as President Benigno Aquino presses to rid the country of its image as one of the most corrupt in Asia. Critics have accused Aquino of selective prosecution for protecting allies embroiled in a kickback scheme that allegedly benefited at least 120 sitting and former legislators. Aquino said June 12 that due process had been followed and the plunder cases against opposition senators aren’t spurred by politics.
“I will face all the charges against me in court.” Estrada, 51, told reporters outside his Manila home in a live broadcast earlier today. “I will submit myself to the rule of law, which I have done before.” Estrada said the evidence against him is weak, according to a copy of his 10-page motion for bail.
His father, with whom he spent time in jail before being acquitted in a graft case in 2007, accompanied him to the police. The elder Estrada was convicted of plunder and pardoned by his successor Gloria Arroyo that same year.
Estrada’s detention is “a step forward in finding out the truth, which is fundamental in strengthening the trust of our people in our institutions and processes,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.
Today’s arrest comes three days after Senator Bong Revilla was detained for allegedly pocketing at least 224.5 million pesos of his discretionary budget, according to a copy of the charge sheet. A third lawmaker, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, was accused of stealing at least 172.8 million pesos and barred from leaving the country. Revilla and Enrile have denied any wrongdoing.
The court also ordered the arrest of Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly masterminded the kickback scheme. Lim-Napoles, who claimed to have transacted with at least 120 sitting and former lawmakers, is now in jail for a separate criminal case.
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