MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “Mr. President, handa po akong magpakulong. Kahit saan ‘nyo pa ako ikulong, hindi po ako natatakot,” Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla declared before the media and his supporters on the eve of his arrest. (I am ready to be jailed – anywhere. I’m not afraid.)
But on Friday, June 20, he asked the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to keep him out of jail. In case it insists on jailing him, though, he said his preferred detention site is the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center.
The opposition senator filed a petition asking the Sandiganbayan to allow him to post bail for what is typically a non-bailable offense.
He argued that court must rely on a “strong evidence of guilt” and not just a finding of probable cause in the plunder and graft cases filed against him by the Ombudsman.
The court decided at around 12 noon to detain him at the PNP Custodial Center.
“I will go to jail with my head held high, and I will come out with my head held high,” Revilla, 47, told reporters shortly after attending a televised mass with his family.
Revilla is one of 3 senators who have so far been accused of participating in a years-long scam in which many politicians allegedly embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars that should have been spent on development projects.
An enduring feature of the Philippines’ chaotic brand of democracy has been brazen corruption by politicians, a major reason behind deep poverty in the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people.
But the scam allegedly involving Revilla has been on such a scale that is has shocked a graft-weary public and dominated local media for months.
One of the other senators who has been indicted and facing arrest is Juan Ponce Enrile, a 90-year-old politician famous for his cunning who was defence minister during dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law regime.
The other is Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the son of former president Joseph Estrada who was toppled in 2001 in a popular uprising triggered by his plundering of government coffers while in office.
All 3 senators have protested their innocence, insisting they were targeted simply because they were members of the political opposition.
But the Aquino administration has hailed the charges filed against them as a vital moment in its quest to fight corruption.
“This is a milestone,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who endorsed the case against the 3, told AFP.
“We’re accomplishing what some people said was a near impossible task: to have these big personalities who are perceived as untouchable finally prosecuted,” she said.
De Lima said she expected arrest warrants issued against Estrada and Enrile by next week. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com