Sandiganbayan affirms Napoles’ conviction for plunder
MANILA, Philippines — The conviction of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles has been affirmed by the Sandiganbayan First Division.
In a nine-page resolution dated March 13, the anti-graft court “vigorously opposed” Napoles’ motion for reconsideration on the guilty verdict handed to her last December 2018 for plunder charges.
Napoles, former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and his aide Atty. Richard Cambe were accused of pocketing public funds when P224 million worth of Revilla’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were allocated to Napoles’ bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).
Of the three, only Revilla was acquitted. Napoles is currently jailed at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) while Cambe is at the New Bilibid Prison.
In her appeal, Napoles argued that “being a private individual” she should not be considered the “main plunderer” in the case even questioning why there was no identified main plunderer among the three of them.
“Napoles cites several grounds for the reversal of the said decision, first of which is that she, being a private individual, could not be the main plunderer,” stated the resolution penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.
“At the same time, Napoles avers that while the prosecution evidence points to Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. as the main plunderer, the assailed decision allegedly does not identify who the main plunderer is. Without a determination on who the main plunderer is, the crime committed cannot be plunder,” it also noted.
However, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that Napoles, Revilla, and Cambe were initially charged as main plunderers.
“The Information clearly specifies that both Revilla and Cambe, as the public officers, are being charged as main plunderers, together with accused private individual and movant Janet Lim Napoles,” said the resolution.
“While the Court did not find sufficient evidence for the pronouncement of guilt on the part of Revilla, there is overwhelming evidence that his co-accused, Cambe […] together with accused-movant Napoles, are the main plunderers in this case,” it added.
In December 2018, the Sandiganbayan found Napoles and Cambe guilty of plunder and acquitted Revilla due to the “failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt” that the former senator “received, directly or indirectly, the rebates, commission, and kickbacks from his PDAF.”
The court said that based on testimonies of Napoles’ employees Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas, and Arlene Baltazar, it was only Cambe — and not Revilla — whom they met to discuss the infamous scheme.
“It appeared from the testimonies of witnesses […] that Cambe was the only person they met and dealt with, insofar the PDAF of Revilla was concerned,” the resolution noted.
“It was consistently testified that Cambe was the one who finalized the project listing […] As a matter of fact, it was always Cambe and Cambe alone, with whom they transacted with and who received the money from the accounts of Napoles,” it also said.
Further, the Sandiganbayan debunked speculations of a conspiracy between Cambe and Luy, saying all of the NGOs were created and under the control of Napoles.
“A conspiracy between Cambe and Luy, to the exclusion of Napoles, could not be possible, because the NGOs through which the funds were diverted, were all creations of Napoles,” the court said.
“Napoles has control of the bank accounts of these NGOs. In fact, every time a big withdrawal is made from these bank accounts, it was Napoles whom the bank calls to verify or confirm the withdrawals, instead of the NGO’s president or officers,” it added.
The March 13 resolution upholds the court’s earlier sentence of 40 years imprisonment for Napoles and Cambe.
The plunder case against Revilla, Cambe, and Napoles was the first pork barrel scam-related case to be resolved by the Sandiganbayan. Other cases involving lawmakers, including former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, are still pending before the Third and Fifth Divisions of the anti-graft court.
Revilla, Enrile, and Estrada are seeking for a comeback at the Senate through the upcoming May 13 midterm elections. /kga
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