MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine anti-graft court entered a not guilty plea Monday for the second of three prominent senators arraigned in the country's biggest corruption trial in more than a decade.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada, son of former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, refused to enter a plea during his arraignment for plunder, prompting the court to enter a plea on his behalf. He allegedly pocketed 183 million pesos ($4.2 million) in kickbacks from a scam that diverted millions of dollars form anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers' pet projects.
The high-profile prosecutions bolster President Benigno Aquino III's campaign to fight high-profile corruption that has plagued the nation of 97 million for decades. The problem has festered amid a culture of impunity among powerful politicians and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system. Still, it's unclear whether the charges will lead to convictions, which have been rare in major cases.
Estrada told the court he was not entering a plea because of his pending case before the Supreme Court. The actor-turned- senator last week petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the proceedings in the anti-graft court, saying the charges were politically motivated and his constitutional right to due process was violated.
In a statement he read to the media outside the court, Estrada said the cases against him and his co-accused opposition senators were filed haphazardly in the absence of strong evidence.
"This is politically motivated with no other intent but to persecute members of the opposition while protecting their allies," said Estrada, whose family members attended the arraignment.
Opposition Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile are among Estrada's co-accused. Revilla, an action movie star, allegedly received 224 million pesos ($5.1 million) in kickbacks. Enrile allegedly received 172 million pesos ($3.94 million) in kickbacks, but an arrest warrant has not been issued yet for the 90-year-old former senate president.
Estrada and his father were accused of plunder in 2001 in a landmark trial that followed the president's ouster in a popular uprising. The younger Estrada was acquitted in 2007, but his father was convicted of illegally amassing about $81 million in bribes and proceeds from illegal gambling. The elder Estrada was later pardoned by his successor.