Faster trial seen in Bong Revilla plunder case

MANILA, Philippinez – A more "expeditious" plunder trial is being sought in the case of detained former senator Bong Revilla by dropping the one by one examination of alleged ghost project beneficiaries.

Since the start of the hearings in June, the Ombudsman team of prosecutors has brought to court local officials whose names and signatures were allegedly forged to make it appear that projects were delivered to them. The projects were supposedly funded from the pork barrel of Revilla.

Around 4 to 6 officials take the stand every hearing and they are questioned by lawyers of each of the accused, including Revilla's former staff Richard Cambe, and the team of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. There were initially more than 70 beneficiaries lined up to take the witness stand.

By the end of the hearing on Thursday, August 3, the prosecution and defense agreed to tackle whether or not they can proceed by just presenting the witness and reading the purpose of testimony – a half page worth of stipulations – since they will all say the same thing: that they did not receive supposed Revilla-funded projects.

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan's First Division ordered the prosecutors to send a memorandum to the defense teams. Revilla's lawyers have to answer by Monday, August 7. If agreed and approved, the witnesses still have to be physically brought to court.

'Hearsay'

Revilla's lead lawyer, former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza was inclined to favor this idea on Thursday, even as he continues to contest their relevance in Revilla's case.

Time and again, Mendoza insists that the supposed beneficiaries do not link Revilla to the crime of plunder. This is also what Revilla tells reporters after every hearing. In the last hearing, Revilla said that the supposed beneficiaries are not the only victims.

"Biktima rin ako eh. Dapat managot dito kung sino 'yung dapat managot. Kung ghost project ito, sino 'yun? Sino 'yung nagpeke ng signature namin, sino 'yung may kagagawan?"

(I'm a victim too. The ones who did this are the ones who should be punished. If these were ghost projects, who was behind it? Who forged my signatures?)

On Thursday, Mendoza again tried to block the admission of the beneficiaries' testimony, saying it is a contradiction that is not allowed under the rules of court.

According to Mendoza, because the whistleblowers such as Benhur Luy were the ones who admitted faking the signatures of beneficiaries, using the beneficiaries as witnesses too seem like the prosecution is pitting their own witnesses against each other.

Toribio disagreed, saying "the testimony of Benhur Luy and the other whistleblowers perfectly jibe with the testimonies of the witnesses. Luy testified that the signatures on the documents are not really the signature of these people, so we are presenting these people. They are corroborating the testimonies of the whistleblowers."

First Division Chairperson Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz still allowed the witnesses to take the stand and be questioned.

Mendoza also called the testimonies hearsay because every time the witnesses are presented, they are presented as an official whose name appeared on a document as having received projects from the pork barrel of Revilla.

Mendoza said Revilla's name does not appear on the said documents, and that the interviews with them conducted by the Ombudsman investigators were made on a "false premise." (READ: Bong Revilla's biggest battle)

The prosecution had always maintained that Napoles' liability as the owner of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that implemented the ghost projects cannot be treated separately from Revilla's liability. A court resolution had been issued to side with the prosecution.

"It would be consistent and selective if the evidence that would be adduced to prove these bogus projects would only apply against Napoles to the exclusion of accused Revilla Jr. Besides, as correctly pointed out by the prosecution, the Information alleges the existence of conspiracy among the accused," says a resolution from the First Division issued on June 8. 

Toribio did not answer on Thursday when asked who their next witnesses will be after the beneficiaries, saying the new procedure is only a proposal at this point. Mendoza has always called on the prosecution to cut to the chase and present "more relevant" witnesses. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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