MANILA, Philippines – Detained former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr skipped the 1st day of his plunder trial at the Sandiganbayan on Thursday, June 22, because he is confined at the St Luke's Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Revilla's absence came as a surprise to justices of the anti-graft court's 1st Division.
His lawyer Rean Balisi told the court during the hearing that the former senator has been confined for hypertension since Tuesday, June 20, at St Luke's. But there was neither a motion nor a court resolution for the confinement.
Revilla was already at St Luke's on Tuesday for the 2nd and last day of his visit to his ailing father, former senator Ramon Revilla Sr, a furlough approved by the Sandiganbayan. It was during his Tuesday visit that he suffered from high blood pressure and had to be confined, according to Balisi.
Balisi also said Revilla will likely be discharged later on Thursday.
The former senator is on trial for his alleged involvement in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. (READ: Napoles wants 2014 affidavit excluded from plunder trial)
"We were informed yesterday... I think the PNP (Philippine National Police) custodial officers would be in the best position to actually report on what transpired, how the medical concern of the good senator arose last June 20. We are only limited by what was relayed to us and that's what we reported to the court," Balisi said.
The lawyer added that he was told a sheriff from the Sandiganbayan was also with Revilla at St Luke's, aside from officers of the PNP Custodial Center who accompany detained defendants like Revilla when they temporarily leave the facility.
Revilla's absence did not skip the scrutiny of Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.
"It is highly irregular. Why did the PNP not report? Why was the sheriff there, why did he not report?" Econg said during the hearing.
"We were informed about the sheriff's presence and sheriff's report to the court, but that was only relayed to us also. That's why I convey to the court that particular fact so officers of the court can also attest on their end," Balisi responded.
Also during the hearing, Sandiganbayan 1st Division Clerk of Court Estela Rosete said they received a phone call but only learned that Revilla suffered from high blood pressure.
"He was not confined at the time," Rosete told justices. She refused to provide further details to reporters in the meantime.
The justices, meanwhile, asked the PNP Custodial Center to submit a report to them.
Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said during the hearing that this is appearing to be a trend for Revilla.
"This is not the first time this happened," Toribio said, referring to an incident in February 2015 where Revilla was caught in photos attending the birthday party of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who at the time was detained at the PNP General Hospital.
Toribio raised an issue with the 2015 incident then, pointing out that Revilla can't be moved from the PNP Custodial Center without a court resolution.
Revilla denied attending the party but admitted that he was taken to the PNP General Hospital, upon the approval of a detention officer, because he was suffering head and neck pains. Revilla said it was malicious to conclude he was sneaked out by his jail guards, though he did not comment on the photos.
After 6 months of repeated postponements, Revilla's plunder trial finally began on Thursday with prosecutors presenting their first witness, Chief Records Administrator Marissa Santos from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), who testified on the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and endorsement letters. (READ: Will trial finally start for Bong Revilla's plunder case?)
Revilla is accused of receiving P224.5 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel, through his former chief of staff Richard Cambe.
The hearing was on recess as of posting time and will resume at 2 pm. – Rappler.com