Pork barrel scam witness now claims Luy forged Revilla's signature
MANILA, Philippines – A prosecution witness in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam changed her testimony on Thursday, June 28, in favor of plunder defendant and former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
Marina Sula was almost in tears at the witness stand on the second day of the defense presentation before the Sandiganbayan First Division.
Sula claimed that star witness Benhur Luy forged Revilla's signature on the documents.
Sula also said she never saw Revilla personally receive kickbacks from either her or her boss, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
"Si Benhur, siya 'yung mahusay pumirma ng lawmakers at siya 'yung nakikita kong pumipirma para sa lawmakers. Wala pong alam si Senator Revilla sa paggawa po ng endorsement letters," Sula said.
(Benhur is the one who's good at signing as the lawmakers and I saw him signing on behalf of the lawmakers. Senator Revilla was not aware of the endorsement letters.)
These claims by Sula were elicited during the direct examination conducted by Revilla's lawyer Rean Balisi. Revilla's camp had managed to defer their presentation for close to 6 months, until they were left with no choice but to proceed last Tuesday, June 26.
Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano told reporters after the morning hearing that they had known Sula would recant her testimony, but hoped she would change her mind at the last minute.
"In a way, parang dini-disown na niya 'yung ebidensya namin laban kay Revilla. Dati sana kung sinabi niya 'yun na wala siyang alam, eh di sana hindi namin siya kinuhang witness. Voluntary naman eh, prinesent namin 'yung affidavit niya, inadmit niya na assisted by counsel siya nung inexecute niya 'yung mga 'yun. Nagbago lang siya, hindi natin alam kung ano ang dahilan," Soriano said.
(In a way, it's as if she's disowning our evidence against Revilla. If she had said earlier on that she didn't have any knowledge of the allegations, then we wouldn't have gotten her as a witness. It was voluntary, we presented her affidavit, she admitted that she was assisted by counsel when she executed her statements. Now she changed her story, we don't know why.)
Sula enjoys state protection through the Witness Protection Program (WPP), and she was warned by Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona that she could risk losing her WPP coverage over what she did.
"Ngayon lang po lumuwag ang loob ko. Noon kasi pigil na pigil lahat. Pero nung nabasa ko 'yung [transcript of stenographic notes], mayroon po siyang mga maling sinabi," Sula said, referring to Luy.
(It's only now that I have gotten this load off my chest. I suppressed many things before. But when I read the transcript, Benhur made some inaccuracies.)
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg asked Sula why she changed her statements this late into the trial.
Sula then alleged that former prosecutor Joefferson Toribio, who used to lead the prosecution panel but resigned after getting a judgeship appointment in Tarlac, coached her into corroborating Luy's testimonies.
"Sinabihan kasi ako ng [Ombudsman] panel na mag-corroborate sa sinabi ni Benhur kasi si Benhur ang nauna sa bail hearings. Mayroon po siyang mga sinasabi na para sa akin hindi totoo," Sula said.
(I was told by the Ombudsman panel to corroborate Benhur's statements because Benhur was first to testify in the bail hearings. He said some things there which, for me, are not true.)
Soriano denied the claim, saying: "There may be some other reasons, [but] we stand by the other evidence presented by the prosecution, and with respect to the testimony given by her against Judge Toribio, we will never do that."
Soriano said it's possible that Sula fears a total admission would make her guilty of other related charges which are not covered by her immunity.
"Nagkaroon kasi ng mga cases na na-file sa kanya, kasi ang immunity nila per case lang, per legislator, so siguro may mga nakalusot na hindi pa siya nakakuha ng immunity at na-charge siya," he said.
(Other cases were filed against her, whereas her immunity is only on a per case, per legislator basis. Maybe she hasn't secured immunity for the other cases yet.)
Soriano added that even though Sula denied seeing Revilla receive money personally, her earlier testimony still stands that it was Revilla's former chief of staff Richard Cambe who received the money on his behalf.
"Insofar as we are concerned, hindi pa naman [affected ang kaso namin kay Revilla] kasi intact pa naman ang testimony ni Benhur. Hindi naman niya (Sula) sinabi na totally mali ang testimony ni Benhur," Soriano said.
(Insofar as we are concerned, our case against Revilla is not affected yet because Benhur's testimony is still intact. Sula didn't say that Benhur's testimony was completely wrong.)
After Thursday's hearing, however, Revilla told reporters that he felt vindicated.
"Naiiyak po ako at natutuwa ng sabay (I feel like crying tears of joy)," the former senator said. "After 4 years, 4 long years, this. Today's revelations only confirm what I have known from the beginning – that I was targeted."
Revilla's plunder case is the only one that has reached the stage of defense presentation. The case of former senator Jinggoy Estrada is still in the prosecution presentation stage, while that of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile is stuck in the pre-trial level, thanks to the legal maneuverings of his lawyer Estelito Mendoza, who's also representing Revilla now.
Mendoza had put off Revilla's defense presentation for months, as he counted on the Supreme Court (SC) to step in and stop the trial. The SC has yet to resolve the Revilla camp's petition. – Rappler.com