MANILA, Philippines – The camp of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr will file a motion that seeks the outright dismissal of his P224.5-million plunder case stemming from the pork barrel scam.
Revilla’s lead lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, said on Tuesday, October 3, that they will first file a motion for leave. He announced the plan in an interview with reporters after the prosecution rested its case.
If anti-graft court Sandiganbayan approves the motion for leave, Revilla will be able to file a demurrer of evidence, or a plea to dismiss the case on the basis of weak evidence.
As Ombudsman prosecutors rested their case against Revilla on Tuesday, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division also ruled to exclude from evidence a P190-million Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) issued in February 2010 under Revilla’s name.
The defense saw this as another point in Revilla’s favor.
“The effort of the prosecution to include an additional SARO and their effort in presenting evidence after the bail hearings is an implicit indication that they are not confident that the evidence they have presented so far is enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt all the elements of plunder,” Mendoza told reporters.
Ombudsman prosecutors had wanted to present another witness from the Commission on Audit (COA) to testify on a SARO dated February 2010 worth P190 million.
The 2010 SARO was funneled through the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC). The prosecutors hoped to use it as additional proof that Revilla got kickbacks that year amounting to at least P33.5 million.
In a ruling issued on Monday, October 2, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division upheld the exclusion of the SARO because it was not specified during the preliminary investigation.
“Considering the foregoing, coupled with the fact that SARO No. ROCS-G 10-00952 was not introduced during the preliminary investigation of this case, the Court is of the view, and thus maintains, that the said SARO is irrelevant,” said the ruling penned by division chairman Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, with concurrences from Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.
No more motion for bail
Though the Revilla camp had earlier said it would file a petition for bail after the Special 5th Division granted bail to former senator Jinggoy Estrada, Mendoza said on Tuesday that the legal team had opted to take another route.
“At this point, we do not think it is necessary to file a motion for bail. Rather, we will file [a] demurrer which means the case is over, nothing to have bail for,” Mendoza said.
Asked whether he agreed with the new strategy, Revilla said he trusted his lawyers.
“Siyempre nakakanerbiyos din, ‘di ba? Sana nakita ng ating mga justices kung ano ‘yung talagang, kumbaga ‘yung ebidensya nila laban sa akin, talagang mahina. Kaya dasal na lang,” the former senator said.
(Of course, it makes me nervous. I hope that the justices were able to see that the evidence against me is weak. I’m just praying.)
The prosecution has 20 days to formally offer its evidence, then the defense will have 20 days to comment.
Should the court deny the motion for leave, or eventually the demurrer itself, the defense will start presenting its evidence in late January.
In the trial, the prosecutors presented local officials who testified that they never received the projects supposedly funded by Revilla’s pork barrel. Bank representatives also testified on the former senator’s accounts.
Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said the prosecution will rely on the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) which found that the deposits to Revilla’s bank accounts matched the records on the ledger of whistleblower Benhur Luy.