Bong Revilla’s biggest battle

Chay F. Hofileña
Will Bong Revilla survive what is perhaps the biggest political scandal to hit him?

MANILA, Philippines – Of the 3 senators facing plunder complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman, he is the last to speak on the Senate floor. Emotional and badly affected, Senator-actor Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr is fighting what could be the toughest adversary he has ever faced in real life.

The Senate listed in its agenda for Monday, January 20, the privilege speech of Revilla. He has decided that now is the right time to confront his adversaries. (READ: Revilla sets privilege speech on ‘pork’ scam)

The minimum P224.5 million that Revilla supposedly plundered over a 5-year period starting 2006, dwarfs the commissions that two other senators, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, allegedly kept.

Revilla is said to have shamelessly collected his commissions in cold cash – from releases of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) channeled to fake non-governmental organizations linked to Janet Lim Napoles, the woman supposedly behind the pork barrel scam. Logs from primary witness Benhur Luy specify the dates, projects and amounts allegedly given to the senator, all of the money coursed through his senior staff, Atty Richard Cambe.

Revilla’s ties with Napoles could not be denied as photos that showed him attending parties she hosted could not possibly lie. Besides, his son Leonard Bryan Bautista, known in showbiz circles as Bryan Revilla, is a business associate of Janet’s son, James Christopher. The two are said to have known each other from their high school days. (READ: Napoles, Revilla sons are business partners)

PARTY TIME. Senator Bong Revilla attends parties hosted by Janet Lim Napoles.

But even excluding the ties that bind the sons, Napoles herself reportedly used various doors and links to penetrate the Senate and get herself introduced from one senator to another. In the case of Revilla, it was his senator-friend Jinggoy Estrada who supposedly hooked him up with Napoles too, talk in the Senate goes.

Estrada has since spoken on the Senate floor ahead of Revilla, following in the footsteps of Enrile, the most senior of the 3 senators facing plunder charges.

When news about the PDAF scam first broke, Revilla stayed away from the limelight and was reported to be restless, sleepless, and listless, those who remained in touch with him said. He allegedly offered to return amounts that were associated with him in exchange for the dropping of plunder complaints, but that never happened.

Despite the gravity of the accusations and the endless speculations, he opted to remain silent and simply urged the public to withhold judgment. Unlike his two colleagues in the pork barrel club, Revilla kept his peace, urging the media instead to wait for the right time. (READ: Revilla sets Jan 20 privilege speech on ‘pork’ scam)

Bong and Jinggoy

Ranked 5th richest in the Senate in 2012, Revilla told a press conference attended by the entertainment press that he had actually wanted to speak up as early as his birthday last September but that his friend Jinggoy – the 4th richest in the Senate – requested that he be allowed to go first. Revilla obliged and gave way.

Rooted in both showbiz and politics, both senators have fathers who straddled both worlds. Jinggoy, son of former president and popular movie actor Joseph Estrada, was himself a comedy actor before he was elected mayor of San Juan in 1992 and senator in 2004. Bong, the son of movie actor Ramon Revilla Sr, was a popular action star before he first won a full term as governor of Cavite in 1998 and before he became senator in 2004. He had starred in fantasy and action movies like Ang Panday and Si Agimat at si Enteng Kabisote which revolved around heroic themes.

Revilla and Estrada are further linked by their association with Napoles. If the date he first collected rebates from Napoles is any indication, Jinggoy Estrada knew Napoles ahead of Revilla. The same accounting records of Luy show that Jinggoy – through Ruby Tuason, the former social secretary of Joseph Estrada – made his first collection from Napoles in September 2004. Revilla’s came two years later in 2006.

But Revilla was adamant in denying his alleged closeness to Napoles. He said that while he had seen Napoles in “certain social gatherings,” there was no other interaction with her beyond the usual greetings. Napoles herself said that she had photos taken with Jinggoy and Bong only because they are also popular movie actors. (READ: Bong, JPE, Jinggoy ‘suki’ to Napoles NGOs)

But an affidavit by witness Marina Sula said that both senators Estrada and Revilla, his wife Lani and son Bryan “would either visit our office or join our events and affairs.” In other words, there were also “business” interests at stake.

As both senators allegedly collected rebates and commissions, their net worth gradually increased.

In the case of Revilla, witnesses Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas said in a September 2013 joint sworn statement, that the agreement was for him to collect a 50% commission from his total PDAF amounting to P652 million. This amount was supposed to have been siphoned off to Napoles’ fake NGOs.

But out of the supposed P326 million commission given over 5 years, only P224.51 million was recorded as having been collected by Revilla’s staff, Richard Cambe. This is because Napoles herself gave the money outside the JLN Corporation office without having any voucher signed, Luy and Suñas said. Napoles, however, reported to them that the full commission of Revilla and her other client-lawmakers had been distributed.

Like his close friend Jinggoy who had a new house built, Revilla is also constructing a new one across his present home on Saranggani Street in Muntinlupa. Ayala Alabang residents estimated the new house alone, which has 4 stories and a basement, costs almost triple the present one which costs at least P35 million. The lot on which the new house stands could easily be priced the same as the house being constructed, residents said.

Jeremiah Judges Design Construct Co, which offers design-build services, was reportedly contracted by Revilla, as was Kenneth & Mock Designs Inc, a survey of the construction site a few months back showed. While under construction, the house, said to be owned by Revilla, was draped in blue.

SENATOR'S HOUSE. A new residence on 115 Saranggani is being constructed for Sen Bong Revilla in Ayala Alabang. Rappler photo

Net worth

The affidavit of Luy and Suñas also disclosed that the bulk of the rebates amounting to P80 million came in 2008, all in the form of cash. The money was allegedly received by Cambe. At that time, or 4 years after being elected to the Senate, Revilla declared a gross family income of P8.18 million. He failed to state what his net worth was.

But the year before, or in 2007, he declared a net worth of P114.97 million. In the same year (2007), Revilla, again through Cambe, allegedly got P61 million – also in cash. In 2006, he supposedly collected P10 million, Luy and Suñas said.

YEARREBATES IN CASH (Millions of pesos)NET WORTH (Based on SALN)
2006 10 No SALN on record
2007 61 114.97
2008 80 Not specified
2009 40 123.74
2010 33.51 125.75
TOTAL REBATES 224.51
2011   147, 217, 704.56
2012   169,141,387.21

 

The earliest available that he filed, Revilla’s 2007 SALN, listed an Ayala Alabang house and lot purchased by installment in June 2001. Land and improvements cost him P37 million. It was the most expensive real estate property in his SALN.

In 2009, Revilla’s net worth rose to P123.74 million. The bulk of his assets lay in residential and commercial investments, as well as service vehicles. Also in 2009, he reportedly got P40 million in cash in just two days, October 6 and 22, likewise via Cambe, according to the sworn statement of Luy and Suñas.

In 2010, he allegedly got P33.51 million still through Cambe. In that year, a house and lot also in Ayala Alabang was listed as being worth P39 million. By 2010, his net worth increased slightly to P125.75 million.

In 2011, Revilla’s SALN specified 114 Saranggani St in Muntinlupa – acquired in 2002 – as being worth P35 million. The reason for the discrepancies in the SALN declarations is not explained. He was worth P147.2 million then, reflecting a 17% increase in his net worth relative to 2010.

His latest SALN for 2012 mirrors the same information in 2011, and lists the same Saranggani property as being worth P35 million. Compared to 2011, his net worth in 2012 (P169.14 million) reflected a 15% increase.

Forged signatures?

The rebates for years 2006-2008 were all allegedly taken from the JLN (Janet Lim Napoles) office vault which stores cash, in anticipation of times when lawmakers have to be paid. The transactions were all recorded by Luy in his accounting records from 2004 till 2010, with a few listed deals for the years 2011-2012.

In August 2013, Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said his client had hired handwriting experts to determine whether signatures had been forged in documents or endorsement letters. In November, Revilla went on the offensive, with Bodegon announcing they were filing a civil case against the whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam.

Revilla said his signature, as well as that of Cambe, were forged just so they could collect the senator’s pork barrel funds. They had no proof, Revilla said, that the funds went to his own pocket.

This was however refuted by Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan, who said, Revilla himself had confirmed to them the authenticity of his representative’s signatures.

PDAF spending

In 2011, Revilla was one of 9 senators who had P100 million released from their PDAF within the same year. It was in this same year that he became president of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Lakas Kampi-CMD.

In 2012 – like 6 other senators – Revilla got his full P200 million pork barrel funds. The other 6 were Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Vicente Sotto III, and Antonio Trillanes IV.

In 2012 alone, according to figures obtained from the Department of Budget and Management, the bulk of Revilla’s pork barrel funds were spent on organic farming livelihood assistance (P55M), multi-purpose halls (P41M), and roads (P39.5M). Some of these projects like organic farming assistance can be prone to “leakages” because they are difficult to monitor, former Senate staffers said. (See table below)

2012 PROJECTSMIILION PESOS
CIDDS 13
Calamity 5
Health financial assistance 7
Multi-purpose buildings 41
Organic farming livelihood assistance 55
Other infra 29.5
Roads 39.5
Desilting 10
TOTAL 200M


With a bang and a thud

Close to 10 years ago, Revilla landed in the Senate with a bang. A neophyte, he finished an impressive strong second to then senator Mar Roxas during the 2004 senatorial elections.

When Revilla sought a second term in 2010, he got the most number of votes with 19.5 million, even surpassing winning presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III’s 15.2 million votes.

Because of his popularity, he was touted as a possible presidential candidate of Lakas-Kampi-CMD in 2016 when his term as senator ends. But the allegations of the pork barrel scam whistleblowers might have just dashed that trajectory.

Of late, however, he is said to be taking part in the family bible studies being led by his eldest son Bryan. Bong Revilla is likely praying hard he will survive what is turning out to be the biggest political scandal of his life. – with reports from Wayne Manuel/Rappler.com

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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.