Bong Revilla’s plunder trial reset to February
The Sandiganbayan on Thursday reset anew the plunder trial of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. to February.
This after the anti-graft court found that the pre-trial brief of the prosecuting panel needed to be corrected before the draft pre-trial order can be signed, First Division chairperson Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz said during a hearing.
Dressed in a jacket over a purple polo shirt, Revilla’s face hardened as he heard the reasons for the delay in his trial, and the number of witnesses that would be presented against him.
Asked by Revilla’s new counsel Lito Mendoza, the former solicitor general during the Marcos regime, lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said the prosecution will present a total of 119 witnesses, 77 of whom were alleged beneficiaries of Revilla’s ghost pork barrel projects.
The draft pre-trial order will also number as many as 830 pages, Justice Dela Cruz said in court.
The pre-trial order according to the rules of court would limit the issues to be taken up during the trial proper.
The court was also told that former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, who won the bail petition of another pork barrel scam accused, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, will collaborate with Revilla’s lawyers in the case.
Mendoza told the justices that with the number of witnesses to be presented against Revilla, “this (case) will probably take forever.”
The court cancelled the January 19 and 26 and February 2 hearings to allow the prosecution to make corrections to the pre-trial brief, and for the parties to thresh out the issues on the pre-trial order.
The court reset the next plunder trial for the whole day of Feb. 9.
In an interview after the hearing, Revilla lamented the number of witnesses against him.
“I’m okay, pero mahaba-haba pa itong laban na ito. Prayers na lang (This fight will still take long. Prayers),” Revilla told reporters.
“I’m excited sana hoping na mapabilis, pero ang tingin ko, tatagal pa,” Revilla added.
(I’m excited hoping this will be expedited, but I think this will take long.)
Revilla also told reporters about the improving condition of his father, the ailing Ramon Revilla Sr. who is under intensive care at the St. Luke’s Medical Center for sepsis and pneumonia.
“My father is okay. Nagpapasalamat din ako sa lahat ng mga nagdasal para sa Papa ko (I am grateful for everyone who prayed for my dad),” Revilla said.
Lead prosecutor Toribio denied that the prosecution was delaying the case.
“We are prepared. Hindi kami nagdedelay (We are not delaying the case),” Toribio said, adding that the number of witnesses was bloated by the number of beneficiaries who would testify.
He said the prosecution was only informed about the corrections in the pre-trial brief today.
Revilla and his co-accused former chief of staff Richard Cambe arrived for the first day of their trial after the anti-graft court Special First Division issued the produce order for the police to bring the two to court.
During the hearing, Cambe told the court that he would be representing himself as he is unable to hire a lawyer due to financial restraints.
Cambe, who was advised by the court to e-mail a soft copy of his pre-trial order, said he was only told now of the need to provide the court with a soft copy.
Cambe is accused by whistleblowers as Revilla’s bagman who collected kickbacks for Revilla from the office of accused mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
The accused scam mastermind Napoles, who is sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for the serious illegal detention of whistleblower Benhur Luy, was not present for the hearing, but she was represented by her lawyer Dennis Buenaventura.
Both Cambe and Buenaventura said they were willing to adjust to the processes involved in correcting Revilla’s pre-trial brief before proceeding to trial.
It took over two years for the trial to begin for the embattled senator, who has been detained since 2014 at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center.
“You are hereby directed to produce Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. and Richard Cambe before this Court at the Sandiganbayan Building, Commonwealth Ave. cor. Batasan Road, Quezon city, on January 12, 2017 at 8:30 in the morning for trial in the above-captioned case,” the Special First Division said in its produce order to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center.
The produce order was signed by the anti-graft court First Division clerk of court Atty. Teresita Rosete and witnessed by the division chairperson Associate Justice Dela Cruz.
Revilla recently lost his petition before the Supreme Court, which sustained the finding of probable cause for plunder against him.
In a 2015 interview with reporters, Revilla said he believed he was detained for plunder during the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III because of the actor’s presidential ambitions.
As early as 2013, Revilla’s party Lakas had been eyeing the former action star as its presidential bet in 2016.
“Aaminin natin ang plano ko tumakbo pagkapangulo. Sa tingin ko nga, isa yun sa dahilan bakit nandito ako sa kulungan,” Revilla then said.
(I am admitting my plan to run for President. I think it is one of the reasons why I am detained.)
Revilla surrendered and was detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in 2014 after the charges were filed. He was also charged with 16 counts of graft.
He is accused of pocketing P224.5 million in kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
He was denied bail in 2014.
Also detained for plunder is Revilla’s colleague, former senator Jinggoy Estrada, who was denied bail and accused of pocketing P183.7-million kickbacks. Enrile, who was allowed to post bail by the Supreme Court due to humanitarian considerations, is accused of receiving P172.8-million kickbacks.
Their plunder and graft charges were filed with the Sandiganbayan by the Office of the Special Prosecutor in June 2014. CDG/rga