Revilla ac­quit­ted of plun­der

Or­der for him and two other ac­cused to jointly re­turn 1124.5 M puz­zles sen­a­tors

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - By CZARINA NI­COLE O. ONG

The Sandi­gan­bayan Spe­cial First Divi­sion ac­quit­ted on Fri­day for­mer Sen­a­tor Ra­mon “Bong” Revilla Jr. of plun­der in con­nec­tion with the Pri­or­ity De­vel­op­ment As­sis­tance Fund (PDAF) scam.

His chief of staff Richard Cambe and busi­ness­woman Janet Napoles were not as lucky as they were con­victed on the same

charge. Both were sen­tenced to suf­fer reclu­sion per­petua with per­pet­ual ab­so­lute dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion from hold­ing any pub­lic of­fice.

“For fail­ure of the pros­e­cu­tion to es­tab­lish be­yond rea­son­able doubt that ac­cused Revilla re­ceived, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, the re­bates, com­mis­sion, and kick­backs from his PDAF, the Court can­not hold him li­able for the crime of plun­der,” the dis­pos­i­tive por­tion of the de­ci­sion read.

Upon hear­ing the ver­dict, Revilla heaved a sigh of re­lief while his wife, Ba­coor Mayor Lani Mer­cado, leaned on the wall. His son Jolo was al­most in tears.

“Maram­ing sala­mat sa hus­tisya. Maram­ing sala­mat sa mga kababayan ko. (Many thanks to jus­tice. Many thanks to my coun­try men ),” Re villa said. Re­turn of 1124.5 M or­dered But all three ac­cused were “held sol­i­dar­ily and jointly li­able” to re­turn 1124,500,000 to the na­tional trea­sury pur­suant to Ar­ti­cle 100 of the Re­vised Pe­nal Code.

The or­der hold­ing Revilla and the two other ac­cused of “sol­i­dar­ily and jointly li­able” to re­turn 1124,500,000 puz­zled law­mak­ers.

The 186-page de­ci­sion did not, how­ever, state who among them should pay, but ac­cord­ing to the said law, only those who are crim­i­nally li­able in the case should be held civilly li­able. Since Revilla is not crim­i­nally li­able, his lawyers claimed that he is not re­quired to re­turn any­thing.

Right af­ter the pro­mul­ga­tion, Revilla posted 1480,000 bail for 16 counts of graft charges over the mis­use of his PDAF, which he re­port­edly en­dorsed to the bo­gus non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) owned by Napoles in ex­change for kick­backs amount­ing to 1224,512,500.He then pro­ceeded to Camp Crame in or­der to fi­nal­ize his re­lease.

His lawyer, Estelito Men­doza, said Revilla's ac­quit­tal is “God's will.” He re­fused to com­ment on what con­vinced the judges to vote for Revilla's ac­quit­tal, but in his per­sonal opin­ion, “there is no ev­i­dence to in­dict him.”

Be­cause of his ac­quit­tal and his post­ing of bail for the graft charges, Revilla will be re­leased from the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice Cus­to­dial Cen­ter in Camp Crame, where he had been de­tained for over four years al­ready.

The First Divi­sion is com­prised of Chair­per­son Efren Dela Cruz and As­so­ciate Jus­tices Geral­dine Faith Econg and Edgardo Cal­dona. All three of them have to reach the same con­clu­sion for a de­ci­sion to be pro­mul­gated.

Econg and Cal­dona voted for Revilla's ac­quit­tal, while Dela Cruz dis­sented.

With this de­vel­op­ment, a spe­cial divi­sion was cre­ated with two spe­cial mem­bers from other di­vi­sions – As­so­ciate Jus­tices Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Es­toesta and Ge­orgina Dumpit-Hi­dalgo.

Dumpit-Hi­dalgo voted for ac­quit­tal, while Gomez-Es­toesta dis­sented. This time, the ma­jor­ity vote won.

Bound by ev­i­dence Econg, in an in­ter­view, said she hopes the pub­lic would un­der­stand how they came to their con­clu­sion. She knows Revilla’s ac­quit­tal is an “un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sion,” but they have to go by the ev­i­dence.

“I would have loved to be a hero­ine, that I con­victed him. But at the end of the day, we are bound by ev­i­dence of the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense,” she said.

In the de­ci­sion, the jus­tices stated that they are “unan­i­mous” in the con­clu­sion that Cambe and Napoles are “guilty as charged.”

“How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of us har­bor se­ri­ous doubts as to the cul­pa­bil­ity of Revilla be­yond rea­son­able doubt,” the de­ci­sion read.

What pinned Cambe and Napoles were the tes­ti­monies of wit­nesses Ben­hur Luy, Mar­lina Sula, Mary Ar­lene Bal­tazar, and Mer­li­naSuñas– all for­mer em­ploy­ees of Napoles. They all tes­ti­fied how Cam be and Na poles par­tic­i­pated in the re­lease of Revilla’s PDAF.

It was es­tab­lished by all the wit­nesses that the NGOs of Napoles were all a sham. They tes­ti­fied that Cambe re­ceived sums of money from Napoles be­cause of the PDAF scam, but he failed to re­but their claims.

“The fore­go­ing in­du­bitably shows that Cambe and Napoles had con­spired with each other so that they will ben­e­fit from the Revilla PDAF,” the de­ci­sion read.

No clear proof In com­par­i­son, there is no clear proof es­tab­lish­ing Revilla’s part in the con­spir­acy. Cambe's par­tic­i­pa­tion was clear to the court, but whether or not he car­ried out the task for Revilla or upon Revilla's or­ders was not suf­fi­ciently es­tab­lished.

The big­gest and “most cru­cial” pieces of ev­i­dence that could have pinned Revilla down were the en­dorse­ment let­ters he al­legedly signed to sup­port Napoles’ NGOs.

But Revilla de­nied that he signed the en­dorse­ments him­self. Sup­port­ing Revilla’s claim was doc­u­ment ex­am­iner Deside­ri­oPagui, who con­firmed that the en­dorse­ment let­ters al­legedly signed by Revilla are all forg­eries. Sula, Suñas, and Bal­tazar even tes­ti­fied that it was Luy who au­thored the en­dorse­ment let­ters.

“The con­se­quence of this fac­tual finding that the pur­ported sig­na­ture of ac­cused Revilla is a forgery con­sti­tutes as a great blow to the pros­e­cu­tion,” the de­ci­sion stated.

The court added that Revilla's al­leged re­ceipt of the money from Napoles is “just a mere pos­si­bil­ity.” On the flip side, there is also a pos­si­bil­ity that Cambe re­ceived the money but kept it for him­self.

“In other words, all these pos­si­bil­i­ties pointed out are not in­con­sis­tent with all the facts that are proven by the pros­e­cu­tion. But, in or­der to negate the other pos­si­bil­i­ties, the pros­e­cu­tion should have pre­sented an­other cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence that will ex­clude the pos­si­bil­i­ties that will ex­cul­pate the ac­cused,” the court ruled.

As for Revilla's bank ac­counts, the court can­not draw a con­clu­sion that the money de­posited came from Napoles, through Cambe.

“In the pre­sen­ta­tion of ev­i­dence, the pros­e­cu­tion left so many gaps in the data that it should have plugged in or­der for us to reach a cer­tain de­gree of cer­tainty that the monies de­posited in the ac­count did not come from any other source but from Napoles through Cambe,” the court said.

Aside from Mayor Lani and Jolo, also with Revilla dur­ing the pro­mul­ga­tion were son Bryan, Vik­to­ri­aGianna Bautista, FranzelLoudette Bautista, and Luigi Revilla.

His good friend, for­mer Sen­a­tor Jose “Jing­goy” Estrada, who is also charged with plun­der, was also present to give his sup­port. He was seen clasp­ing his hands af­ter the de­ci­sion was read.

Asked if Revilla's ac­quit­tal would mean that his and for­mer Sen­a­tor Juan Ponce En­rile's plun­der charges would be cleared as well, Estrada sim­ply an­swered: “I hope so.”

The pros­e­cu­tion team all wore black dur­ing the pro­mul­ga­tion, as if an­tic­i­pat­ing de­feat. As­sis­tant Spe­cial Prose­cu­tor MartierDelfin San­tos ex­pressed how “dis­ap­pointed” they were, while Deputy Spe­cial Prose­cu­tor Manuel So­ri­ano said they will be study­ing their next move.

But Om­buds­man Sa­muel Mar­tires said in a state­ment that Revilla's ac­quit­tal can no longer be ap­pealed.

“It is an el­e­men­tary doc­trine in law that you can­not ap­peal a judg­ment of ac­quit­tal,” he ex­plained. “The pol­icy is based on dou­ble jeop­ardy or the pro­hi­bi­tion ‘against be­ing twice put in jeop­ardy.’ This doc­trine has its roots in Ro­man law that an ‘is­sue once de­cided can­not be tried again’.”

Sen­a­tors puz­zled

Mean­while, Sen. Richard Gor­don said that there is some­thing wrong some­where. He was re­fer­ring to the or­der hold­ing Revilla, along with Cambe and Napoles, “sol­i­dar­ily and jointly li­able” to re­turn 1124,500,000.

Op­po­si­tion Sen­a­tor Fran­cis N. Pangili­nan, pres­i­dent of the Liberal Party (LP), said it is dif­fi­cult for him to un­der­stand that Revilla was ac­quit­ted as a per­son who al­legedly re­ceived more than 1224 mil­lion as “bribe” for his pork bar­rel al­lo­ca­tion from Napoles, who was found guilty.

“Mahi­rap un­awain ang nag­ing pasya (The court de­ci­sion is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend),” he said. (With a re­port from Mario B. Casayuran)

FREE­DOM FOR BONG – For­mer sen­a­tor Bong Revilla re­joices mo­ments af­ter the court read the de­ci­sion ac­quit­ting him of plun­der Fri­day. (Mark Bal­mores)

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