By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2018 Journal GlobaLinks)
CHICAGO (JGL) – Filipino American lawyer Loida Nicolas Lewis, national chair of U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), described as “blindness and dumbness” the
decision of Sandiganbayan to allow on Tuesday former Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada to travel to the United States to speak before a group of Filipinos in Michigan.
While USP4GG national President Rodel E. Rodis disputed the decision of the Sandiganbayan that there was “a dearth of evidence” to block the departure of Mr. Estrada, he argued, “On the contrary, there was overwhelming evidence of the fraud and, ironically, it was provided by Jinggoy's own lawyer.”
On the other hand, Tony Antonio, editor of the Filipino Star News-Michigan, disputed the accusation of Mr. Rodis that he committed “forgery,” saying his friend, Willie Dechavez, USP4GG-Michigan chapter president, had given him authority to invite Mr. Estrada to speak before their group when he was in the Philippines early this year.
“I stand firm on my statement that Mr. Dechavez authorized me to write the letter-invitation,” Mr. Antonio told this reporter in an email message.
ANTI-GRAFT COURT DENIES OMBUDSMAN'S MOTION
In an April 24 resolution released Friday, the Sandiganbayan antigraft court’s Fifth Division denied the motion of Ombudsman prosecutors to recall the permit of Mr. Estrada to travel that was granted to Estrada, effective April 30 to May 30, “given the dearth of evidence” to back it up.
The resolution, written by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, said the prosecution failed to substantiate its allegation that Estrada misrepresented an invitation to speak at an event organized by US Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG), whose leaders had disavowed the invitation.
Estrada’s motion to travel had stated that he was invited by the USPGG to speak during its meeting on May 20 in Michigan, citing an invitation from the group’s Michigan president, William Dechavez.
But on April 9, USPGG chair Loida Nicolas Lewis and president Rodel Rodis wrote a letter denying that such an invitation had been extended to the former senator, who is on trial for plunder in connection with his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam. Attached is the USPGG's official statement posted on Facebook and published below:
US Pinoys for Good Governance Official Statement
RODIS CALLS ANTI-GRAFT COURT “SANDIGAN BAYAD”
Mr. Rodis said, Senator Estrada's lawyer has presented the court with a letter from Tony Antonio, a known Jinggoy supporter from Michigan, and Willie Dechavez, invited Jinggoy to Michigan on behalf of themselves individually.
He added, “USPGG had contended that Jinggoy was not invited by USPGG, that Antonio and Dechavez had no authority to invite Jinggoy on behalf of USPGG and Jinggoy's lawyer provided the undisputed evidence that supported our contention.
“The “Sandigan Bayad” should have reversed its original fraudulently obtained decision,” Mr. Rodis said in an email to this reporter.
In email to this reporter, Ms. Lewis, for her part, also called the anti-graft court “Sandigan Bayaran” following the adverse ruling.
In an amended letter-invitation to Mr. Estrada, Mr. Antonio and Dechavez said, “We -- Mr. Dechavez and I -- told Mr. Estrada that we're reiterating our invitation to him but this time, we are inviting him on our personal capacities and no longer as president and PRO, respectively, of USP4GG-Michigan.
“This revision is intended to address the contentious issue of whether or not USP4GG-Michigan can, on its own, legally invite Mr. Estrada. At the time the letter was written, we believed we can do so and even up to the present we believe we can legally do so. (By the way, USP4GG-Michigan has its own constitution and by-laws.) But due to a different opinion expressed by USP4GG national, we deem it important to make the aforementioned amendment.
“It is unfortunate that a portion of our amended letter was mentioned by Attorneys Lewis and Rodis out of context.”
Mr. Antonio said when he drafted the letter to invite Mr. Estrada, he was in the Philippines. But before giving the letter to Mr. Estrada he asked Mr. Dechavez if it was fine with him to sign the letter on behalf of Mr. Dechavez. Since Mr. Dechavez agreed to let him sign it, he could not be charged with forgery because he was authorized to sign the letter by Mr. Dechavez, himself.
SANDIGANBAYAN RULING SURPRISED ANTONIO, DECHAVEZ
When Mr. Antonio returned to Michigan, Mr. Dechavez left for the Philippines to attend his high school reunion among others.
While Mr. Dechavez was in his native city of Sorsogon and Mr. Antonio was in Michigan, news broke out that the Sandiganbayan had allowed Mr. Estrada to travel to the U.S., citing among others Mr. Antonio's and Mr. Dechavez' letter.
Both Messrs. Antonio and Dechavez were surprised but pleased with the Sandiganbayan decision.
When Attorneys Lewis and Rodis learned of the Sandiganbayan decision, they objected to Mr. Dechavez's use of UP Pinoys for Good Governance. This prompted Mr. Antonio to amend his letter.
In their letter to the Ombudsman, Attorneys Rodis and Lewis said, “Despite this 'clarification' by Mr. Antonio, the US Pinoys for Good Governance respectfully requests the Ombudsman to move the Sandiganbayan to rescind the approval of the motion of Sen. Estrada for leave to visit the United States. There was no invitation from the US Pinoys for Good Governance.
“The clarification of Mr. Antonio is that it was a personal invitation that came from them, in their individual capacities, as Mr. Willie Dechavez unequivocally stated to me. It was not an invitation from USPGG.
“The invitation, therefore, was the fruit that came from a poisonous tree. Sen. Estrada should not benefit from a fraudulent act.”
Sen. Estrada, who is eyeing to reclaim his senatorial seat in the 2019 mid-term elections, also told the Sandiganbayan that aside from speaking at Michigan, he will hold medical consultation with an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Hospital in connection with his recurring shoulder pains.
He said he will be accompanied by his wife Precy and their children Janella, Jolo, Julian and Jill during the trip.
ESTRADA FACING PLUNDER CASE
Estrada is facing a plunder case and 11 counts of graft before the Fifth Division in connection with the alleged misuse of millions of pesos of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel during his term as a senator.
He is accused of receiving P183-million worth of kickbacks from the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for allocating portions of his PDAF from 2004 to 2012 to the latter's bogus foundations for the supposed implementation of his livelihood projects.
The Ombudsman, which filed the cases in June 2014, said Estrada's projects turned out to be “ghost” or fictitious.
Estrada was detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City in the Philippines since June 2014. But on September 15, 2017 the Fifth Division allowed him to post bail on the ground of the supposed lack of evidence from the prosecution showing that he is the “main plunderer” in the case.
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