Philippine senator charged with plunder surrenders to authorities
By Teresa Cerojano, AP
June 24, 2014, 12:09 am TWN
MANILA--A Philippine senator who is the son of an ex-president surrendered to police Monday after a court ordered his arrest on corruption charges. Jinggoy Estrada was the second celebrity politician in days to end up in jail on charges of plundering the poor Southeast Asian nation's coffers.
The high-profile prosecutions bolster President Benigno Aquino III's campaign promise to fight the corruption that has plagued the nation of 97 million for decades. The problem has festered amid a culture of impunity among powerful politicians and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system.
But it remains to be seen whether the arrests would lead to convictions, which have been rare in major cases.
Estrada is one of three senators indicted this month on charges of receiving huge kickbacks from government development and anti-poverty funds. He arrived at police headquarters accompanied by his family and supporters after the Sandiganbayan special anti-graft court issued a warrant for his arrest.
Trailed by a mob of journalists, photographers and TV cameramen, Estrada first went to the house of his father, former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. His young daughter wiped away tears, hugging her father as they left their upscale suburban Quezon City home.
Estrada denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that he would be acquitted.
"This is the last day of my freedom," he told reporters before surrendering. "I will fight for this case to my last breath."
Estrada, a former movie actor, was charged with plunder along with his father in 2001, but was released on bail after two years in detention and acquitted in 2007. His father, a hugely popular action movie actor, was convicted of plunder but was pardoned and won last year's mayoral election in the Philippine capital. The senior Estrada was president from 1998 to 2001.
Sen. Estrada has been accused of receiving 183 million pesos (US$4.2 million) in kickbacks in an alleged scam involving the diversion of millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers for their pet projects.
"The issuance of this warrant 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.
Since Aquino was elected in 2010 on a reformist pledge, his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has been detained on vote-rigging charges and the Supreme Court chief justice impeached for the first time for not disclosing US$2.4 million in his bank accounts.
Another lawmaker, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., surrendered Friday after the anti-graft court issued an arrest warrant. He is accused of receiving 224 million pesos (US$5.1 million) in kickbacks.
A third senator, Juan Ponce Enrile, has also been charged with economic plunder for allegedly receiving 172 million pesos (US$3.94 million) in kickbacks, but an arrest warrant has not been issued yet for the 90-year-old former senate president.
Enrile, a wealthy businessman, was defense minister when dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972. He was implicated in several coup attempts against Aquino's mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.