The Sandiganbayan is expected to issue the arrest order today for Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. after the First Division on Thursday found probable cause against him and his
32 co-accused in the pork barrel case.
But Revilla’s camp yesterday said he would present himself before the Sandiganbayan. If he pursues that course, the NBI or the police will be spared the unpleasant task of arresting a lawmaker.
An unimpeachable source said the court had drafted the warrant but was not able to issue it yesterday because one justice failed to sign the document. Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, the First Division’s chairman, had left when the division circulated the draft warrant for the justice’s signature.
Under the rules, the Sandiganbayan has to hand over the warrant to the arresting officers, in this case either the agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or members of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Revilla earlier said he had made arrangements with the PNP for his surrender, noting that he does not want his children to see him being arrested at home.
The PNP has prepared the detention center for Revilla and senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada who were also charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense.
In a resolution, the anti-graft court denied the plea of Revilla and his co-accused to dismiss the case, suspend the proceedings or defer the issuance of a warrant.
Revilla is accused of receiving P224 million in kickbacks for releasing some of his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to bogus projects. He was also charged with 16 counts of graft.
This morning, the Third and Fifth Divisions will hear the motions in similar cases against Revilla’s colleagues in the Senate, senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
Revilla and the other accused had asked the court to dismiss the plunder complaint but their appeal was rejected by the Sandiganbayan.
In their four-page resolution, dela Cruz and justices Rafael Lagos and Napoleon Inoturan dismissed the motions for judicial determination of probable cause filed by Revilla, his chief of staff Richard Cambe; alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and her nephew Ronald John Lim; Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos; and Budget department employees Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare.
The court said rules do not require that cases be set for hearing to determine probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant before such is issued, and that the periods prescribed by the Rules of Court are mandatory.
Aside from Revilla, also charged with plunder and graft were Cambe, Napoles, and John Raymund de Asis. Charged with plunder only was Ronald John Lim.
Charged with graft are Relampagos, Nuñez, Paule, Bare, former Technology Resource Center Directors General Antonio Ortiz and Dennis Cunanan and TRC employees Francisco Figura, Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana and Marivic Jover;
National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) employees Victor Cacal and Rhodora Mendoza;
Evelyn de Leon, president of supposedly Napoles’ non-government organization Philippine Social Development Foundation; Allan Javellana, former Nabcor president; National Livelihood and Development Corp. (NLDC) former president Gondelina Mata and employees Emmanuel Sevidal, Sofia Cruz, Chita Jalandoni, Evelyn Sucgang and Gregoria Buenaventura; and Nabcor employees Maria Ninez Guañizo and Maria Julie Villarolvo-Johnson.
Private individuals Myla Ogerio, Eulogio Rodriguez and Laarni Uy, Consuelo Espiritu, Evelyn de Leon, Encarnita Munsod, Marie Julie Villaralvo-Johnson and Jocelyn Piorato also face graft charges.
Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, had asked the court to suspend proceedings until the Supreme Court rules on the Ombudsman’s request to form a special division that will exclusively hear cases related to the pork barrel scam.
But dela Cruz said the Sandiganbayan will proceed with the plunder case against Revilla and his co-accused, unless the Supreme Court restrains it.
Bodegon asked for 10 days to contest the ruling.
He argued that they were not given the chance to rebut the allegations because the Ombudsman did not give them copies of the counter-affidavits of co-respondents.
The court gave the prosecution five days to file its comment on the motion to consolidate the cases against Revilla and Cambe.
Revilla had said he will not resist arrest.
The senator again maintained his innocence on Thursday.
In an emotional speech before his supporters who gathered in front of his residence in Bacoor, Cavite province, Revilla said he is ready to be jailed.
Speaking before a crowd of people and supporters at the compound of his house in Cavite, he made an emotional appeal that he be given a chance to defend himself in court and not to judge him without hearing his side.
Teary-eyed, the senator insisted that he had done no wrong.
“Sa pamahalaang Aquino, Mr. President, handa po akong magpakulong kahit saan nyo ako ikulong dahil ako’y naniwala na wala akong kasalanan at hindi po ako natatakot Ginoong Pangulo. Kahit saan po makarating ang laban na ito, ipaglalaban ko ang aking karapatan [Under the Aquino government, Mr. President, I am ready to be jailed wherever you want me jailed because I am innocent and I am not afraid. Wherever this fight leads, I will fight for my rights],” he said.
But the Office of the Ombudsman maintained that Revilla confirmed the authenticity of his signatures on documents allowing the transfer of his pork barrel to bogus entities owned by Janet Lim Napoles.
In its comment/opposition to Revilla’s Motion to Suspend Proceedings, the Ombudsman noted that the senator made the confirmation in a letter to the Commission on Audit in July 2011 or a month after COA asked him to confirm his signatures.
“The accused [Revilla] affirmed, through his letter dated July 2011[to COA], that the signatures on said documents appeared to be his or his authorized representative.
However, it took him two long years to file the Bacoor RTC [Regional Trial Court] complaint questioning the authenticity and genuineness of the PDAF documents,” the Ombudsman pointed out.
The government prosecutors were referring to the civil case that Revilla filed against whistleblower Benhur Luy and several other pork witnesses.
Meanwhile, Enrile expressed confidence that he will walk out of jail if he will be given a fair trial at the Sandiganbayan.
In his message delivered during a meeting with local officials from Cagayan province at the Senate on Thursday evening, Enrile said he believes that majority of justices and judges are incorruptible.
“That is why I strongly believe that as long as the trial of my cases will remain fair, I will likely be set free,” he added.
It will be the third time that Enrile will be ordered arrested and detained since he entered politics after the 1986 Edsa revolution.
In 1990, he was charged with rebellion and was arrested and detained for ten days.
A decade later, Enrile was again charged and detained by the administration of then-President Gloria Arroyo.
He said in both cases, he sought the intervention of the Supreme Court and was able to get a favorable decision that led to his release. “When the time comes, I might again run to the Supreme Court if I see the need. But right now let’s just wait and see.”