Justice for the taxpayers on the PDAF scam
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.