‘Ombudsman in extort try’
Estrada tags investigator in failed bid to downgrade case from plunder
FORMER senator Jinggoy Estrada said Monday that an investigator from the Office of the Ombudsman had tried to extort money from him in 2013 to downgrade the charges against him from plunder to graft.
“It wasn’t done directly, but through an emissary,” Estrada said in Filipino. “They were asking me for money, but I didn’t agree because my conscience is clean.”
Estrada was one of three opposition senators who were charged with plunder over the alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel. He is out on bail.
“They offered to lower the charge from plunder to graft, but I said go ahead with the case. I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.
Estrada refused to say who the investigator was and said he would not initiate proceedings against the person.
“Back then, people were brainwashed by the previous administration that we were thieves and we didn’t stand a chance. Now, it’s slowly coming out that we were selected,” Estrada said.
Estrada said he did not report the incident to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales because she had already made up her mind about his guilt.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier threatened to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman on allegations of corruption and partiality, after the independent agency announced a probe of his family’s bank transactions, based on a complaint filed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Estrada has denied pocketing P183.79 million from his pork barrel allocations from 2004 to 2010, saying the evidence against him is “immaterial and irrelevant.”
On Friday, Duterte accused Morales and her office of illegally obtaining evidence against him, and said he would not cooperate with the Ombudsman’s investigation of his alleged ill-gotten wealth.
“I will not obey the Ombudsman because she is corrupt and she is holding illegally obtained evidence,” the President said.
Questioning the manner in which the Office of the Ombudsman obtained his bank records, Duterte said that documents could be obtained only when there is a pending case in court.
Morales said she was unfazed by Duterte’s threats.
“The Office has already stated its position, to abide by its constitutional duty. No need to add more,” she said in a statement sent to the press.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, who announced the investigation, said the Ombudsman “observed confidentiality” in its investigation.
Trillanes accused the President of having hidden wealth of up to P2.4 billion in his bank accounts.
Carandang said Morales gave him the authorization to act on Trillanes’ complaint, and that he had already requested the Anti-Money Laundering Council for a final validation on the bank transactions of the Dutertes, including those of Duterte’s common-law-wife Honey Avancena and their daughter Kitty. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday challenged Duterte to just file an impeachment complaint against Morales if he has any evidence against her instead of engaging in a word war.
“The rhetoric and the word war between the President and the Ombudsman and the chief justice [Lourdes Sereno]… will only lead us to nowhere,” Drilon said in a statement.
“We must keep in mind that the Constitution has enough safeguards to discipline and go after erring officials,” he added.
If he is in possession of any evidence against Morales, Drilon said the President should initiate the filing of an impeachment case.
“We should apply and follow the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Drilon even noting that the power to investigate and prosecute impeachable officers “exclusively lies in Congress.”
Opposition Liberal Party senators expressed alarm over Duterte’s attacks and threats against insitutions such as the Ombudsman, Supreme Court, and the Commission on Human Rights.
“These attacks on our democratic institutions are alarming and unproductive. Independent and unbiased institutions should not be attacked but encouraged,” said Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV. With John Paolo Bencito