Palace defends Duterte's endorsement of Jinggoy Estrada, Imee Marcos in Senate race

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — Government critics have questioned President Rodrigo Duterte's endorsement of senatorial candidates former Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, saying the President's action appears to contradict his administration's anti-corruption measure.

But, Malacañang said Monday Estrada is "presumed innocent" until convicted with final judgment, and Duterte is helping Marcos perhaps due to debt of gratitude.   

"Number one, former Senator Estrada is charged with corruption. The Constitution says, unless you are convicted with final judgment, you are presumed innocent. So the presumption is Estrada is innocent," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters in a media briefing.

"Number two, he's been granted bail. The reason for the court's grant of provisional liberty is anchored on the fact that the evidence of guilt is not strong. So you cannot begrudge the President for endorsing a man who is presumed to be innocent under the law," he added.

Estrada was charged with graft and plunder in 2014. The former lawmaker-- along with former Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile-- faced the aforementioned charges for alleged involvement in the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

Panelo said Estrada's case was different from those of other government officials who have been fired due to alleged corruption.

"The difference is the President, to my mind, has not received any evidence of corruption vis-a-vis Mr. Estrada," the spokesperson stressed.

Estrada was detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in 2014 for supposedly receiving ₱183 million in kickbacks from his PDAF or the funds set aside for lawmakers' projects.

He was temporarily released in September 2017 after the anti-graft court allowed him to post a ₱1 million bail.

READ: Jinggoy Estrada confident he'll be elected again despite plunder case

The three ex-senators are all seeking a return to the political scene.

Estrada is one of the bets recently included in Duterte's "personal" slate for the Senate. 

Apart from his own "endorsed" list, Duterte will also support candidates from different slates, including his own PDP-Laban and his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio's Hugpong ng Pagbabago party.


'Utang na loob'

Panelo also addressed criticisms regarding the President's endorsement of Imee Marcos, the daughter of late strongman former President Ferdinand Marcos.

He said Duterte was only supporting the Marcos daughter due to "utang na loob" (debt of gratitude).

"According to the President, he was helping Imee because she is indebted to her... Utang na loob yata 'yung (perhaps debt of gratitude was the) reason. In the first place, Imee is not charged," Panelo said.

Apart from accusations of plunder against her family, Marcos was previously tagged in the alleged misuse of a multibillion-peso tobacco fund in her province.

The governor previously stressed her family will not admit to the corruption and human rights violations under the martial law imposed by her father.

The official campaign period for senatorial bets and party-list groups starts Tuesday.