Sandiganbayan postpones Revilla plunder trial

Lian Buan
Sandiganbayan postpones Revilla plunder trial
The trial was supposed to begin Thursday, January 12, but the court gives the prosecution more time to make corrections to the 830-page pre-trial order

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan postponed the plunder trial of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr to February 9 since the prosecution has yet to make corrections to the pre-trial order.

A pre-trial order, issued after a pre-trial conference, contains facts about the case and the evidence presented. It is essentially used as a guide to be followed throughout the course of the trial.

Day one of Revilla’s plunder trial was set for Thursday, January 12, but the anti-graft court’s Special First Division had to postpone it until the pre-trial order is finalized.

Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said, however, that they weren’t told earlier that they needed to make amendments to the 830-page pre-trial order.

Revilla’s lawyers also asked for time to review the prosecution’s amendments, so a preliminary conference between both parties was scheduled on January 19.

A frustrated Revilla told media afterwards: “I’m excited sana, hoping na mapabilis, pero ang tingin ko tatagal pa. I’m okay pero mahaba-haba pa tong laban na ‘to. Prayers na lang.”

(I was excited, hoping this would be quicker, but I think this will still drag on. I’m okay but there’s a long road ahead. I just ask for prayers.)

Revilla arrived at the Sandiganbayan with one of his lawyers carrying an orange suitcase which they said was “full of evidence.”

Revilla has also hired legal heavyweight Estelito Mendoza, who defended former senator Juan Ponce Enrile in his plunder case over the pork barrel scam. The Supreme Court had allowed Enrile to post bail in 2015.

While Enrile was provisionally freed, all others charged – including Revilla, former senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Enrile’s former chief of staff Gigi Reyes – remain in detention.

New witnesses

The prosecution said they will present 119 new witnesses, including beneficiaries of Revilla’s pork barrel-funded projects and representatives from banks which handled Revilla’s accounts over the course of 5 years – beginning 2006, when the former senator allegedly got kickbacks.

“So many witnesses, this will continue forever. I do not know the purposes of these witnesses,” Mendoza told the court.

His co-counsel Ramon Esguerra added that there are unnecessary witnesses, citing a supposed plan by the prosecution to present the custodian of Senate records instead of just presenting the records which are public documents.

“But that number is only bloated because of the 77 beneficiaries who have similar statements,” Toribio responded, adding that they have trimmed the witnesses’ statements and may be able to compile them.

Toribio also said the new witnesses will be presented in batches.

Bacoor Mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla, who came to court with her husband, said: “Nakakalungkot kasi mas madaming witnesses na ipi-present ng prosecution, mas tatagal, but now that we have a collaboration of Attorney Mon Esguerra and Attorney Estelito Mendoza, sa tingin ko mas mapapabilis ang kasong ito and true justice will be implemented in the case of Senator Bong.”

(It’s sad that there will be more witnesses because that means this will take much longer. But now that we have a collaboration between Attorney Mon Esguerra and Attorney Estelito Mendoza, I think the process will be expedited and true justice will be implemented in the case of Senator Bong.)

Duterte on Revilla’s case

President Rodrigo Duterte had expressed confidence during the campaign period that Revilla would be allowed to post bail if the evidence against the former senator is weak.

Speaking to residents of the Revilla bailiwick of Bacoor in January 2016, Duterte said: “Ako, you can be very sure, lalabas ‘yan, lalabas siya diyan. I cannot guarantee na ‘yung kaso ma-e-erase, pero I will see to it that he will be given the right to bail.” 

(Under me, you can be very sure he will get out. I cannot guarantee that his case will be erased, but I will see to it that he will be given the right to bail.)

“Binanggit niya sa amin ‘yon nung nangangampanya siya, pero naniniwala ako sa sinasabi niya na we have to go through and pass the process of law so ‘yan ang ginagawa natin ngayon,” Mercado-Revilla said on Thursday.

(He mentioned it to us when he was campaigning but I believe in what the President said about having to go through and pass the process of law, so that’s what we are doing now.)

Additional requests

Also present at court on Thursday with Revilla was his former chief of staff, Richard Cambe, who also faces plunder charges for being his boss’ supposed bagman. (READ: Will Cambe take the fall for his senator-boss Bong Revilla?)

Cambe has denied the allegations against him.

A lawyer by profession, Cambe is also representing himself in the trial. “I do not have the financial capacity to hire a lawyer,” he said.

Another reason for the delay in finalizing the pre-trial order was Cambe’s failure to submit the soft copy of his own pre-trial brief. As such, Cambe asked the court to order the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center, where he is detained, to grant him computer and internet access so he would be able to submit his brief. (READ: Did Senator Bong Revilla lie?– Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.