The Sandiganbayan First Division on Friday ordered the release of former Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. after acquitting him of plunder charges in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. received, directly or indirectly, the rebates, commission, and kickbacks from his PDAF, the court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder,” the resolution read, referring to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
Justices Georgina Hidalgo, Edgardo Caldona and Geraldine Econg voted in favor of Revilla’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Justices Efren dela Cruz and Maria Dolores Estoesta voted to convict him.
“There was a split decision of five justices,” Revilla’s lawyer Ramon Esguerra said. “The court has no alternative but to have him acquitted.”
READ: Napoles, Bong’s aide get life for ‘pork’ fund scam
The mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, and Revilla’s former chief of staff Richard Cambe, the former senator’s co-accused, were found guilty of plunder and sentenced to 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
After the promulgation of the verdict, Revilla went to the First Division clerk to post P480,000 in bail for the 16 counts of graft that he still faces.
Revilla has been detained at the Philippine National Police’s Custodial Center at Camp Crame since 2014.
The Office of the Ombudsman charged Revilla with plunder and 16 counts of graft for the alleged misuse of his PDAF, which he supposedly endorsed to ghost foundations organized by Napoles in exchange for kickbacks of P224.51 million.
Another former senator accused of plunder, Jinggoy Estrada, was on hand to hear the verdict and described Revilla’s mood as “happy.”
“Who would not be happy after four years and five months behind bars?” he told GMA-7 in Filipino.
In a statement, he said: “His legal victory is somehow also my victory. We have been wrongly accused and incarcerated for years for something we did not do. Thankfully, the courts have decided in our favor. I have been granted bail because the evidence against me is weak. And now Senator Bong has been acquitted.”
Estrada’s own P183-million plunder case is still pending.
Malacañang said it respected and would abide by the Sandiganbayan decision to acquit Revilla.
“The judiciary has performed its constitutional duty of dispensing justice. While justice grinds so slow most of the time, it does grind, and when it stops it renders a verdict that is exacting and immutable,” Panelo said in a statement Friday.
“Regardless of the sentiments to the contrary, we have to bow down to the judgment of the Sandiganbayan,” he added.
Panelo, who once served as Revilla’s lawyer, said the Duterte administration has “consistently respected the independence of the judiciary.”
“We will continue to do so in this case as we implement the final orders of the anti-graft court on the matter,” he said.
“In any event, this administration takes stock of the lessons learned from cases involving unconstitutional discretionary funds and has implemented measures to ensure the integrity of the national budget and its proper utilization for our people,” he added.
Revilla, former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Estrada, were accused of allocating pork barrel funds to bogus foundations set up by Napoles, who kicked back millions to them.
Estrada and Enrile are also out on bail.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a strong advocate against pork barrel, said he respected the Sandiganbayan decision nonetheless, saying the justices more than anyone, have better appreciation of the evidence.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said there was a need to revisit the pork barrel scam.
“I wasn’t part of the Blue Ribbon committee that did it,” he said.
Asked to comment on Revilla’s acquittal, Gordon said: “Good for him because he won, but I’m not in a position to comment on the decision.”
He said the lesson learned from the pork barrel scam was to make sure government funds go where they are intended.
Former Leyte congressman Ferdinand Martin Romualdez welcomed Revilla’s acquittal, saying the charges against him were politically motivated.
“The verdict is a timely justice to Senator Bong, a victim of political persecution by the previous administration. His acquittal only validates and proves that the plunder case against him is politically motivated. Sadly, the plunder case took away more than four years of his life,” he said.
Romualdez is the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats president, while Revilla is the party chairman.
Romualdez said the verdict would give Revilla’s Senate run in 2019 a boost.
ACT Teachers Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro, on the other hand, denounced Revilla’s acquittal.
“The acquittal of former Senator Bong Revilla over plunder charges shows the insincerity of the Duterte administration’s campaign against corruption, where big fish are allowed to wriggle free,” Tinio said in a statement. With Vito Barcelo
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