Jus­tice for the tax­pay­ers on the PDAF scam

Manila Times - - Opinion -

FRI­DAY’S ac­quit­tal of ex- se­na­tor Ra­mon “Bong” Revilla Jr. from plun­der charges in con­nec­tion with the Pri­or­ity Devel­op­ment As­sis­tance Fund ( PDAF) or pork bar­rel scam again high­lights the need to re­view our laws on cor­rup­tion to re­build con­fi­dence in the coun­try’s le­gal sys­tem.

The rul­ing seems to have ig­nored some vi­tal ev­i­dence point­ing to the guilt of the ac­cused in this case.

The tight 3- 2 ver­dict by the Sandi­gan­bayan re­minds the pub­lic how it was jolted by the news the first time the scam ( an Ex­ec­u­tive- Leg­isla­tive con­spir­acy against the Filipino peo­ple, ac­tu­ally), which cost tax­pay­ers an es­ti­mated P10 bil­lion over a pe­riod of 10 years, was ex­posed in the me­dia five years ago.

Revilla, a movie ac­tor- turned- politi­cian and whose fam­ily has built a political dy­nasty in Cavite prov­ince, stood ac­cused of pock­et­ing P224.5 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money, al­legedly fun­neled through ghost projects of fake non­govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions ( NGOs) set up by busi­ness­woman Janet Lim- Napoles.

This was re­put­edly among the strong­est cases filed by state pros­e­cu­tors against law­mak­ers im­pli­cated in the pork bar­rel scam dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Revilla’s sig­na­tures were all over the place, no­tably in nu­mer­ous let­ters to the bud­get depart­ment en­dors­ing the re­lease of mil­lions to Napoles’ bo­gus NGOs.

The ma­jor­ity rul­ing of the Sandi­gan­bayan anti- graft court, penned by As­so­ciate Jus­tice Geral­dine Faith Econg and con­curred in by As­so­ciate Jus­tices Edgardo Cal­dona and Ge­orgina Hi­dalgo, sim­ply took hook, line and sinker Revilla’s de­fense that his sig­na­tures on the doc­u­ments had been forged.

The three hon­or­able jus­tices im­plied that Revilla had noth­ing to do with the fund re­leases re­quested by his own Se­nate of­fice be­tween 2006 and 2010, and that it was all the hand­i­work of his chief of staff Richard Cambe and Napoles.

They ig­nored, as As­so­ciate Jus­tices Efren de la Cruz and Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez- Es­toesta pointed out in their dis­sent­ing opin­ions, the scan­dalous in­crease in the wealth of the Revil­las as shown by doc­u­ments from the Anti- Money Laun­der­ing Coun­cil. Yet the ma­jor­ity of the jus­tices re­quired “the ac­cused” to re­turn P124.5 mil­lion to the na­tional cof­fers, with­out ex­plain­ing how this amount was ar­rived at.

The im­me­di­ate ef­fect of this rul­ing is that Revilla, in­car­cer­ated for four years, gets out of jail and will be able to cam­paign to try to get back his old seat in the Se­nate.

The wider im­pli­ca­tion is that with Revilla go­ing scot­free of the crim­i­nal charge of plun­der, the hur­dles have been low­ered for his co- ac­cused, fel­low ex- sen­a­tors Jose “Jing­goy” Estrada and Juan Ponce En­rile, who are both run­ning for se­na­tor as well.

It should be noted that Estrada and En­rile were able to con­vince the Sandi­gan­bayan to grant their bail pe­ti­tions be­cause the cases against them were sup­pos­edly weaker than Revilla’s.

This case has made ob­vi­ous the coun­try’s need to re­ex­am­ine the cur­rent laws on plun­der and graft that will ensure jus­tice for the vic­tims — the tax­pay­ers — and fair and speedy judge­ment on the guilty par­ties.

Gov­ern­ment lawyers should pur­sue all other le­gal av­enues to ensure none of the in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence is ig­nored in the trial of the re­main­ing charges of graft against Revilla.

Oth­er­wise, the P10- bil­lion pork bar­rel scam ac­quires fur­ther no­to­ri­ety in his­tory as a grand con­spir­acy against the Filipino peo­ple, for which no real brains or ben­e­fi­cia­ries were held to ac­count, with the tacit con­sent of all three branches of gov­ern­ment.

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