Sandi­gan jus­tice de­fends Revilla ver­dict

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By EL­IZ­A­BETH MARCELO

Their de­ci­sion to ac­quit for­mer sen­a­tor Ra­mon “Bong” Revilla Jr. may have been “un­pop­u­lar,” but it was “based on the ev­i­dence,” ac­cord­ing to the Sandi­gan­bayan mag­is­trate who acted as po­nente or writer of the con­tro­ver­sial rul­ing.

“It’s an un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sion. I would have loved to be a hero­ine, that I con­victed him, but at the end of the day we are bound by our con­science to rule based on the ev­i­dence,” As­so­ciate Jus­tice Geral­dine Faith Econg told re­porters hours af­ter the court’s is­suance of its ver­dict on Revilla’s case.

Those who also voted for Revilla’s ac­quit­tal were As­so­ciate Jus­tices Edgardo Cal­dona and Ge­orgina DumpitHi­dalgo.

As­so­ciate Jus­tices Efren dela Cruz and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Es­toesta voted for con­vic­tion.

In its de­ci­sion, the ma­jor­ity said “not a sin­gle ev­i­dence” was pre­sented by the Of­fice of the Om­buds­man’s pros­e­cu­tion panel to prove that Revilla re­ceived re­bates, com­mis­sions or

kick­backs from the al­lo­ca­tion of his Pri­or­ity De­vel­op­ment As­sis­tance Fund (PDAF) or pork bar­rel to bo­gus non-govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions of busi­ness­woman Janet Lim-Napoles.

The mag­is­trates who voted to ac­quit Revilla also gave weight to the re­can­ta­tion of whis­tle-blow­ers Ma­rina Sula and Mary Ar­lene Bal­tazar. The two tes­ti­fied early this year that Revilla was not aware of the forg­ing of his sig­na­tures on var­i­ous en­dorse­ment let­ters for the re­lease of his PDAF to the Napoles-linked NGOs.

Sula added that it was pork scam star wit­ness Ben­hur Luy who forged Revilla’s sig­na­ture.

Only Revilla’s co-ac­cused, for­mer staff mem­ber Richard Cambe, and Napoles were con­victed and sen­tenced to long prison terms.

Jus­tices De La Cruz and Es­toesta said their three fel­low mag­is­trates should not have given too much weight on Revilla’s forgery claim, es­pe­cially as the pros­e­cu­tion was able to present as ev­i­dence Revilla’s con­fir­ma­tion let­ter to the Com­mis­sion on Au­dit dated dated July 20,201 at­test­ing to the au­then­tic­ity of his sig­na­ture on the en­dorse­ment let­ters.

“On this point, I take ex­cep­tion to the po­nente’s re­liance on Sula’s and Bal­tazar’s ca­sual re­can­ta­tion in sup­port of the claim of Revilla that his sig­na­ture on the en­dorse­ment let­ters was forged, giv­ing an im­pres­sion that it was Luy who au­thored the forgery,” De La Cruz said.

In his tes­ti­mony on Aug. 7, Luy main­tained that he “did not sign any of the en­dorse­ment let­ters re­lat­ing to the PDAF of sen­a­tor Revilla.” Luy said he only pre­pared draft doc­u­ments that Cambe fi­nal­ized.

“I find that Luy, the prin­ci­pal wit­ness for the pros­e­cu­tion, is a cred­i­ble wit­ness and his tes­ti­mony be­liev­able in it­self. It is in the de­tails that a fab­ri­cated story will crum­ble in the mouth of a re­hearsed wit­ness. But Luy un­wa­ver­ingly tes­ti­fied to the mi­nut­est par­tic­u­lars of the scheme,” De La Cruz said.

Om­buds­man Sa­muel Mar­tires re­it­er­ated an ear­lier po­si­tion that the ac­quit­tal would no longer be ap­pealed.

“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’,” Mar­tires said in a state­ment.

Ray of hope

With the ac­quit­tal of his friend and for­mer fel­low sen­a­tor, Jing­goy Estrada said he be­lieves his own ac­quit­tal for the same of­fense is not far be­hind.

Estrada, out on bail for plun­der, was all smiles as he emerged from the court­room on Fri­day, af­ter at­tend­ing the pro­mul­ga­tion of the ver­dict on Revilla’s plun­der case by the Sandi­gan­bayan First Divi­sion.

“I can­not ex­press the words. Tala­gang masayang masaya kami at ang kanyang pam­ilya sa nag­ing ha­tol sa kanya (We and his fam­ily are re­ally happy about the rul­ing),” Estrada told re­porters.

Asked if Revilla’s ac­quit­tal would boost his chances of get­ting cleared of his own plun­der case also in con­nec­tion with the pork scam, Estrada said: “I re­ally hope so. But of course, I do not want to pre-empt the de­ci­sion of the Sandi­gan­bayan.”

In a later tele­vi­sion in­ter­view with CNN Philip­pines, Estrada re­vealed his lawyers are plan­ning to file a de­mur­rer to ev­i­dence on his plun­der case early next year.

“Prob­a­bly early next year we’ll file a de­mur­rer to ev­i­dence. If the court will grant the de­mur­rer to ev­i­dence then that’s al­ready tan­ta­mount to ac­quit­tal,” Estrada said.

A de­mur­rer seeks the dis­missal of the case half­way through the trial with­out hav­ing the need for the ac­cused to present his counter-ex­hibits, sup­pos­edly due to weak ev­i­dence pre­sented by the pros­e­cu­tion.

Estrada said he hopes that if his camp would be able to file the de­mur­rer by early next year, a de­ci­sion by the Sandi­gan­bayan would be ready be­fore the start of the cam­paign sea­son in Fe­bru­ary 2019.

“I will leave my fate with the Sandi­gan­bayan, but it’s a big boost that my friend sen­a­tor Revilla was ac­quit­ted and I hope to fol­low suit,” he said.

Mean­while, in a mo­tion filed on Dec. 6, Estrada asked the Sandi­gan­bayan Fifth Divi­sion to al­low him to leave the coun­try for six days or from Dec. 26 to 31 for a va­ca­tion with his fam­ily in Hong Kong.

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