Sandiganbayan clears Revilla of graft in pork barrel cases

Philstar

July 5, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has cleared Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. of his remaining graft cases in relation to his alleged participation in the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam or the pork barrel scam.

The Sandiganbayan Special First Division on July 1 dismissed 16 counts of graft cases against Revilla on grounds of insufficiency of evidence against him. The anti-graft court granted his demurrer to evidence, which led to the junking of the case without the defense needing to present evidence.

The court also dismissed the case against Revilla’s aide, Richard Cambe, by reason of his death.

“The bonds posted by accused Revilla re hereby ordered released, subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedures. The Hold Departure Order issued against them are also set aside and declared functus officio,” the ruling read.

The court however denied the demurrer to evidence filed by Janet Lim-Napoles, alleged brains behind the pork barrel scam. This means that Napoles will continue to stand trial in this case.

The Sandiganbayan said that Napoles’ arguments in her pleading “are simply a rehash of the arguments she raised in her Motion to Suppress Evidence and the Motion for Reconsideration, which were both previously resolved by this Court.”

Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg penned the ruling, with concurrences from Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Edgardo Caldona. Associate Justices Efren Dela Cruz and Bayani Jacinto dissented in the grant of Revilla’s demurrer.

The Sandiganbayan Special First Division in December 2018 cleared Revilla of plunder charge filed over misuse of over P224.5 million worth of public funds. The anti-graft court convicted Cambe and Napoles.

Revilla has since staged a successful political comeback and is currently an incumbent senator.

Revilla cited this acquittal in his demurrer to evidence, as he argued that the over acts alleged in the graft cases are the same with the dismissed plunder case, “hence, he should not have been separately charged for violation of Section 3(e) of [Republic Act 3019].”

The senator also said it was not proven that he endorsed Napoles’ non-governmental organization and he repeatedly received kickbacks from the businesswoman. This, Revilla said, shows that there is no overt act to “manifest partiality” or “evident bad faith.” He added that the prosecution failed to prove that he conspired with his co-accused.

During trial, the prosecution presented 11 endorsement letters, where NGOs created following Napoles’ instructions were named, signed by Revilla or his aide Cambe.

The Sandiganbayan looked unto the words of the said letters and held that these were merely recommendatory and did not compel the implementing agencies to award the project to the cited agencies.

“The choice of the NGO to implement the project still rests with the Implementing Agency,” it said.

The Sandiganbayan also pointed out that Revilla and Cambe do not have the power to award or accredit the project. “Therefore, the element of ‘giving unwarranted benefit’ required under Section 3(e) RA 3019 is not present,” it added.

Kickbacks?

The prosecution cited in their case that deposits were made into the bank account of Revilla, his wife and his child within the 30 days that the alleged “kickback” that prosecution witness Benhur Luy told the court of.

But the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution failed to establish that Revilla’s wife did not have her own independent source of income not did it present evidence that the senator did not have other sources of income from 2006-2009 aside from his work as a lawmaker.

“The glaring absence of evidence proving that accused Revilla directly received the proceeds from the PDAF projects or any money from accused Napoles that motivated him to give her and her NGOs unwarranted advantage to the detriment of the government, cannot be ignored by this Court,” it added.

“The continued lack of evidence that would prove beyond reasonable doubt accused Revilla’s involvement in these PDAF transactions leads to a conclusion from different in the plunder case,” the ruling further read.

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