MANILA, Philippines – Veteran litigator Estelito Mendoza, the newest addition to former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr’s team of lawyers, got the court to postpone Revilla’s trial to another time after arguing that the prosecution’s case qualifies for bribery only, not plunder.
The Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday, February 9, moved the trial to February 23 pending the court’s resolution of the motion to quash filed by Revilla’s team.
The motion to quash was filed 3 days earlier, February 6. (READ: Revilla uses Enrile arguments to have plunder charges dropped)
Mendoza argued for Revilla during the hearing and reiterated their argument that the facts alleged in the information do not constitute plunder.
Revilla is accused of pocketing P224 million from his discretionary development assistance fund which was released to fake foundations and non-governmental organizations through agent Janet Lim Napoles.
‘Bribery, not plunder’
According to Mendoza, the wording of the information filed by the prosecution states that the “overt criminal act” committed by Revilla was not that he received kickbacks, but that he endorsed his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to government agencies or Napoles-owned NGO.
“The question is simple, is endorsement an overt criminal act as defined by the plunder law? No. The language of the information supports that,” Mendoza told the justices.
“The act of repeatedly giving and receiving money is not plunder. If they want to file another offense, they can file simple bribery, not plunder,” Mendoza said, while also clarifying that they are not saying Revilla is guilty of bribery.
“Why is plunder penalized by reclusion perpetua if it is just receiving money, and that is all there is to it, if it is just receiving money. The critical element, according to the Supreme Court, is that you received this through a combination or series of overt criminal acts,” Mendoza told reporters after the hearing.
Lawyer Joefferson Toribio, lead prosecutor in the case, insisted that their case is solid, saying other details asked for by Revilla’s team are already “evidentiary matters” that are not required at this point.
“The information that we filed for plunder is a valid information. That’s it, it is their position that we should have filed a bribery case, that’s their position. The fact that the court already denied the bail petition of Senator Revilla and that the court declared that the evidence is strong for plunder is a confirmation of the validity of our information,” Toribio told reporters.
Mendoza, appearing for only the second time in court to defend his new client Revilla, hit the prosecution for what, he said, was a lack of understanding of the “heart of the plunder law” which is the overt criminal act.
“If it was asked in the bar examinations, they would not have answered it correctly,” said the octogenarian Mendoza who has difficulty hearing and has to use a transcriber in court.
For the prosecution’s part, Toribio said they were able to establish two relevant elements in the information:
- That Revilla received kickbacks from government projects
- That Revilla took advantage of his position to unjustly enrich themselves
At the beginning of the hearing, Mendoza said, “Revilla has been arrested and detained for two years now but he still does not understand what the law states and on what grounds he was detained,” reiterating that the information filed was vague.
Toribio retorted, “They filed a petition for bail which categorically stated that the information is weak. How could they have said that it was weak if he doesn’t understand?”
He added, “Revilla even presented his own defense so it is crystal clear to us that he understands.”
Toribio accused Revilla’s team of intentionally causing delay in the proceedings, saying the motion to quash is merely an afterthought.
“You can file a motion to quash anytime. Look at what happened with the case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, everything was assumed to be okay, and finally, we raised the appropriateness of a demurrer to evidence, and the Supreme Court ruled that there is no case, that she has not committed the offense of plunder notwithstanding the fact that she has been detained for nearly 4 years,” Mendoza said, citing the SC’s acquittal of the former president of plunder charges related to the PCSO mess.
Mendoza was Arroyo’s lawyer in that case.
Deferred a second time
Both sides were given 5 days to submit their written memoranda on the defense’s motion to quash.
This is the second time that Revilla’s plunder trial has been deferred. According to Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, the pre-trial order is still not finalized even after they had asked the prosecution to make amendments during the first trial schedule on January 12.
There are some similarities between Mendoza’s arguments for Revilla and those he made for another client, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile. (READ: How the bright Enrile is fighting his plunder charges in court)
Last February 1, the Sandiganbayan dismissed Enrile’s motion to dismiss, setting in motion the former senator’s trial for plunder.
Revilla personally attended his hearing with son Cavite Vice Governor Jolo Revilla who arrived later than his father.
Revilla Jr said his father, former senator Ramon Revilla Sr’s heart surgery on Wednesday, February 8, was successful. He refused to comment on the day’s proceedings. “Just talk to my lawyer,” Revilla Jr said, before heading out of the Sandiganbayan.
At 4 pm, Revilla will proceed to the St Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig after the court partially granted his furlough request to visit his ailing father. – Rappler.com