pork barrel scam

5 years on, court yet to collect P124M in Revilla pork barrel scam

Lian Buan

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5 years on, court yet to collect P124M in Revilla pork barrel scam

SENATOR REVILLA. File photo of Senator Bong Revilla Jr, during the senate inquiry on the status of the country’s flood control master plan and pending flood control projects under the implementation of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Metro Manila Development Authority, on August 9, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Revilla's staff Richard Cambe died in 2021, leaving only Napoles and the senator to possibly pay the amount

Five years since its split controversial decision to acquit Senator Bong Revilla of plunder, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has yet to execute its judgment for the senator and others to return to public coffers the plundered P124 million.

It turns out that on May 15, 2019, the Sandiganbayan decided that it would hold its execution of the civil liability judgment to give way to the Supreme Court (SC) appeals of those convicted for plunder, Janet Lim Napoles and Revilla’s staff Richard Cambe. The appeals were filed in 2019, or five years ago.

Although Revilla was acquitted, the Sandiganbayan Special First Division, voting 3-2, still ordered the “accused [to] solidarily and jointly” return the P124.5 million to the national treasury.

The Office of the Ombudsman immediately moved the court in February 2019 to execute the civil judgment on Revilla, but was told that the Sandiganbayan was being “prudent” and had decided to wait for the SC appeals first, according to records that Rappler finally gained access to on Wednesday, April 17, via the High Court.

This was after three months of pursuing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the status of payment. Citing privileged and confidential information, the Sandiganbayan denied Rappler’s FOI requests twice this year – on February 5 and February 16. Rappler then filed with the Supreme Court a request for access in March 2024 and was told that this was “for consideration” by the en banc.

The records Rappler requested for later formed part of a microsite that the SC launched on Wednesday for public interest cases.

“The Sandiganbayan held in abeyance any ruling on the matter as it was prudent for the SB to make a determination of whether execution of the civil aspect against any and all of the accused will lie [only] after the Supreme Court resolves the appeal of accused Cambe and Napoles,” the Office of the Ombudsman said in its brief sent to the Supreme Court.

Cambe’s appeal had been closed and terminated due to his death inside the New Bilibid Prison during the pandemic in 2021. In a resolution in June 2022, the Supreme Court said Cambe’s death extinguishes even the civil action. “The criminal action is extinguished inasmuch as there is no longer a defendant to stand as the accused; the civil action instituted therein for recovery of civil liability ex delicto is ipso facto extinguished, grounded as it is on the criminal action,” said the Supreme Court.

Now, it’s just Napoles’ appeal that remains pending. The last known action on this was when the Supreme Court denied her plea for humanitarian bail in 2021 during the pandemic.

“As of date, there is a status quo on Sen. Revilla’s civil liability in the plunder case. We are also not aware of the status of the Napoles appeal of the plunder case with the Supreme Court since we are not parties to the case,” Revilla’s lawyer Carlos Villaruz told Rappler on Wednesday, April 17.

Villaruz said they stand firm on their legal position that there can be no civil liability on Revilla if there was no criminal liability found. “Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code provides that a person criminally liable for a felony is also civilly liable.” Thus, to be civilly liable, an accused must first be found criminally liable,” said Villaruz.

Cleared of the cases

The whole case was based on the premise that Revilla allegedly intentionally funneled his discretionary funds to Napoles’ fake NGOs which implemented ghost projects. The kickback, the prosecution said, would be given to Revilla through Cambe.

5 years on, court yet to collect P124M in Revilla pork barrel scam

The original ponente of the case, Justice Efren dela Cruz, wanted to convict Revilla but he lost the vote, 3-2. “I find it hard to believe that this scam of such magnitude was confined only within the realm of Napoles and Cambe to the exclusion of Revilla,” Dela Cruz said in his dissenting opinion in 2018.

In 2021, following the plunder acquittal, Revilla was acquitted of the related graft charges, clearing him of criminal liabilities in the pork barrel scam. This decision was again split, 3-2. Joining Dela Cruz in his dissent for this acquittal was Justice Bayani Jacinto who said: “It requires a stretch of logic to accept that accused Atty. Cambe without the knowledge, much less consent, of Revilla could have utilized the Office of the Senator in secret.”

“Consistent with its finding in the plunder case, that there is no proof that Sen. Revilla received money or kickbacks from Napoles, the dispositive portion of the Sandiganbayan’s resolution in the graft cases did not mention any civil liability on the part of Sen. Revilla,” said Villaruz.

Revilla is currently in the hospital and scheduled to undergo operation for achilles tendon rupture. “I will continue to fulfill my duties as a public servant, ensuring that the needs of our people through legislations that I advocate are met, and that our country moves forward,” said Revilla in a statement. – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Senator Revilla’s case is similar to that of then-Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who “portrayed himself as a powerless monarch who had no say in how the war was conducted.” I agree with Justice Bayani Jacinto: “It requires a stretch of logic to accept that accused Atty. Cambe without the knowledge, much less consent, of Revilla could have utilized the Office of the Senator in secret.” Unfortunately, that “stretch of logic” is equivalent to the stretch of the corrupt official’s power, money, and influence.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.