Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, son of former president and now Manila mayor Joseph Estrada, yesterday surrendered to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to face charges that he received kickbacks in a massive graft scandal that has riveted the nation.
The younger Estrada, 51, is accused of channelling public funds known as "pork barrel" into bogus non-governmental organisations and then ploughing back 184 million pesos (S$5.24 million) into his own accounts from 2004 to 2012 through an elaborate scheme allegedly hatched by well-connected businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, 50. Napoles was detained last August on charges of plunder, graft and tax evasion.
Estrada has been charged with one count of "plunder", a non- bailable offence, and 11 lesser counts of graft.
"I never stole a single centavo from government coffers. At the end of the day, I will prove my innocence. I will face all charges against me in court," he said hours before he gave himself up.
The senator is the second lawmaker to be held over the alleged scam that government prosecutors claim involves over 10 billion pesos worth of taxpayers' money.
Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla, 47, surrendered last Friday and is being detained at a special holding facility for high-profile inmates at the PNP headquarters in Quezon City.
A third senator - Juan Ponce- Enrile, 90, a former defence minister under dictator Ferdinand Marcos - is awaiting arrest.
This is not Estrada's first brush with the law: In 2001, he was held - also for plunder - together with his father but was later acquitted and released.
The elder Estrada was convicted in 2007 but pardoned later that same year by his successor to the presidency, Mrs Gloria Arroyo.
President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at a news briefing yesterday that Estrada's arrest "is a step forward in finding out the truth, which is fundamental in strengthening the trust of our people in our institutions and processes".
The investigation of the three powerful senators has been hailed by the Aquino government as a "milestone" in its campaign to shed the Philippines' image as one of Asia's most corrupt states.
Mr Aquino took office in 2010 with a promise to combat graft, which drains over 200 billion pesos, or 1.8 per cent of economic output, from the government's coffers each year.
The accusations against the three senators surfaced last year when whistleblower Benhur Luy, a cousin of Napoles, exposed the alleged 10 billion-peso scam.
In the months after Mr Luy's story broke, the public was fed a steady dose of reports that revealed Napoles' immense wealth by Philippine standards, including 495 million pesos worth of properties in the United States.
A blog kept by her eldest daughter detailing a lavish lifestyle further infuriated the public, with images of 400,000-peso bags, shoes at 360,000 pesos per pair, a 1 million-peso watch, two Porsches and an 80 million-peso luxury flat in Los Angeles.
Public outrage propelled the government probe that has so far implicated not just the three senators, but also 17 other current and former senators as well as 100 congressmen.
At least three of Mr Aquino's allies have also been linked to the scandal.
This article was first published on June 24, 2014.
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