Ang Enters into Plea Bargaining Agreement; Erap Laments Decision of Ex-Consultant

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Byline: EDMER F. PANESA and ANNA LIZA T. VILLAS

Evading a possible prolonged trial similar to that of former President Joseph Estrada, businessman Charlie "Atong" Ang has entered into a plea bargaining agreement with government prosecutors, admitting that he committed the minor offense of corruption of public officials.

Reacting to Ang's move, Estrada said he pities his co-accused in plunder, a capital offense, for capitulating to the demands of his detractors "to help in pinning me down by whatever means possible simply to save his own neck."

The detained opposition leader said the timing of the agreement was also suspicious as it came barely four months before the May mid-term polls.

The unexpected decision of Ang was relayed to the Sandiganbayan Special Division by his lawyer, Alfredo Villamor, at yesterday's hearing supposedly set for pre-trial of the plunder case as against the former gambling consultant.

Compared to plunder, which is punishable by life imprisonment, the crime of corruption of public officials -- as defined and penalized under Article 212 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) -- is punishable by jail term of two years and four months to six years.

Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, chairwoman of the Special Division, said she and her members, Associate Justices Francisco Villaruz Jr. and Diosdado Peralta, will try to resolve whether or not they would admit the plea bargaining agreement by next week.

The magistrates, after hearing Villamor's announcement, inquired from Ang himself, who was present in the courtroom, if he fully understood the contents of the agreement and if he was aware of the consequences of his decision. Ang responded affirmatively to the queries of the court.

Jay Flaminiano, one of Estrada's lawyers, approached the court after hearing the statement of Ang's lawyer and asked the justices to order that the former President's defense team be furnished a copy of the plea bargaining agreement.

Flaminiano said Estrada should be given a chance to respond to the contents of the agreement, especially if they appeared to be prejudicial to him.

Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said there was no need for them to furnish Estrada's camp a copy of the agreement because the matter involves only Ang and it does not concern the other accused in the case.

Villamor also said that the Ang-prosecution deal would have no bearing on Estrada's case because the same will not be used against the former President, but the six-page document signed by Ang, Villamor, Villa-Ignacio, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno, and Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez showed otherwise.

"As a condition to the State's conformity to accused Charlie "Atong" Ang's entering a plea of guilty to the lesser offense of Corruption of Public Officials, accused Charlie "Atong" Ang undertakes to assist in the prosecution of, and testify, whenever proper, in cases being prosecuted by the government in which he has personal knowledge," the agreement stated. …