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Case on pork barrel scam proceeding apace

/ 01:59 AM November 12, 2014

When movie actors began “invading” the august halls of government, some folks began loudly calling on them to stop appearing in movies or TV shows, especially those that had them performing in rather risqué or comical roles. But these moves were soon dampened by the arguments of some—and not just the performers—that allowing our show biz legislators and officials to continue their acting or hosting commitments was a way to keep them “honest.”

Given their enormous earnings from movies and TV and other public appearances, it was argued, part-time actors, comedians and hosts who were also part-time government officials would not feel any urge to steal the people’s money. Their “wealth” would protect them from the temptations of graft and corruption.

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Or, as a former senator replied, when charges were leveled at her for toying with public funds: “Millionaires don’t steal.” Neither do action stars, it seems.

That’s the argument raised by Sen. Bong Revilla, who has admitted in interviews that, yes, he closed several bank accounts after his involvement—and those of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada—in the so-called pork barrel fund scam was exposed in the media.

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But far from it being considered a suspicious activity, which is the natural reaction, I suppose, Revilla defended his action by saying it was a “normal reaction” to “protect” his personal wealth.

The money in those accounts was acquired legally, and included his earnings from his movies and TV shows, he said, adding that he had entered the “business of show” at a very young age.

But while he and his wife, actress Lani Mercado (now a congresswoman), undoubtedly made a bundle in their many years in entertainment, a recent report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) also traces how they managed to channel other “earnings” into several bank accounts as part of the overall scheme purportedly hatched by Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam.

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IN A recent report and in the testimony of an AMLC representative, it was shown how Revilla allegedly took advantage of “kickbacks” from Napoles in exchange for channeling his PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) allocations to nongovernment organizations supposedly created or founded by Napoles.

In a news report on a recent hearing, an AMLC witness traced how Representative Mercado had P27 million deposited in the bank account of a company reportedly controlled by the senator, “despite having no record of ever having been in operation.”

In the AMLC testimony, it was shown how Nature Concepts Development and Realty Corp. made deposits approximately during the times when Revilla’s staff member Richard Cambe allegedly received kickback money from Benhur Luy, formerly Napoles’ right-hand man and now the lead whistle-blower in the case.

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Between April 6 and 28, 2010, said the AMLC report, Revilla and his immediate family made “numerous deposits” to their various bank accounts and placed investments of more than P87 million within 30 days from the dates indicated in Luy’s ledger when Revilla, through Cambe, “allegedly received commissions or rebates to his PDAF in cash.”

The same corporation, despite no trace of having conducted any sort of business, received substantial amounts through deposits totaling more than P27 million, most of which were done around the time Cambe allegedly received cash from Luy. Revilla and his wife also transferred funds to the same company totaling P16 million.

And, as he already admitted, Revilla terminated his investments and bank accounts “immediately before and after” the PDAF scandal emerged in the media. These accounts, as Revilla claimed, contained his earnings from acting jobs, although of course the timing raises red flags.

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WITH the media spotlight trained on the allegedly “overpriced” construction of the Makati City Hall parking building under the watch of the then mayor, Vice President Jojo Binay, the public can’t be blamed if it seems to have forgotten about the “pork” issue.

But the reality is that the case against Napoles and associates, including the three senators, is proceeding apace, although the senators and their lawyers have blown hot and cold, initially taking an “aggressive” approach and demanding that evidence be presented at once, then backtracking and slowing down the proceedings at the Sandiganbayan.

One such tactic is the petition filed by Senator Estrada asking the court to nullify the Ombudsman’s grant of immunity to Luy. This is because Luy is allegedly the “most guilty” of those charged in the PDAF issue.

Said the Ombudsman in its opposition to Estrada’s motion: “It should be clear at this stage that accused Estrada is desperately waging a futile campaign to delay these proceedings and prevent Mr. Luy’s evidence and testimony from further damaging and undermining his feeble defense.”

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THE prosecutors are asking the court not just to dismiss Estrada’s motion but also to “admonish Estrada and his defense team and direct them to refrain from further acts to delay these proceedings for the purpose of preventing the presentation of damaging evidence.”

After all, if the goal of the accused is to prove their innocence, which they have loudly declared since their arrest, they should be eager to have evidence of such innocence presented in court, the better to hasten their release. This, too, is what the Filipino people want, to determine the truly guilty in the scam, and ensure that they get their rightful punishment. But it seems the accused senators want to delay the proceedings as long as they can. Is 2016 looming on the horizon for them? If so, what is it they hope will happen?

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TAGS: AMLC, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Benhur Luy, Bong Revilla, Janet Lim-Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Lani Mercado, Nature Concepts Development and Realty Corp., PDAF, pork barrel scam, pork scam, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Richard Cambe, Senator Revilla
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