Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado of Bacoor City, left for Israel on Saturday evening, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said on Sunday.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. confirmed that Revilla and his family departed for Israel in an interview with radio dzRB. Coloma said the Palace verified the news with Immigration Commissioner Siegfried Mison.
The MIAA Public Affairs Office said the Revillas were with three of their children and several lay ministers from the Catholic Church in Cavite where they regularly go to mass. Also with them are Vicky Belo and her boyfriend Hayden Kho.
The family was accommodated at the Dignitaries’ Lounge prior to their flight to Israel via Dubai on board Emirates Airlines flight EK335 that took off at 11:55 p.m.
Public Affairs assistant staff said the Revillas were escorted by Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group personnel up to the airport’s boarding gate.
The justice department reportedly gave Revilla permission to travel. His trip to Israel had been reportedly planned a month earlier and sought to take advantage of the Holy Week recess of Congress.
Revilla’s media relations officer, Amy Manzo, said the senator went with his family to Israel, one of the sites frequently visited by Catholic pilgrims during Holy Week, “not to escape but to seek divine intercession on his present predicament, particularly the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund].”
In a television interview, Revilla dismissed speculations that he was fleeing with his family prior to the release of his warrant of arrest for his alleged involvement in the PDAF scam.
He vowed to return to face the charges.
The news of Revilla’s departure was triggered by text messages on Saturday that he was leaving Manila for Hong Kong via Philippine Airlines flight PR312 at 9:25 p.m.
Immigration officials allowed Revilla to leave the country because the senator has no hold departure order issued against him since the case is still under preliminary investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman.
In September 2013, Revilla, along with fellow Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, was slapped with plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
According to the National Bureau of Investigation, Revilla accumulated 30 percent or P224.512 million of the P745.63 million worth of pork kickbacks allegedly amassed by five lawmakers in their purported dealings with Janet Lim-Napoles through the businesswoman’s allegedly dubious non-government organizations.