Majority justices ’took the cudgels’ for Revilla – dissenter

Lian Buan

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Majority justices ’took the cudgels’ for Revilla – dissenter
‘One need only turn a discerning eye, and not look the other way,’ says Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta

REVILLA VERDICT. The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquits former senator Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr of plunder via a majority vote of 3-2. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr did not present any documentary evidence during trial. The defense merely presented him as witness and two other Napoles employees, so why should justices provide defense for an accused who did not even bother? 

These were among the points raised by Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta in her dissenting opinion.

“The accused never even attempted to debunk the findings of AMLC [Anti-Money Laundering Council] in his own defense. He simply wallowed in his own defense of denial and forgery,” said Estoesta, one of the two dissenters in the 3-2 decision that acquitted Revilla.

“Why should the majority opinion now take the cudgels for him?” Estoesta said in her strongly-worded dissenting opinion.

One of the strongest evidence of the prosecution was an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report which showed deposits to Revilla accounts matching details in Benhur Luy’s ledger when he supposedly delivered kickbacks.

This report was never addressed by the Revilla camp. (READ: Cambe, Napoles could not have plundered millions without Revilla – dissenter)

The other dissenting justice, Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz, said Revilla did not even explain the source of millions of deposits to their company’s account at a time when it was not operating.

As Estoesta said, “The unexplained wealth of Senator Revilla is one glaring fact, left unrelated, to gloss over.”

The majority decision greatly relied on a handwriting expert who said the Revilla signatures on endorsement letters were forged. This reasoning was “to a great fault,” Estoesta said.

“This consequential ruin runs deep, and may eventually free a man once accused of having conspired in raiding the public treasury to hundreds of millions,” said Estoesta.


Another evidence that Revilla did not address are Luy’s records which included details of the former senator’s Special Allotment Release Order (SARO).The majority justices cast a doubt on the records because of a digital forensic footprint that indicated it was modified in 2013 when the scandal already broke in the news.

Estoesta said the court should have listened to prosecution experts who said the modification was just due to a change in the operating system of the computer which it was last copied to, which was from Windows to Mac.

“It was not even Senator Revilla who lifted a finger to challenge the authenticity of the March 2007 disbursement file. Certainly, it should not be this Court,” she said. 

Combining all evidence, especially indications of unexplained wealth, Estoesta said: “If this should not be considered as the end-all to the PDAF conspiracy, where should this lead to instead?”

The majority decision ordered the return of P124.5 million to the national treasury, but it did not categorically state who must return it. Revilla’s lawyers claim the former senator is not included in the civil liability because of his acquittal.

The court said the parties can file a motion for clarification.

But to Estoesta, the civil liability applies to the 3 accused.

“It only goes to say therefore that since all three accused were made to answer for the same civil liability, the source of the accumulation of wealth as found in the criminal liability should only be the same,” said Estoesta.

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Lian Buan

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