Finally, Revilla’s day in court
The wheels of justice appear to be moving, finally, in the matter of People of the Philippines vs Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., the former senator accused of pocketing P224.5 million of his pork-barrel allotments in alleged conspiracy with now-detained businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles. It’s been three years since Revilla was arrested and charged with plunder in the Sandiganbayan; the start of his trial on June 22 marked the first time a plunder case connected with the Napoles pork-barrel controversy reached the trial stage.
Four other related plunder cases are pending—against former senators Juan Ponce Enrile (P172.8 million) and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada (P183.8 million), Masbate 3rd district Rep. Rizalina Seachon Lanete (P108.4 million) and former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives party-list representative Edgar Valdez (P95 million). In all these cases, Napoles stands as a coaccused, allegedly for being the brains and implementor of a complex scheme in which legislators funneled their Priority Development Assistance Fund allotments to ghost projects and nongovernment organizations set up by Napoles. The millions of public money were then said to have ended up divvied among the legislators, Napoles, and sundry other government staff up and down the bureaucracy that needed to be greased for the scam to appear aboveboard on paper.
Revilla’s trial was supposed to have started in January this year, but it got further delayed when hotshot lawyer Estelito Mendoza joined Revilla’s defense panel and proceeded to raise new issues before the court. Specifically, Mendoza wanted the court to exclude the so-called ghost projects in the case against Revilla, branding them as “irrelevant” to the plunder case. In effect, Revilla wants to defend himself only on the charge that he endorsed his PDAF to Napoles and that he allegedly received kickbacks in return; the fact no projects were implemented was solely for Napoles to answer—even if the non-implementation of such projects appeared to be precisely the mechanism that allowed the unused PDAF to be plowed back into the legislators’ pockets.
The argument is craftily designed to strike at the very heart of the conspiracy charge between Revilla and Napoles, a fact that the Office of the Ombudsman has rightly opposed. “Their respective culpabilities are to be treated collectively and not individually,” it said, adding that the fictitious nature of the NGOs and projects Napoles ran were a central component of the money-laundering loop that allowed Revilla to get his unspent PDAF back, this time as commission for endorsing the funds for such ghost projects in the first place.
At the pretrial hearing on June 1, Justice Efren dela Cruz, who chairs the division handling Revilla’s case, estimated that the trial might take “more than one year, less than two years.” Add that to the three years that have already elapsed since Revilla’s arraignment, and the public is looking at five to six years minimum for just the very first of the pork-barrel plunder cases to reach some form of resolution.
Mendoza says they’re not delaying the case, and that his client “wants a speedy trial.” That may well be, but Revilla seems to be of a different mind. On the very first day of his mandated court appearance last June 22, Revilla was a no-show, with only a letter from his police custodial unit informing the court that the former senator had fallen ill after earlier visiting his father at St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Revilla had complained of dizziness and breathing difficulty after the court-allowed hospital visit, so at the beginning of the proceedings that would finally allow him to clear his name, he was himself at the hospital, reportedly for observation and further treatment.
Expect more such suspicious distractions as this important, potentially far-reaching case gets underway.
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