Office of the Ombudsman

In the clear: Ombudsman will not appeal Bong Revilla graft acquittal

Lian Buan
'We respect the Sandiganbayan's decision,' says the Office of the Ombudsman

Consistent with a policy under Ombudsman Samuel Martires, state graft prosecutors will no longer appeal the acquittal of Senator Bong Revilla for 16 counts of graft, putting the senator truly in the clear in the billion-peso pork barrel scam.

“Ombudsman will not appeal Senator Revilla’s acquittal of 16 PDAF graft charges,” the Office of the Ombudsman said in a statement on Thursday, July 8.

The Sandiganbayan Special First Division voted 3-2 to acquit Revilla of 16 counts of graft, saying there was no proof beyond reasonable doubt that the senator was involved in the crime of his staff, Richard Cambe, who had used Revilla’s pork barrel to siphon P124.5 million in public funds from 2006 to 2009.

“Consistent with the defendant’s constitutional right against double jeopardy, Ombudsman Samuel Martires sets the policy of no longer challenging the dismissal of cases/quashal of information and judgments of acquittal,” said the Office of the Ombudsman.

One of Martires’ first policy changes at the Office of the Ombudsman was a September 2018 order that acquittals in lower courts, particularly at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, will no longer be appealed at the Supreme Court “for the simple reason that it already violates the right of an accused against double jeopardy.”

The exception is that if the Office of the Ombudsman believes there was a mistrial.

“The SB First Division voted 3-2 to grant Senator Revilla’s Demurrer to Evidence, and we respect its decision,” the Office of the Ombudsman said in its statement.

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Stretch of logic? Case closed

Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg, Edgardo Caldona, and Rafael Lagos voted to grant the demurrer to evidence of Revilla, meaning the senator no longer had to present evidence to his defense. The three believed Revilla’s signatures on endorsement letters were forged, and even if they weren’t, the majority said the endorsements were recommendatory in nature.

There was also no proof that Revilla and wife Lani Mercado illegally acquired the P89 million that was not declared in the senator’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) by 2010.

Ombudsman prosecutors said that was proof of unexplained wealth, backed by a financial report showing deposits to Revilla accounts within the same periods, and near the same amounts of the kickbacks that Benhur Luy had given to Cambe. Luy had testified that Cambe facilitated all pork barrel transactions and collected the kickbacks on behalf of his boss.

For the two dissenters, Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz and Bayani Jacinto, it’s a “stretch of logic” to look past that evidence and absolve Revilla.

But it’s case closed as far as the Office of the Ombudsman is concerned.

Revilla was acquitted of plunder in December 2018, while Cambe and Janet Lim Napoles were convicted. Martires also did not appeal Revilla’s plunder acquittal.

Cambe and Napoles appealed their convictions, which are still pending, as well as the question of who must pay back the P124.5 million.

Cambe died in April inside the New Bilibid Prison while serving his sentence. – 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.