"This is what the decision on the Revilla case tells us."
After four years of trial, the Sandiganbayan, First Division, rendered the much awaited decision acquitting former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla of the crime of plunder. The court said the prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he received, directly or indirectly, rebates, commissions and kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistant Fund or PDAF. However, Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scam, and the senator’s staff, lawyer Richard Cambe, were found guilty as charged and sentenced to reclusion perpetua.
The prosecution conspiracy theory revolves around the allegation that Senator Revilla was allotted a large amount of PDAF. Although he had no direct access to this money, he could trigger its release from the Department of Budget and Management. According to the prosecution, these amounts did not redound to the benefit of the people but instead went to line the pockets of a few, including the accused.
The prosecution evidence reposed their full faith in the testimonies of witnesses Luy, Sunas, Sula and Baltazar who admittedly were also part of the scheme and would have been charged together with the accused had they not been admitted to the Witness Protection Program. Star witness Benhur Luy said he never personally transacted with Revilla, but claimed he was sure that the millions-of-pesos’ worth of kickbacks he handed over to Cambe still made their way to the senator. Prosecutors also obtained from the Commission on Audit (COA) a letter signed by Revilla confirming an earlier letter to auditors that the projects from his pork barrel were to be implemented by the Napoles NGOs. During the bail hearings, Desiderio Pagui, a handwriting expert examined the documents in open court and concluded that the signatures were forged.
The main decision, penned by Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, devoted a lengthy discussion on why the opinion of the handwriting witness must stand. While Cambe’s participation in the PDAF scam was clear, that he carried out this task for and in the name of Revilla was not sufficiently established, according to the ponente. There was no evidence adduced that Revilla designated Cambe to represent him in the transactions. The fact that Cambe was under the senator’s employ for a long time was not sufficient evidence that he could represent him on the matter, the opinion added. In fact, the prosecution witnesses positively identified Cambe who transacted business with them and Napoles. However, there is no doubt, according to the opinion, that the prosecution failed to produce a single evidence that directly shows that Revilla received rebate, commission or kickback from the pork barrel scam. The circumstantial evidence presented was not enough to establish his guilt.
The graft court gave credence to the assertion by Revilla that his signatures as appearing in the questioned documents were forgeries which assertion was supported by a handwriting expert. To the graft Court, even the AMLC Report stating that in a span of four (4) years Revilla and his family made bank transactions amounting to more than P81 million was mere circumstantial evidence which was not conclusive. The Court did not rule out the possibilities that these pieces of circumstantial evidence could possibly exculpate the accused.
Justices Gomez-Escueta and De la Cruz registered their strong dissent to the majority opinion. The dissenters were primarily focused on 1. Credibility of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, specifically that of Luy; 2. The strong links which showed Revilla’s involvement in the crime particularly his endorsement of Napoles’ NGOs; 3. The thrust given to the confirmation letter purportedly given by Revilla to COA Assistant Commissioner to debunk the authenticity of his signatures in the questioned documents; 4. The authorization given by Revilla to Cambe to extend his participation to project implementation.
All circumstances, according to the dissent, were enough to convict. While, to the dissent, the testimonies of Luy and other witnesses taken separately may not establish the authority given by Revilla to Cambe, if however taken as a whole it proves the scheme that Revilla was to receive 50-percent share of the PDAF allocation. It is virtually impossible to find a direct evidence on such authorization. The pork barrel scam would have remained undetected and could have bled the national coffers dry for years had it not been for the whistleblowers.
Moreover, the AMLC Report, which was disparaged by the majority opinion as not being conclusive, is irrefutable proof of the burgeoning wealth of the accused. As a whole, the unexplained wealth of Revilla is one glaring fact to gloss over. Why should it not be doubted that the various sums deposited to the account of Revilla came from Napoles? Was it not Napoles who caused the recording of these kickbacks in her ledger? All told, the majority, in the opinion of the dissent, took the cudgels for the accused when the latter did not even lift a finger to refute certain issues raised during the trial.
There are other graft and corruption cases against Senator Revilla. We will see they will be resolved. Suffice it to say that with this latest Sandiganbayan decision, our judicial system has been put to the test.