"In this case, law students should focus on the dissenting opinion."
A few months ago the majority of the Sandiganbayan’s five-member Special First Diversion voted to acquit Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. of 16 counts of graft arising from his involvement in the P10-billion PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam of Janet Lim-Napoles. The Justices who voted to acquit were Geraldine Econg, Rafael Lagos and Edgardo Caldona; the dissenters were Bayani Jacinto and Efren De la Cruz.
Given the undisputed facts of the celebrated case – especially Revilla’s letters to the Senate accounting office requesting the release of his PDAF allocations to bogus NGO (non-governmental organizations) undertaking bogus projects – the Filipino people were shocked not only by the fact that the movie-actor-turned-senator was acquitted but also by the fact that the chief of Mr. Revilla’s Senate staff, lawyer Richard Cambe, was convicted of 16 counts of graft.
The doubts that arose in the minds of logically thinking Filipinos could be summed up in two questions, namely, “On what basis did Senator Revilla write the requests addressed to the Senate accounting office?” and “How was Mr. Cambe able to transact business with Janet Lim-Napoles with Senator Revilla knowing anything about it?”
Dissenting justice Jacinto addressed the doubts of many Filipinos in his dissenting opinion. “It requires a stretch of logic for the three justices to conclude that Cambe was involved in the scam but not Revilla,” he wrote. “To simply concede that all of the (PDAF) documents were intercepted by Cambe so that Revilla and the rest of his staff would not be alerted is unreasonable.”
The dissenting justices could have added to their dissenting opinions two things. One was that Janet Lim-Napoles was a well-known figure in the hallways of the Senate; the other was that if Ms. Napoles went to the office of a Senator, it would have been for one purpose only.
Experts and students of criminal law have been examining the legal aspects of the Sandiganbayan’s acquittal of Senator Revilla. Chief among these have been the issue of whether there was a “glaring absence of evidence” sufficient to convict Senator Revilla, the issue of whether the Senator’s letters constituted violations of Republic Act. No. 3019 (the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and the issue of the 16 graft cases were included in the preceding plunder case against Senator Revilla, which was dismissed by the court.
I prefer to dwell on the issue of the Sandiganbayan’s acquittal of Ramon Revilla Jr. despite the conviction of his chief of staff who passed away recently in prison. Many questions will arise in the minds of people who are not conversant with the concept of chief of staff and the role and responsibilities of that official. What is the function of a chief of staff? What is the nature of his relationship with the head of the institution or office? What is the extent of his authority over the rest of the staff of the institution or office? These questions, which to a large extent partake of HRM (human resources management) practice, together will determine whether the Sandiganbayan was correct in deciding that the late Mr. Cambe engaged in illegal transactions with Janet Lim-Napoles with no possibility of his boss knowing about them.
Heads of institutions and offices select their chiefs of staff principally on the basis of two criteria, viz., competence and trust. Of the two, trust is almost certainly considered the more important criterion. Chiefs of staff are the alter egos of their bosses; in the best boss-chief of staff relationships the chief of staff is the close confidant of his or her boss – including, very often, on the boss’s personal affairs.
I never met Mr. Cambe, but I have no reason to believe that his relationship with Senator Revilla was anything other than close. Mr. Cambe was a lawyer, and it is therefore virtually certain that he was involved in the drafting of the written requests made by his boss.
If the head of an institution or office is the CEO (chief executive officer), the chief of staff is the COO (chief operating officer). He manages the institution or office on a day-to-day, when-the-boss-is-not-around basis. A typical Philippine Senate staff is not large, and the chief of staff knows everything official that goes on within the office and gives his or her approval to visitors. One point bears making here: The head of the institution or office talks to the other members of the staff also, and they inform him when irregular things happen in the office.
My purpose in stating all this is to drive home the point that it is “a stretch of logic” – to borrow Justice Jacinto’s phrase – to suggest that Senator Revilla was absolutely clueless about the contacts taking place between Janet Lim-Napoles and his chief of staff.
Philippine officers do not work that way, and anyone who says otherwise has never observed the operations of a Philippine office and the activities of its staff.
My advice for criminal-law students on the Sandiganbayan decision of Ramon Revilla Jr.’s graft cases: forget the majority opinion, focus on the dissenting opinions.