Revilla first to fail in bail bid
“The denial of petition for bail is an affirmation by the court that the evidence of guilt is strong and if he is unable to disprove the evidence against him, conviction will follow.”
Sen. Bong Revilla is the first of three detained senators to lose his bail petition. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, who are likewise detained on plunder charges stemming from their pork barrel transactions, also have pending separate petitions for bail.
Levito Baligod, a private complainant and former counsel of a group of whistle-blowers, hailed Tuesday’s denial by the Sandiganbayan of Revilla’s petition for release from detention at Camp Crame pending trial for allegedly conspiring to plunder P224 million in congressional pork barrel funds.
But Baligod warned in a text message, “Our justice system will work as intended only if our people remain vigilant over its processes.”
In a resolution, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division rejected the bail petitions of Revilla, his senior aide Richard Cambe and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
“The court is persuaded that the prosecution has presented compelling evidence that accused Revilla amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth by repeatedly receiving from accused Napoles or her representatives or agents, money, through accused Cambe, and in those several occasions, accused Revilla and Cambe made use of their official position, authority, connections and influence,” it said.
“This was established by the testimonies of the witnesses and documents they testified to which, at this stage of the proceedings, has remained unrebutted, and thus, given full faith and credence by the court.”
But Sandiganbayan Chair Efren de la Cruz and Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos, cautioned that this “conclusion shall not be regarded as a prejudgment on the merits of the case that are to be determined only after a full-blown trial.”
Revilla, Cambe and Napoles and fugitives Ronald John Lim and John Raymund de Asis, have been charged with plundering P224.52 million from the senator’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from 2006 to 2009 through a network of bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) formed by Napoles.
The court said Revilla, Cambe and Napoles “repeatedly followed the same scheme and discharged the same roles in exacting Revilla’s PDAF from the national treasury to their benefits.” It said that the prosecution has “so far strongly proven” that Revilla and Cambe plundered at least P103 million of the P224.512-million kickbacks or rebates that they have been accused of. The court estimated that Cambe himself gained P13.935 million from the scheme.
“This is the total amount received by accused Cambe for Revilla,” the court said, citing testimony by whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Marina Sula and Merlina Suñas, all former employees of Napoles.
“In other words, Luy, Sula or Suñas either directly handed the money to accused Cambe, or they saw accused Napoles, or any one of them, give the money to accused Cambe,” the court added.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales welcomed the ruling and commended her team led by acting Director Joefferson Toribio with Assistant Special Prosecutor (ASP) III Jacinto dela Cruz, ASP II Lyn Dimayuga, and ASP I Emerita Francia.
“In a little over four months, we were able to conclude the proceedings in the bail petitions of all the accused. The prosecution team shall continue pursuing the pending incidents on the transfer of Senator Revilla to a regular detention center and the attachment of his assets,” Toribio said.
The court said that while it appeared that Revilla’s role in the pork barrel scam was legitimate and regular, having only endorsed letters for the release of his funds to his handpicked implementing agencies and NGOs, the prosecution showed that the senator’s “innocuous acts were in reality stained with foul intentions … aimed to siphon a portion of that PDAF to himself.”
The Commission on Audit (COA) stated that Revilla’s endorsement of an NGO for his pork projects was illegal because there was no bidding.
Revilla and Cambe’s primary defense in the bail hearings was handwriting expert, Desiderio Pagui, who testified that their signatures were forged by Luy. The court dismissed the testimony of Paqui as “feeble and unacceptable” as it was based solely on photocopies of the original documents.
The court gave more weight to Revilla’s damning letter reply to the COA in July 20, 2011, in which he “explicitly confirmed that the signatures or initials on the documents … appear to be his or that of his coaccused Cambe.”
The court tended to give more credence to Cambe’s claim that his signatures were forged because of striking dissimilarities between his signature and those on the PDAF documents.
Brains in conspiracy
“However, this fact alone does not weigh much against the circumstance pointing to a convincing presumption that accused Cambe knew or consented to the forgery. He may not be the one who signed or initiated the MOAs (memorandum of agreements) and other liquidation documents but he allowed the doing of the same for the end purpose of ‘legitimizing’ the PDAF utilization,” the court said.
Napoles was found to have acted as the conduit to “camouflage the flow” of Revilla’s PDAF to his own bank accounts. “Although accused Napoles’ signature does not appear in any of the documents, evidence abounds to support that she was the brains behind that vital link of the conspiracy,” the court said.
NGOs illicitly established
For the court, it was clear that Napoles “illicitly established the NGOs for some dishonest purpose” as its presidents and incorporators were close to her or fictitious and that the list of beneficiaries of projects was fabricated. It said that Napoles’ control and ties to these NGOs were betrayed by the NGOs’ bank transactions.
The court also thumbed down Revilla’s attempt to discredit the hard disk of Luy which contained transactions involving Napoles and her NGOs and Cambe and Revilla.
The justices took note of Luy’s “spontaneous” explanation of day-to-day transactions in the disbursement ledgers that he drew up as Napoles’ finance officer.
“Until the time when the disbursement ledgers can be proven to be unreliable, the court can rely on the presumption regarding their integrity and reliability. The prosecution was able to establish how the information in Luy’s summary of rebates was generated from reliable source and these could be relied upon to the satisfaction of the court,” it said.
“This is a big step for the prosecution. The court’s decision to deny bail show that evidence against the accused is strong,” said Raj Mendoza, current counsel of Luy and Suñas.
“My clients are confident that the state prosecutors could present more evidence during the trial to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.