Verdict on Bong Revilla plunder case out December 7

Lian Buan

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Verdict on Bong Revilla plunder case out December 7
(UPDATED) This will significantly affect the action star-turned-politician's candidacy for senator in 2019

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The nation on December 7 will see the first ever judgment in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scandal that sent senators to jail in 2014, as the anti-graft court is set to promulgate its decision on Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr’s plunder case.

“The Court hereby sets the promulgation of the decision of this case on December 7, 2018, at 8:30 in the morning,” the court’s First Division said in an order dated November 5.

The justices who will decide Revilla’s fate are Efren dela Cruz, Geraldine Faith Econg, and Edgardo Caldona. Dela Cruz has applied for the latest vacancy in the Supreme Court.

The First Division concludes 4 years of legal battle for Revilla, and 1 year and 2 months of formal trial, where Ombudsman prosecutors brought to court local officials who swore under oath that their names were listed as beneficiaries although they did receive projects allegedly funded by Revilla’s pork barrel.

Ombudsman prosecutors have accused Revilla of earning P224.5 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel, through his former chief of staff Richard Cambe.

Revilla is one of 3 former senators charged over the alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistant Fund. Jinggoy Estrada’s case is on trial, while Enrile’s case is stuck in the pre-trial level. Both are out on bail. All 3 are running for senator in 2019. 

One of Revilla’s lawyers, Ramon Esguerra, said they “cannot be that confident.”

“We cannot be that confident though we maintain and believe in the innocence of the former Senator. We cannot talk of contingency plans as of yet but legal remedies are available,” Esguerra said.

Revilla’s wife, Lani Mercado, said they are “anxious and excited at the same time.“

“We ask for continuous prayers for an acquittal. Ipagdasal po natin na mangibabaw ang katotohanan at katarungan,” she said.

What happened in trial

Prosecutors also have what they regard as their ultimate smoking gun: a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council which supposedly shows that millions of deposits made to Revilla accounts matched dates and amounts from Benhur Luy’s records of when the star witness supposedly gave kickbacks to Cambe. (READ: Trial wraps for Revilla: Did prosecution tie loose ends?)

Cambe denied on the witness stand ever knowing Luy.

Revilla’s defense team, led by the veteran and influential Estelito Mendoza, stuck to their argument that the elements of the accusations are not enough for a crime of plunder. 

Revilla’s lawyers also managed to get Ombudsman witnesses on the stand who said at the latter stage of the trial that it was Luy who forged the senator’s signatures, and that they felt pressure by prosecutors to corroborate Luy’s story. 

Mercado stressed this when she filed his husband’s candidacy for senator for the 2019 elections. She was asked about how the plunder case affects the credibility of the action star-turned-politician.

“Truth will come out, justice will prevail,” Mercado said at the Commission on Elections headquarters.

By election laws, Revilla is not automatically disqualified in the event that he is convicted. It will take a finality of judgment, which means an appeal at the Sandiganbayan and possibly the Supreme Court, signaling more years of litigation.

Prosecutors downplayed the change of tune of their witnesses, and said their paper trail would bear them out. 

“The SAROs (Special Allotment Release Orders) cannot be released without the endorsement letters and the project listings, which he himself signed. Those are the important documents para madikit namin si Revilla sa scam (for us to link Revilla to the scam),” said Assistant Special Prosecutor Mariter Delfin Santos.

This will also test the Estelito Mendoza magic. He is the lawyer who secured the plunder acquittal of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the bail grant for plunder for Juan Ponce Enrile.

In fact, Mendoza has filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking the total dismissal of the plunder case at Sandiganbayan, though the High Court has yet to act on it.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.