Napoles, Cambe appeal plunder conviction

Lian Buan

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Napoles, Cambe appeal plunder conviction
Richard Cambe goes to the Supreme Court, while Janet Napoles invokes the increasingly popular main plunderer doctrine

MANILA, Philippines – Convicted plunderers Janet Lim Napoles and Richard Cambe have appealed their guilty verdicts over the multi-million peso pork barrel scam.

Napoles filed a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Friday, December 28, while Cambe filed a Notice of Appeal on Thursday, December 27, to go straight to the Supreme Court.

Napoles and Cambe were found guilty of committing plunder, while the main accused in the case, former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr was acquitted. The Sandiganbayan Special First Division ordered the return of a recomputed amount of P124.5 million, though the terms of who must pay it remained uncontested.

Legal experts who have analyzed the wording of the 186-page decision said that Revilla was not found innocent,  and therefore his civil liability for the amount ordered returned was not absolutely extinguished.

Main plunderer doctrine

The decision acquitting Revilla did not discuss the main plunderer doctrine, an increasingly popular doctrine introduced by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin when he wrote the majority decision that acquitted former president now Speaker Gloria Arroyo of plunder.

Under the principle, a case must identify a main plunderer for a crime of plunder to exist. In the Revilla case, the decision relied heavily on a handwriting expert who said the signatures of the former senator on endorsement letters were forged.

Because of that, Napoles said in her MR that a main plunderer was not identified. “This is imperative because if the main plunderer is accused Napoles, the crime could not be plunder,” Napoles said.

Napoles argued that a private individual could not be the main plunderer because plunder is a crime designed to penalize public officials.

The decision also did not explain the recomputation of the amount plundered – it went from P224.5 million to P124.5 millon – and how much went to whom.

In the Arroyo case, because there was no main plunderer, the Bersamin ponencia had to divide P365 million evenly among 10 or the number of accused, which gave them P36 million each or lower the plunder threshold of P50 million.

“The acquittal of accused Revilla necessarily negated the crime of plunder because there is no main plunderer who amassed ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate sum of at least P50 million, which is the mandatory element of the crime,” said Napoles.

Napoles added that Cambe, who is Revilla’s former staff, could also not be the main plunderer because there was no evidence of these amounts being deposited to his accounts.

There was an extensive paper trail of P87 million deposited to Revilla accounts; and that the deposits always occurred within 30 days of Benhur Luy handing the kickbacks to Cambe. The decision said this was purely circumstantial.

Dissenting justices said this wealth remained unexplained, and made Revilla liable for graft. Revilla stands to face 16 counts of graft.

Cambe, a lawyer, had to represent himself in court while Revilla was defended by a battery of lawyers from multiple firms.

In his Notice of Appeal, Cambe’s lawyer is Manuel Joseph Bretaña, who has handled a number of high-profile cases. –

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Lian Buan

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