MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan First Division has created a special division as the regular member-justices reached an impasse on whether or not to convict former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr of plunder in the pork barrel scam scandal.
Rappler has learned from sources that the First Division has created a special division of 5.
In the Sandiganbayan where divisions are made up of 3 regular members, the vote has to be unanimous in order to promulgate a decision. In the event of a dissent, the division will invite two special members who will be picked by drawing lots. In that case, majority vote wins.
According to one source privy to the proceedings, the special members are Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo. They will join the regular members who are Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz, Geraldine Faith Econg, and Edgardo Caldona.
The same source said that as of last week, the two special members had not yet cast their votes.
The promulgation of decision is scheduled on Friday, December 7.
The two special members had to study 4 years’ worth of records, the last two years of which have been spent on the formal trial. Dela Cruz, Econg, and Caldona were there for the entire trial period.
The First Division denied Revilla’s appeal for an outright dismissal twice, ruling that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to proceed. Forced to present their own evidence, the defense team put Revilla on the stand, along with two former employees of Janet Napoles.
One of the whistleblowers, Marina Sula, said for the defense that she was pressured by Ombudsman prosecutors to corroborate the statements of Benhur Luy. Sula said Luy forged Revilla’s signatures on pork barrel endorsements.
On the part of the prosecution, they presented local executives who testified that they never got the projects which were supposed to have been funded by Revilla’s pork barrel.
Revilla is accused of earning P224.5 million in kickbacks by funnelling his pork barrel through bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) owned by Napoles. Napoles is a co-accused in the Revilla case, and the former senator’s staff, lawyer Richard Cambe.
Luy has never seen nor talked to Revilla personally, but he claims he has delivered money to Cambe repeatedly.
The prosecution relies on the paper trail, saying that request letters to the budget department are confirmed to have been signed by Revilla. The prosecutors pointed out request letters were general and did not specify projects and costs.
Because they are general, prosecutors said it is impossible for Revilla not to have followed up on the implementation of millions' worth of projects, which would then belie his claim that he, too, was victimized by the Napoles NGOs.
Also an ace for the prosecution is an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report which shows matching amounts and dates between Luy's kickback records and Revilla's bank accounts.
Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she is confident that the work she and the prosecutors had done is enough to secure a conviction.