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Not an ordinary case

/ 12:04 AM November 23, 2014

“This is not an ordinary case,” Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz said in reference to the plea for bail filed by Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and companions at the antigraft court.

But Justice Dela Cruz might well have referred to the case of plunder and graft that the government is now pursuing against Revilla and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada as well as their alleged coconspirators, including the so-called “pork barrel scam queen” Janet Napoles.

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Public attention may have been diverted in the past months, especially with the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee’s hearings on the alleged corrupt acts committed by Vice President Jejomar Binay. But the case against the senators, Napoles, and company can very well lay the foundation for all anticorruption efforts in the future, and determine the Philippines’ resolve to clean up the stables of government.

Public opinion polls for at least the last decade have identified “graft and corruption” as THE major political issue here. Indeed, President Aquino used public sentiment against corrupt officials to coast all the way to Malacañang, with the slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (If there is no corruption, there will be no poor).” And after the exposé of the scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund, with Napoles as the “poster girl,” and then the revelations of an alleged latter-day “PDAF-like” practice called the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), thousands of citizens were sufficiently moved to gather at Rizal Park and other locales to dramatize their anger and ire at the practice.

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But since then, and with the arrest of the senators in the wake of the testimony of whistle-blowers who had been Napoles’ trusted lieutenants, public passion—even interest—seems to have waned.

What happened? Have the different reports on different forms of corruption by our officials inured Filipinos by now to such wrongdoing? Have we buried our ire beneath the dismissive “a pox on both (or all) your houses”?

* * *

Some friends and I, talking about the Sandiganbayan hearings and the apparent lack of interest in them, speculated on the reasons for this landmark case seemingly taking the back-burner in terms of public awareness and concern.

My theory was that the heated media coverage of the issue (mainly by this newspaper) gave the impression that the controversy had well been settled, especially after the arrest and detention of Napoles, the three senators, and other accused.

But the case remains active and is in fact nearing a crossroads, with the antigraft court facing a deadline in the next few days to rule on Revilla’s petition for bail.

The Sandiganbayan in fact faces a two-day deadline set by the Supreme Court to resolve the motion for bail, although Justice Dela Cruz aired his hope that they could be given some leeway, from three to five more days, before issuing their decision. In the news report, he cited the “complexity of the case and the volume of documents” that they had to pore over.

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Why is the outcome of the petition for bail so crucial? Because a finding that the government was not able to build a serious case against Revilla, thus winning him release on bail, colors the entire case against not just the senator but everybody else accused of plunder.

It could also lay to waste efforts to prosecute present and future cases of corruption, especially against high-ranking officials.

* * *

Of course Revilla’s camp is sounding confident of winning release for the senator.

The gist of his lawyers’ position is that the prosecution case was not “strong enough” to merit his continued detention.

Although Benhur Luy and other whistle-blowers said Revilla’s name and signature were on many of the documents covering the anomalous disbursement of his PDAF allocation to “fake” NGOs, the senator’s lawyers say none of the witnesses could say they ever saw, talked, or dealt with Revilla.

The lawyers have also brought into question the authenticity of the files in the hard disk that Luy offered as evidence, even casting doubt on the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation expert who examined the files.

In a previous column, I wrote about the report submitted by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) that tracked the movement of withdrawals from the accounts of Napoles to deposits made around the same dates to accounts in the names of Revilla and/or his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado. However, Revilla’s camp said it wasn’t all that unusual for the couple to be making huge deposits in their accounts as they still had active careers as actors and TV personalities. They even questioned the reported timing of the deposits and the conclusions reached by the AMLC witness.

Joel Bodegon, lead counsel of Revilla, has described the evidence presented by the prosecution as “suppositions, conjecture and hearsay evidence.”

* * *

For their part, the prosecutors maintain that they were “able to show overwhelming documentary and testimonial evidence that the three accused [senators] can be charged with plunder.”

Prosecutor Joefferson Torribio could not emphasize enough the importance of successfully prosecuting the case against the senators and their coaccused. The case, he said, “represents the biggest corruption scandal in our country in 2013.” And if government evidence in this “biggest corruption scandal” is deemed not sufficient, then it puts under a huge shadow of doubt all other pending cases of corruption against other officials and their coconspirators.

We need to pay attention—close attention—to developments in this case. If we allow our attention to wander or wane, we will reap the consequences we deserve.

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TAGS: antigraft court, Graft and Corruption, Janet Lim-Napoles, Joel Bodegon, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Supreme Court, Vice President Jejomar Binay
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