The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has thumbed down former Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.’s plea for the court to throw out the P224-million plunder case filed against him and several others in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
The defense earlier filed a motion to quash as it argued that the charge sheet does not adequately inform Revilla of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.
But in a nine-page resolution promulgated on Thursday, the court said in part that “the prosecution is correct in its observation that accused Revilla was duly informed, and that he is fully aware, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him as shown by his filing of a motion for judicial determination of probable cause, which was denied by the court, by his filing of a petition for bail, his active participation at the hearing thereof, including the presentation of his own evidence during the said hearing. He was never heard to complain about being deprived of such right until the recent filing of his motion to quash.”
It pointed out that during the arraignment, Revilla answered in the affirmative when it asked him if he understood the charge against him.
In asking the court to dismiss the case, the defense also said earlier that the charge sheet alleges that Revilla amassed ill-gotten wealth in the amount of P224.5 million through his supposed endorsement of non-government organizations allegedly run by respondent Janet Lim-Napoles.
“That endorsement, however, is not among the overt or criminal acts described in Section 1(d) of [Republic Act or RA] 7080 which, if in a ‘combination or series,’ is the ‘heart of the Plunder Law,’” it argued.
But the court was not convinced.
It said the overt criminal acts alleged in the Information (charge sheet) are among those enumerated under RA 7080, the law that defines and punishes plunder.
“The accused’s contention that it was his endorsement that was the overt criminal act alluded to in the Information is misleading. It was clear from the Information that the endorsement was part of the whole process, or as described in the Information, it was ‘under the following circumstances,’ of how the kickbacks or commissions were allegedly repeatedly received by accused-movant from Napoles or her representatives,” the court added.
The defense also argued earlier that the charge sheet, “bereft of the ‘details’ required in Enrile vs. People, supra, to be provided in a Bill of Particulars, does not allege ‘facts’ constituting the offense of ‘plunder’ under RA 7080.”
It was referring to the case of former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile — who is facing a P172-million plunder charge in connection with the PDAF scam — wherein the Supreme Court (SC) granted his plea for a Bill of Particulars that required the prosecution to disclose detailed information on the charge.
But the Sandiganbayan’s First Division said Revilla’s reliance in the case “is misplaced as the latter involved a motion for a Bill of Particulars.”
“Verily, in Enrile, the [Supreme] Court did not find the information therein as defective which shall merit its quashal. Rather, the court ruled that the information did not sufficiently allege certain material facts and hence, ordered the prosecution to submit a Bill of Particulars,” the Sandiganbayan’s First Division said in part, adding that Revilla “has lost the opportunity to file a motion for a Bill of Particulars.”
It cited Section 9, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure that allows the defendant to move for a Bill of Particulars before arraignment in order to enable him to properly plead and prepare for trial.
The court said Revilla “was arraigned on June 26, 2014 and did not file said motion. This court is thus constrained to deny the present motion to quash, which is unmistakably an afterthought and a feeble attempt to make up for a lost remedy.”
It thus denied his motion to quash for lack of merit.
Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, who leads the Sandiganbayan’s First Division, penned the ruling which was concurred in by Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez.
Also on Thursday, the court reset the trial of the case to March 30 because of the denial of the motion to quash and because of defense lawyer Estelito Mendoza’s manifestation that Revilla will file a motion for reconsideration.
The defense has until March 10 to file the motion.
The scheduled trial on Thursday was canceled also because of issues stemming from the parties’ comments on the draft pre-trial order, which issues will be settled through preliminary conferences on March 2 and 9.
A pre-trial order contains the list of the number of hearing dates and witnesses as well as what issues are to be resolved during trial.
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, who will oversee the preliminary conferences, told the parties to “be prepared for overtime” so that this would be finished.
In an interview after the session adjourned, Revilla told reporters, “Delay na naman tayo. We have to wait for another month para magsimula ‘yung trial “[Delay again. We have to wait for another month for the trial to start].”
[“Of course, what I want is for my trial in this case to be expedited… Imagine, I have been detained for two years, nine months without having committed a wrong. What if the time comes when it is found that I am innocent? It would be unfair for me, right]?”
Revilla is one of three former senators namely, Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, whom the Office of the Ombudsman charged along with Napoles and several others in 2014 in connection with the PDAF scam.
Estrada, who is facing a P183-million plunder case in connection with the PDAF scam, and Revilla are detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City while Enrile is out on bail after the SC granted his bail petition on humanitarian grounds.
Napoles is serving life sentence at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) after a Makati City (Metro Manila) court found her guilty in the serious illegal detention case filed against her by pork scam witness Benhur Luy.
Revilla was charged along with his former aide Richard Cambe as well as Napoles, her then-employee John Raymund de Asis and her nephew Ronald John Lim.
De Asis and Lim remain at large.