Rundown of the trial: Is Bong Revilla guilty or not guilty?

Lian Buan

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Rundown of the trial: Is Bong Revilla guilty or not guilty?
‘Given the evidence the office gathered, if I were a judge I would convict him. Period,’ says former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

MANILA, Philippines – It’s the moment of truth. 

Will Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr be convicted or acquitted for plunder for allegedly earning P224.5 million in kickbacks by funnelling his pork barrel through bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) owned by Janet Lim-Napoles? The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan First Division will hand out its verdict on Friday, December 7.

The First Division was not able to arrive at a unanimous decision, forcing them to create a special division and bring in two members to break an impasse.

Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the one who brought this on Revilla and others accused in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, said “given the evidence the office gathered, if I were a judge I would convict him. Period.”

“The family is both anxious and hopeful. Patuloy kaming nagdarasal para magtagumpay ang katarungan at ang katotohanan. (We continue to pray so that justice and truth may prevail),” said Revilla’s wife, Bacoor City Mayor Lani Mercado.

Revilla has been in jail for 4 years. This is the first ever pork barrel scam to be decided. (READ: How Revilla’s team is defending him in his plunder trial)

Is he guilty or not? Here is a rundown of what happened.

October 9, 2014 – During Revilla’s bail hearing, Ombudsman prosecutors brought out a big gun, which would turn out to be their biggest gun for the entire case – a report by the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) that amounts recorded by Benhur Luy in his ledger where he records the kickbacks he supposedly gave Revilla matched details with the amounts that went into bank accounts of the Revilla family.

May 8, 2017 – Before the trial could start, the Court of Appeals acquitted Napoles of serious illegal detention, saying Benhur Luy’s testimony was unbelievable.

Defense teams would use this acquittal as painting Luy as a non-credible witness in the plunder case. Much of the connections in the scam, after all, are based on Luy’s word.

June 22, 2017 – It took 3 years before trial could finally begin, a date that was even delayed by 6 months because of the legal maneuverings of Revilla’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza, who he had just hired then.

July 27, 2017 – The prosecution started to present local officials, all of whom denied being beneficiaries of projects supposedly funded by Revilla through his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Revilla does not discount that the officials may have been used in an elaborate ghost project scam, but he claims, “biktima sila, biktima din ako (if they’re victims, I am also a victim).” 

This is a strategy of leaving Napoles to explain for the ghost projects. It is a sound strategy because Luy, Napoles’ former trusted employee turned whistleblower, never talked or transacted with Revilla.

September 14, 2017 – Bank officials started to testify, despite earnest efforts from Revilla and Napoles to block their testimonies.

On the part of the Asia United Bank (AUB), where Revilla has several bank accounts under several names, bank officer Eduardo Arsenio Roldan said there were suspicious transactions like daily deposits that exceed P500,000.

Roldan, however, said the bank only filed suspicious transaction reports after the pork barrel scam scandal broke in the news.

Officials of the Chinatrust Philippines Commercial Bank Corporation (CPCBC) said that the Revilla accounts were closed when news broke out in 2013.

October 3, 2017 – The Sandiganbayan ruled to exclude from evidence P190 million worth of special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) from February 2010.

This was important to the prosecution because they alleged the 2010 SARO is the source of the kickbacks given to Revilla that year. The Court ruled that because the SARO was not included in the preliminary investigation, it shouldn’t be admitted as evidence during trial.

December 7, 2017 – Revilla’s lawyers filed what is called a motion for leave to file a demurrer of evidence. If this had been granted, they would have been allowed to file a demurrer which is a pleading that argues the weakness of the prosecution case is enough to dismiss the charges outright.

If the demurrer was granted, Revilla would have been acquitted without even presenting his evidence in trial.

But the Sandiganbayan denied the motion for leave not once, but twice.

June 28, 2018 – In a surprise move, the defense put to the stand prosecution’s own witness Marina Sula.

On the witness stand, Sula cried and said she had been pressured by Ombudsman prosecutors to corroborate Luy. She said it was Luy who forged Revilla’s signatures.

Revilla considered this a major win in the trial. But the prosecution downplayed it as just fear of the witness of being charged next. Paper trail, they said, would bear them out in the end. 

The defense only had Sula, one other Napoles employee and Revilla himself as their witness. They did not submit documentary evidence. Napoles did not present anything.

August 7, 2018 – Luy returned to the witness stand where he described in detail every transaction he has ever had with Revilla’s staff Richard Cambe.

Luy said that while he has never seen or talked to Revilla, it is impossible for Napoles to give that much money to just a staffer.

“‘Segurista si Madame, hindi siya magbibigay ng pera kay Attorney Cambe kung wala silang agreement ni Revilla (Madame Janet does not take chances, she would not give money to Attorney Cambe if there’s no agreement with Revilla),” Luy said.

August 9, 2018 – Trial wrapped for the entire case. The prosecution said they were able to connect the dots. How?

SAROs cannot be released without endorsement letters that Revilla himself signed. The endorsement letters named the Napoles NGOs as implementers of the projects. 

The projects turned out to be fake. Did Revilla know the projects are fake? Prosecutors said Revilla’s request letters to the budget department were very general, as they did not specify the cost and even beneficiaries.

Prosecutors said it was hard to believe that Revilla did not follow up where these projects went, given they were worth millions.

“Paano mai-implement ng implementing agency kung very general? Makikipag-coordinate siya para alamin kung ano ba ang gusto niyang ipatupad na project,” said Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano. (“How would the implementing agency implement the projects if they were very general? He would have had to coordinate to know what projects he wanted to implement.”)

Lawyer Levito Baligod, who initially served as counsel to Benhur Luy, said he will accept whatever the verdict will be.

“My worry is that I personally witnessed Ms. Lani Mercado say in a big gathering in Tacloban City last November 7, 2018 that a decision will be promulgated this December and that her husband Bong Revilla will be acquitted. Prescience?” Baligod said. –

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Lian Buan

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