Sheer ‘stretch of logic’
Call it another worthy episode in “Kap’s Amazing Stories,” the TV show that showcased a collection of real life oddities that Sen. Bong Revilla used to host.
The Sandiganbayan Special First Division, in its 196-page decision penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Econg and released on Monday, junked the 16 counts of graft against Revilla for “insufficiency of evidence”—clearing the lawmaker of the last remaining cases he was facing for his alleged involvement in the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam that was exposed in the previous administration.
Revilla and several others were accused of diverting his PDAF to bogus nongovernment organizations controlled by businesswoman and convicted plunderer Janet Lim Napoles. Although the Sandiganbayan also dismissed the case against Revilla’s former aide, Richard Cambe, following his death in April, it ruled that the graft case against Napoles would continue.
The Sandigan majority of three described graft as a predicate act of plunder, and therefore the senator’s plunder acquittal in December 2018 must result in his graft acquittal. In that earlier case, Revilla was cleared while Cambe and Napoles were convicted of plunder, which had the public scratching its head in bafflement: How could the briber be judged guilty while the bribed was not?
Similarly, in Revilla’s graft acquittal, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto noted in his dissenting opinion that “it requires a stretch of logic to accept that accused Atty. Cambe without the knowledge, much less consent, of Revilla could have utilized the Office of the Senator in secret.”
Another dissenting justice, Efren Dela Cruz, rebutted the Sandiganbayan majority’s contention that Revilla’s signatures on the letters endorsing Napoles’ NGOs as beneficiaries of his PDAF appeared to be forgeries. This was precisely part of the modus, Dela Cruz said, recalling whistleblower Benhur Luy’s trial testimony that Cambe had told him the signatures would purposely be made to look different each time.
“This admission of Cambe to Benhur Luy was a clear indication that accused Revilla and Cambe, a lawyer, had every intention to escape prosecution by setting up forgery as a possible defense if and when it comes to a point that the aforementioned signatures would be brought to question,” Dela Cruz pointed out.
As for the endorsement letters, the Sandiganbayan majority said they were “merely recommendatory,” and “[did] not command nor compel the implementing agencies to… award the project to the recommended NGO.”
Dela Cruz, however, countered such naiveté: “Logically, if a cautiously well thought-out plan was crafted beforehand and to be implemented later on, every single act of all the parties involved should now be taken as a whole and not independent of each other.”
And what of the unaccounted for millions that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) found in the bank accounts of Revilla, his wife, then Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado, and their children amounting to some P87 million? According to the AMLC, the details of such deposits corresponded to Luy’s records of transactions when the senator supposedly received his share of the laundered PDAF from Napoles’ office.
In the 2018 plunder trial, the Sandiganbayan found the unexplained wealth so questionable that, while it acquitted Revilla, it also ordered him to return P124.5 million to the national treasury. Revilla has refused to do so, much less acknowledge that he has any explaining to do as to the money’s provenance.
All these sticky points seem to have been forgotten in the anti-graft court’s decision clearing Revilla of graft. Instead, the majority blamed the Ombudsman prosecutors for not charging the senator of violating the SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and assets) law, noting that the money found in Revilla’s bank accounts were not reflected in his SALN for those years.
Maybe because the senator could not account for how it ended up in his bank deposits? What elastic logic, indeed, to rule that Revilla could not have been guilty because he was unaware that the money Cambe deposited in his account had come from Napoles. Really? And he did not think to ask about it, as an ordinary person would, considering that millions were suddenly appearing in his bank balance?
To give his aide open and unquestioning access to his account, and for this subaltern to then use his principal’s public office for fraudulent dealings involving massive kickbacks while the boss was allegedly kept in the dark, should at the very least mark out Revilla as recklessly negligent in handling the people’s money. Gross inexcusable negligence qualifies as corruption under this nation’s laws, doesn’t it?
With Revilla now off the hook, will the country ever see a shadow of the P124.5 million the Sandiganbayan had ordered him to return? Amazingly, the court’s latest ruling makes no mention of the money at all.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.