Private prosecutors key to winning plunder case against Erap
Manila (17 September) -- The first team-up of the government and private prosecutors in the plunder case against former President Estrada proved to be a success with the Sandiganbayan's guilty verdict.
"The government was given invaluable assistance by the private prosecutors and that really made the difference," said former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo when asked about his reaction on the government's success in the Erap case.
He believes the trial against Estrada became possible because of the persistence of the private prosecutors who volunteered their time to assist the state prosecutors in whatever way they can during the six and a half year course of the trial.
"They sacrificed their careers for this (case)," Marcelo said. "It's very difficult. Just imagine those lawyers interviewing witnesses, helping the prosecution, attending the hearings twice a week and it's all pro bono."
He added that Erap's conviction shows that if there are persistent efforts to rid the bureaucracy of corruption, "we can do it."
Without the private prosecutors' assistance, the government's case would not have turned out as good as it did. "To prosecute it, hindi puwedeng government lang, there should be private prosecutors," he said.
Marcelo, also a former Solicitor General, is one of the private lawyers who started the impeachment case against Erap. He was the one who presented former Ilocos Sur Gov Luis "Chavit" Singson as a witness during the trial, which further implicated Erap in the plunder case. He stepped down as Ombudsman in 2005 due to health reasons.
"That's the problem with government even when I was the Ombudsman, the government lacks the capacity to prosecute cases like this because there aren't enough people and money," he said.
He added that the main difference between the success in the government's case versus Erap and its failure in the cases against the Marcoses lie in the assistance of the private prosecutors.
Marcelo pointed out that the problem with the Marcos cases was its reliance only on the public prosecutors. Unfortunately, they don't have the capacity to do it alone.
When the plunder case versus Erap started, there were about 30 lawyer volunteers from the private sector. The numbers eventually dwindled and left about only eight lawyers who continued to assist until the verdict was handed down by the Sandiganbayan last week.
The conviction not only serves as a vindication but also provides due recognition to the initial efforts of those who started the case against Erap. A side from Marcelo, the legal minds who started the plunder charge include A rno Sanidad, Pablito Sanidad and several lawyers from the then Carpio, Villaraza law firm, now Villaraza & A ngangco.
"When we started, we knew we had more than enough evidence," Marcelo said. "That's the main reason why we volunteered. There was sufficient and overwhelming evidence to impeach (Estrada)."
While he also favors a pardon for the former chief executive, he stressed there should be restitution and admission of guilt. "Dapat ibalik niya ang mga nakuha niya."
Marcelo said he is happy that the trial is over. " A t this point, there's at least some closure."
Although he expects the Estrada camp to bring the case to the Supreme Court, he is hoping that a speedy decision be made to give "final closure" to the case to allow the country to heal and move forward. (PIA-MMIO) [top]