Bong no-show at trial after falling ill while visiting dad
Detained former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. missed the first day of his plunder trial on Thursday, after falling sick while visiting his father at St. Luke’s Medical Center two days before.
Revilla’s defense team was only able to inform the Sandiganbayan First Division of his condition during the scheduled hearing on Thursday.
Relaying information from the Philippine National Police, lawyer Reody Anthony Balisi said the politician was diagnosed with hypertension, dyslipidemia and hyperuricemia (excess lipids and uric acid in the blood).
The court also received on Thursday a letter from PNP Custodial Service Unit chief Arnel Apud, who explained that Revilla was visiting his father in the Taguig City hospital on Tuesday afternoon when he complained of dizziness and difficulty in breathing.
Apud wrote that after some tests, attending physician Ruth Marie Divinagracia “deemed it necessary” to confine Revilla for observation and further treatment.
He added that Chief Insp. Jesus Erickson Polinag, who led the police escort team, did not find the need to inform the court beforehand of Revilla’s hospitalization, because the Manual of Operations 2012 Edition provides for emergencies as an exemption to the requirement of prior permission.
During Thursday’s hearing, Balisi told the surprised justices that Revilla would be discharged from the hospital within the day.
Office of the Special Prosecutor Director Joefferson Toribio, however, compared this instance to the time when Revilla supposedly visited former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s birthday celebration in February 2015 without court permission.
“This is not the first time this happened… This is another incident where apparently there was no information before the court,” said Toribio, adding that the court never denied his requests for leave from detention before.
In fact, Revilla was just recently granted a two-day furlough on Monday and Tuesday to visit his ailing father, former Senator Ramon Revilla Sr., as the latter undergoes a heart procedure.
Prosecutors start presenting witnesses
Despite Revilla’s nonappearance, the prosecution’s initial prosecution of evidence continued. The OSP, a branch of the Office of the Ombudsman, first presented Marissa Santos, the chief of the administrative division of the Department of Budget and Management’s Central Records Division.
Santos authenticated the prosecution’s budget documents regarding Revilla’s request for the DBM to release his Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations for the years 2006 to 2010.
But, the lawyers of Revilla raised howls when the prosecution presented a certification signed by Santos and dated only June 19, 2017.
“The certifications came after so many years. At the [Ombudsman’s] preliminary investigation, at the level of the [Field Investigation Office], they should have secured the certification,” said another Revilla lawyer, Ramon Esguerra.
Esguerra also took a swipe at the prosecution’s move to present a DBM official who only held her position since 2015. “That is the problem with documents authenticated by somebody else who did not in anyway participate,” he said.
Upon cross-examination, seasoned defense lawyer Estelito Mendoza also tried to drive home the point that Revilla did not have a direct hand in the actual use of the funds.
He noted that as the implementing agency for the projects funded through Revilla’s PDAF, it is the Department of Agriculture that actually “implements the disbursement or expenditure of the fund.”
“So, Senator Revilla has nothing to do with the disbursement or expenditure of the funds?” Mendoza asked. However, Santos said she did not have the personal knowledge to answer that.
The next two witnesses, Avelina Zumaraga of the Bureau of Treasury and Glenn Erlano of the DA, confirmed the original versions of the documents were also with their respective agencies.
At the sidelines of the hearing, Toribio told reporters the prosecution intended to show that “it was upon the initiative of Senator Revilla” that the DBM released the three Special Allotment Release Orders for his pork barrel funds.
Toribio explained that while the DBM released the amounts, its officer would not be the one to testify whether any of the amount went to Revilla’s pockets. “But the fact is, he requested it, he released it. It was Revilla who triggered it,” he said.
For his part, Balisi simply told reporters: “I think we’re in a pretty good position as far as the defense is concerned and I will leave it at that.”
Revilla is currently on trial for allegedly receiving P224.5 million in kickbacks in exchange for selecting dubious foundations linked to alleged mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles to implement projects funded by his Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations.
Revilla’s plunder case was the first of the five filed in connection with the pork barrel scam that moved to the trial stage.
The other cases were filed against former Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada (P183.8 million) and Juan Ponce Enrile (P172.8 million), as well as former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez (P95 million) and Masbate 3rd Dist. Rep. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete (P108.4 million). /rga
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