MANILA, Philippines – Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Saturday, December 8, expressed disbelief over the recent decision of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to acquit former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr of plunder charges related to the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.
De Lima said in a statement sent from her detention cell on Saturday that the verdict was “a sad moment for truth, justice, and accountability” and “sends the wrong signal.”
“With Revilla’s acquittal, it now appears that legislators are not responsible for how they use their pork, even if this ends up being plundered,” she said.
On Friday, December 7, the Sandiganbayan’s Special First Division acquitted Revilla of plunder over the pork barrel scam. However, the court convicted Revilla’s former staff Richard Cambe and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles. The accused are also ordered to return P124.5 million to the government coffers.
De Lima said if such trend continues, legislators implicated in the pork barrel scam “can all rest easy.”
“They will always have their chiefs-of-staff and Napoles to blame for hoodwinking them into giving away their PDAF, without any accountability on their part. And ‘forged’ signatures would now be a favorite defense,” she said.
PDAF refers to the Priority Development Assistance Fund, also known as the legislators’ pork barrel. In the light of the exposé in the pork barrel scam, the legality of the fund was questioned before the Supreme Court, which deemed the PDAF as unconstitutional in 2013.
De Lima, who served as justice secretary during the Aquino administration, argued that the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz “is the more sensible, judicious and correct disposition of this landmark plunder case.”
“Indeed, it’s unbelievable as it is ludicrous that Revilla’s aide reaped the benefits of the scam in connivance with Napoles but sans Revilla,” she said.
De Lima shared the bewilderment of her old boss, former president Benigno Aquino III, over the court decision.
“We will remain perplexed at this strange outcome of the judgment in Revilla’s plunder case. But with Revilla’s exoneration and the near impossibility of recovering what was plundered, we can all say goodbye to deterrence of plunderous proclivities among certain lawmakers and other government officials,” she said.
De Lima also echoed the sentiment of fellow opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on the “topsy-turvy” justice under the Duterte administration.
“What is now patently evident is that the corrupt and big plunderers are set free, while critics are targeted and charged with fabricated accusations, and mere suspects are gunned down in broad daylight,” the senator said.
De Lima also observed that the pork barrel seemed to be “making a comeback in Congress,” citing a report that Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s district in Pampanga will get P2.4 billion in the proposed 2019 national budget.
The pork barrel scam was uncovered in 2013 during the Aquino administration. De Lima, the justice secretary then, conducted probes that led to the filing of charges against Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada – all sitting senators at the time.
With Revilla acquitted, all 3 former senators are now out of jail, though the other two are out on bail. In contrast, De Lima has been in detention since February 2017, over drug charges filed against her by the Duterte government. – Rappler.com
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