September 17th, 2007 · No Comments

On the day the Estrada verdict was announced, a retired man who sought my help to obtain his social security benefits in the Philippines professed sympathy for the former president, expressing his hope that Estrada would be shown mercy because he had “suffered enough”.

Like most people, he 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 ironic connection between his problems with the SSS and the basis for the plunder verdict.  (For the transcripts, log on to

It took six years for the Sandigan court to try the Estrada case, most of the 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, which he promptly rejected, Estrada retained new counsel and proceeded with a strategy to run out the clock until his close personal friend, Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ), 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 finally deal with the prosecution’s case by seeking to undermine the credibility of the court and by claiming that the trial was “politically motivated” to justify his removal from office. Very little was done by his lawyers to debunk the voluminous evidence presented in court.

In the course of the trial despite innumerable delays, dozens of witnesses described how Estrada collected at least half a billion pesos in “jueteng” protection money which was regularly delivered in cash to his Polk Street mansion in San Juan in Metro Manila. It was like a mob scene from “The Sopranos”. But the most damning testimony against Estrada came from those he appointed to public office.

Carlos Arellano testified that he was a childhood friend of Estrada who appointed him chairman and president of the Social Security System (SSS) in 1998. On October 6, 1999, he received a call from Pres. Estrada instructing him to buy Belle Corporation stock. He hesitated to do so, he said, because that decision belonged to the SSS 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 unilaterally authorized the purchase by SSS of P900-M (pesos) ($20-M) 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 Government Service Insurance System (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) ($25-M) in Belle stock.

A close crony of Estrada, Jaime Dichaves, facilitated the transaction according to Belle Corporation executives who testified that they issued a cashier’s check to Dichaves in the amount of P189-M ($4-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) ($45-M) 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 into the Equitable Bank 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 there were joint accounts in the bank 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  P140-M (pesos) for the use of his favored mistress, Laarni Enriquez. The man who facilitated the purchase of this mansion was Jose LuisYulo who, because of this “housing” experience, was then appointed by Estrada to be his Secretary of Housing, replacing the very competent Karina Constantino-David.

The prosecution’s evidence was just too overwhelming that the Sandigan Bayan justices had no other choice but to find Estrada guilty of  lunder, beyond a reasonable doubt. Sifting through the testimonies of eyewitnesses, one concludes that Estrada never believed that he would ever have to account for his actions so he didn’t care who witnessed what he was doing. Transparency turned out not to be much of a virtue and stupidity not at all a viable defense.

But the Erap joke was on the people. 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. Two billion pesos of the people’s investments down the drain.

While I congratulate the Sandigan Bayan judges for finding Estrada guilty of plunder, my regret is that he was never charged for his possible role in the  abduction and murders of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer, Emmanuel Corbito and Edgar Bentain.

According to members of his family, Bubby Dacer was bawled out by Estrada in Malacanang in November of 1999 for conspiring with former President Fidel Ramos to undermine his presidency. Shortly after this presidential tongue-lashing, Dacer and his driver, Corbito, were abducted by members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) headed by Gen. Panfilo Lacson and and then 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 to Estrada?

Edgar Bentain was a casino worker at the Casino Filipino located at the Heritage Hotel in Manila when he secretly released the videotape of Estrada playing high-stakes poker with his crony, Atong Ang. The videotape was then shown on TV to the embarrassment of Estrada who ordered an investigation into who leaked the videotape.

According to eyewitness Ador Mawanay’s sworn testimony on August 17, 2001, PAOCTF men abducted Bentain outside the casino and immersed him with cement inside a drum and dumped the drum with his corpse in a Pampanga river. The leader of the PAOCTF team, he said, was Col. Michael Ray Aquino. Mawanay identified Estrada’s son, Jude, as the man he saw give a black bag containing money to Aquino as payment for the killing of Bentain.

Estrada “suffered enough”?

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(Rodel Rodis is a San Francisco-based attorney and regular columnist in Filipino American community newspapers. He is also president of the San Francisco Community College Board).

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