Quirino vice gov, 3 deny benefits from Revilla’s ‘pork’ projects
MANILA — Quirino Vice-Governor May Calaunan and three other witnesses have testified that the agricultural projects funded by Senator Ramon Revilla Jr.’s pork barrel funds were never really implemented.
Revilla, accused of receiving P224.5 million in kickbacks by diverting his Priority Development Assistance Fund proceeds to ghost projects by dubious foundations, told reporters that he, too, was a “victim” of fabrication.
“We know they are victims. I am a victim too,” he said in a chance interview at the sidelines of the third hearing of his plunder trial in the Sandiganbayan First Division on Thursday.
“This was a ghost project, who [did it]? Who faked our signatures, who is responsible, they are the ones who should be held accountable. Not me,” he added. “I’ve been detained for three years. That’s what hurts here.”
Calaunan was the mayor of Diffun town in 2009 when it purportedly received agricultural production kits, power sprayers and other livelihood projects, as indicated by delivery reports, acceptance and acknowledgment receipts.
However, she said she was “very sure” the municipality never benefited from the projects carried out by non-government organizations linked to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
“According to employees there, there is no record that shows the municipality received the agricultural production kits as well as the livelihood projects,” Calaunan said during the hearing.
Revilla’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza called Calaunan’s testimony “hearsay” because she relied on the information relayed to her by the offices of the municipal treasurer, accountant and agriculturist.
Mendoza added that because she learned of the alleged ghost project only when Ombudsman investigators informed her about it: “It is hearsay. It is only derived from her impression of a presented document.”
Responding to Mendoza’s argument, Calaunan later clarified that she personally knew that the agricultural production kits or power sprayers were never received.
“I know we did not receive any agricultural production kit or livelihood projects. That’s why I just went to the municipal hall and asked the employees there in charge of the records if we received anything,” she said.
Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona, who was appointed by President Duterte in March, also grilled Calaunan on whether she took any effort to personally verify if deliveries really were not made.
When the magistrate asked if she found the personnel’s information reliable, she replied that she was “very confident” of it.
Three other prosecution witnesses from Quezon province echoed that their respective areas did not receive the purported agricultural kits
and livelihood projects.
Atimonan, Quezon registration officer Jeanien Cervantes, who acted as the private secretary of Mayor Jose Mendoza, denied having signed the supporting documents for the undelivered agricultural supplies.
Barangay Duhat kagawad (councilor) Efren Notorio and purported farmer-beneficiary Sofronio Jimenez of Barangay Ilosong, both of Plaridel, Quezon, also disowned their supposed signatures.
Notorio and Jimenez, who testified in Tagalog, both said they did not receive any “farm implements from Senator Revilla,” which prompted Mendoza to object to their statements for being “based on the wrong premise.”
“Senator Revilla is not accused of giving away farm implements,” said the famous defense lawyer, but Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz allowed the testimonies to remain on record.
At various points throughout the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Mendoza objected to the prosecution’s presentation of evidence on the non-implementation of the projects funded by the former senator’s
He said the evidence was irrelevant, because the charge sheet stated it was Napoles, not Revilla, who misappropriated the pork barrel funds through the non-implementation of the PDAF-funded projects.
Prosecutor Adonis Laure, however, countered that Revilla was charged “in conspiracy” with the other coaccused.
Besides, the court held in a June 8 resolution that it would be “inconsistent and selective” to only apply the accusation against Napoles but not Revilla, whose culpability “are to be treated collectively and not individually.”
Still, Mendoza maintained they would continue objecting to the presentation of prosecution witnesses who testify about the ghost projects, since the court resolution was only an “interlocutory” ruling that did not resolve the main case.
“The prosecution is trying very, very hard to prove we were correct, notwithstanding the resolution of the court, and I thank the prosecution for that,” he said. SFM
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