EXPLAINER: Sandiganbayan denies Revilla’s bid to stop his plunder trial

Lian Buan

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EXPLAINER: Sandiganbayan denies Revilla’s bid to stop his plunder trial
The Sandiganbayan denies Revilla's motion which was anchored on technicalities and questions on wording

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr’s plunder trial was deferred for the third time on Thursday, February 23, after his lawyers expressed their intent to appeal the Sandiganbayan’s denial of their motion to quash.

The motion to quash was filed last February 6 under the direction of Revilla’s new lawyer, veteral litigator Estelito Mendoza. The motion to quash was anchored on technicalities and questions on wordings. (READ: Revilla uses Enrile arguments to have plunder charges dropped)

On Thursday, the anti-graft court’s First Division informed Revilla and his defense team that same morning they denied the motion.

Here’s the breakdown of that resolution:

1. The anti-plunder law is not vague (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?)

ARGUMENT: The Defense team invokes the rule of lenity. The rule of lenity states that if the law is ambiguous, the court should resolve the ambiguity in favor of the defendant.

Mendoza argued that some of the definitions in the law are incomplete, saying that while Section 2 is entitled “Definition of the Crime of Plunder, Penalties,” the definition appeared in Section 1(d).

Because the law is vague and “hardly available to the common world,” Mendoza said Revilla could not have understood the charges filed against him.

“The requirement of the constitution is that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him,” their motion said.

Revilla’s right to due process was therefore violated, they argued.

RESOLUTION: The First Division ruled that the anti-plunder law is not vague, saying that the Sandiganbayan had already thoroughly explained the crime of plunder when it convicted former president Joseph Estrada in 2007.

The court also said the Estrada ruling was even used by Mendoza in his motion for another client, former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and that the Enrile case was cited in Revilla’s motion.

“There being no ambiguity in the law, there is no necessity to construe the same in favor of the accused.”

2. The information is sufficient

ARGUMENT: Revilla’s defense team said the wording on the information says Revilla’s “overt criminal act” is not that he amassed ill-gotten wealth, but that he endorsed agencies and NGOs through his former staff Richard Cambe. Endorsement, however, is not among the overt or criminal acts defined in the law. (READ: Bong Revilla lawyer: If offense proves true, it’s bribery not plunder)

RESOLUTION: The court said that the information has sufficiently alleged that Revilla committed a combination or series of overt criminal acts which are clearly penalized by the law.

Those overt criminal acts are:
a) Repeated receipt of kickbacks and commissions from Janet Lim Napoles and/or representatives
b) Taking undue advantage of his official position to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of Filipinos

“Without a doubt, the aforementioned acts are among those enumerated under Section 1(d) of RA 7080 (or the anti-plunder law),” the court’s resolution said.

“It was clear from the Information that the endorsement was part of the whole process, or as described in the Informatiom, it was ‘under the following circumstances,’ of how the kickbacks or commissions were allegedly repeatedly received by Revilla from Napoles or her representatives,” the court added.

3. Using the Enrile defense is “misplaced”

ARGUMENT: Before lawyering for Revilla, Mendoza was successful in petitioning the Supreme Court to provide a bill of particulars for Enrile’s plunder case. A bill of particulars simply means a detailed account of allegations.

Mendoza said that the information filed against Revilla does not contain the facts which were required by the Supreme Court when it approved the bill of particulars for his other client Enrile. (READ: How the bright Enrile is fighting his plunder charges in court)

RESOLUTION: The court said that if the defense team wanted to question the sufficiency of the information, they should have filed for a motion for a bill of particulars, and not a motion to quash.

According to the court, rules clearly state that a motion for a bill of particulars should be filed before arraignment, which Revilla didn’t do.

“This court is thus constrained to deny the present motion to quash, which is unmistakably an afterthought and a feeble attempt to make up for a lost remedy,” the court’s resolution said.

The 9-page resolution was penned by Justice Efren de la Cruz. Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez concurred.

The court informed the defense team of this resolution on Thursday morning which was also when the trial was supposed to start. Mendoza expressed their intent to appeal one more time. 

The court reset the trial to next month, telling both the defense and prosecution teams to “work overtime” so once and for all, this stage will be finished.” The trial has been set to March 30. – Rappler.com 

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Lian Buan

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