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With Due Respect

Bong’s 3 battles for freedom

Detained Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. is battling for his freedom on three fronts: two in the Supreme Court and one in the Sandiganbayan (SBN). Recall that Revilla was ordered arrested and detained by the SBN after being charged by the Office of the Ombudsman (OOO) with the capital offense of plunder and graft allegedly arising from the pork barrel scam.

First front in SC. Like detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (whose case was discussed in my Aug. 12 column titled “Will SC free Jinggoy?”), Revilla filed a petition in the Supreme Court on June 17 to annul the preliminary investigation (PI) conducted by the OOO, alleging denial of due process because of the OOO’s refusal to furnish him copies of the counter-affidavits of his fellow respondents.

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Like Estrada, Revilla averred that the OOO “utilized the statements contained in the Counter Affidavits of some of [his] co-respondents … without giving him the opportunity to defend himself against these adverse statements despite prior requests.”

To which the OOO countered that both the law and Rules of Court entitle respondents to the counter-affidavits of the complainants only, not to their corespondents’. Hence, no grave abuse of discretion can be ascribed to the OOO because it merely followed existing law and rules. Moreover, the OOO eventually, though belatedly, gave Revilla the requested counter-affidavits after the information (or charge) for plunder had been filed against him in the SBN.

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The decision on Estrada’s petition is expected to be issued very soon by the Supreme Court, which will resume its regular session tomorrow after its All Saints Day break. This decision will mostly likely have a domino effect on Revilla’s similarly-grounded plea.

In addition to the alleged failure of the OOO to furnish him copies of his corespondents’ counter-affidavits, Revilla’s petition also contends that “the evidence presented at the PI consisted of:

(a) hearsay; (b) mere extrajudicial declarations of coconspirators; and (c) personal records of Benhur Luy which are all inadmissible evidence.”

In turn, the OOO counters that the “independent” testimonial and documentary evidence presented by complainants are sufficient to show probable cause that Revilla and his corespondents committed plunder and “caused the government undue injury in the mind-boggling amount” of P517 million.

Second front in SC. In his other SC petition filed on May 26, Revilla belabors (1) the OOO’s initial refusal to furnish him copies of “all pleadings, motions, and other submissions filed” in the cases against him, especially his corespondents’ counter-affidavits, and (2) the OOO’s flip-flop by belatedly supplying him six, but not all 19, counter-affidavits.

According to Revilla, this “flip-flopping attitude” by the special panel of the OOO conducting the PI showed patent bias and prejudgment against him. The refusal of the Ombudsman to replace the panel that conducted the PI allegedly constituted grave abuse of discretion.

In response, the OOO brushed aside the charge of bias and prejudgment, arguing that by the filing of the information for plunder against Revilla in the SBN, the OOO had in fact affirmed the findings of the special panel.

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Third front: SBN proceedings. The Constitution guarantees the right to bail of all accused, except in capital offenses “when the evidence of guilt is strong.” Thus, the standard practice in the trial of capital offenses is for the prosecution to immediately present evidence showing that the evidence of guilt is indeed strong.

In the SBN, Revilla, through his counsel Joel Bodegon, insisted that the testimony of (and documentary evidence presented by) whistle-blower Benhur Luy is weak because it did not directly implicate the detained senator to the scam.

He also belittled the testimony of Leigh Von Santos of the Anti-Money Laundering Council that “withdrawals of pork barrel funds received by [Janet] Napoles’ nongovernment organizations matched … the deposit transactions in Revilla’s bank accounts,” arguing that he had many other substantial sources of income as a TV and movie star. He attacked the evidence as merely speculative.

Whether this evidence is “strong” enough to justify Revilla’s detention will be ruled upon by the SBN. But whatever the ruling, whether pro or contra the senator, I am sure it would be elevated to the Supreme Court by the defeated party.

The point is that, in all these graft cases that are being pursued in furtherance of the “daang matuwid” program of President Aquino, the final word rests on the highest court of the land.

Of course, preliminarily, the fact-finding agencies of the government, especially the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation, are needed in looking for and sifting through the many pieces of evidence, and thereafter presenting to the OOO only the relevant and material pieces that would pass the law on evidence.

Once the charges are filed in the SBN, the OOO takes over the prosecution and makes sure that the charges are properly worded, and the pieces of evidence are (1) material, (2) relevant and

(3) admissible in court.

Conviction is not necessarily the goal of courts; it is truth and justice, backed by constitutional due process and by evidence beyond reasonable doubt. In all these celebrated cases involving three senators and other high officials, the people are watching keenly how our investigators, prosecutors and judges deliver speedy justice for all.

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, freedom, opinion, plunder, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Sandiganbayan, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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