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Sandiganbayan clears Bong Revilla of graft over PDAF scam

The Sandiganbayan has cleared Senator Bong Revilla of 16 counts of graft in connection with the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.

In a resolution promulgated July 1, the anti-graft court’s Special First Division granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Revilla due to insufficient evidence against him, but denied the same motion of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.

The cases against Revilla’s co-accused and former aide Richard Cambe, meanwhile, were dismissed on account of his death in April

Revilla was accused of diverting his pork barrel and giving unwarranted benefit to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to Napoles to receive kickbacks.

The Sandiganbayan said letters from Revilla endorsing Napoles NGOs were “merely recommendatory” and “[did] not command nor compel the implementing agencies to whom these are addressed to award the project to the recommended NGO.”

The court also said the prosecution failed to establish that Revilla and his wife, Bacoor Mayor Lani Mercado, had no other sources of income that could account for the senator’s unexplained wealth.

“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,” the Sandiganbayan said.

“The continued lack of evidence that would prove beyond reasonable doubt accused Revilla's involvement in these PDAF transactions leads to a conclusion not different from that reached in the plunder case,” it added.

The Sandiganbayan acquitted Revilla of plunder over the same case in 2018. 

The court said the acts described to have been committed by Revilla, Cambe, and Napoles in the plunder case “are the very same acts” described in the graft cases.

As for Napoles’ demurrer to evidence, the Sandiganbayan said the businesswoman simply reiterated arguments she raised in previous motions.

“These matters have already been discussed in the resolutions denying her motion and repeating it here would simply be a mere surplusage. The court stands by its earlier resolution,” the Sandiganbayan said.

In February this year, Napoles, former Cagayan de Oro Representative Constantino Jaraula, and three others were convicted of graft and malversation for pocketing PDAF totaling at least P19.2 million

Luy testimony

Star witness Benhur Luy, a former staff of Napoles who blew the whistle on the scam, said draft endorsement letters for ghost projects were sent via email to Cambe, who would then bring finalized copies signed by Revilla to the businesswoman’s office.

During cross examination, however, Luy said he did not have documents to prove that Cambe had the authority to bring PDAF documents to Napoles’ office since the act was illegal.

Luy maintained that Cambe himself said he was authorized by Revilla to receive kickbacks on the senator’s behalf.

Revilla’s counsel also said his alleged signatures that were presented in the trial were “very different” from the senator’s other signatures.

The Sandiganbayan said Revilla’s receipt of kickbacks “still remains uncertain after the presentation of evidence by the prosecution.”

The court noted that stipulated facts during the trial indicate that Luy never personally delivered or gave any money to Revilla, never saw Revilla receive money from Napoles or any of her representatives, and never saw Revilla come to Napoles’ office in Pasig.

The stipulated facts also include that Luy never personally verified with Revilla the senator’s alleged receipt of kickbacks, never talked to Revilla, and never saw him sign any document.

Dissenting opinions

The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Econg. Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Edgardo Caldona concurred while Associate Justices Efren de la Cruz and Bayani Jacinto dissented.

Jacinto voted to deny the granting of Revilla’s demurrer to evidence, arguing that the dismissal of the cases “on the ground that the acts charged are predicate acts of plunder does not find support in either the Rules of Court, the Plunder Law, the Anti-Graft Law, or prevailing jurisprudence.”

De la Cruz concurred with the denial of Napoles’ demurrer to evidence but dissented to the granting of Revilla’s same motion, maintaining that “the charge in these cases are not the same as that in the plunder case. Neither is the charge in these cases included in the charge in the plunder case.” 

In a separate resolution promulgated June 30, the Sandiganbayan also granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Mario Relampagos, Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule, Marilou Bare, Chita Jalandoni, and Encarnita Munsod, who were also tagged in the PDAF scam. — RSJ, GMA News