Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. was locked up in a detention facility in Camp Crame in Quezon City on Friday, becoming the first politician detained over the pork barrel scandal that has rocked the nation.
Earlier in the day, Revilla surrendered to the Sandiganbayan, where a plunder and graft case has been brought against him in connection with the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
He turned himself in hours after a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Sandiganbayan’s First Division.
“I will go to jail with my head held high, and I will come out with my head held high,” the 47-year-old former actor told reporters shortly after attending a televised Mass with his family in his residence in Bacoor City, Cavite.
At the anti-graft court Revilla was seen smiling at a crowd of journalists and supporters before entering the building to meet with the court sheriff.
Revilla is one of three senators who have so far been accused of participating in a years-long scam in which many politicians allegedly embezzled hundreds of millions of pesos that should have been spent on development projects. The other two are Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
Warrants of arrest for Enrile and Estrada were expected to be issued by the Sandiganbayan early next week.
All three senators have protested their innocence, insisting that they were targeted simply because they were members of the political opposition.
But President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s government has hailed the charges filed against them as a vital moment in its quest to fight corruption.
“This is a milestone,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who endorsed the case against the three, told Agence France-Presse.
“We’re accomplishing what some people said was a near impossible task: To have these big personalities who are perceived as untouchable finally prosecuted,” she said.
But to a political analyst, Revilla’s detention is all about drama rather than serving justice.
“So far, it’s nothing but another political drama. Such administration of justice will only suggest a serious effort at achieving accountability and justice if it shows objectivity,” Edmund Tayao, a professor at University of Santo Tomas in Manila, said in a text message.
Tayao does not see Revilla’s arrest as a stern warning shot for high-profile government officials to fear the law.
Instead, he described Revilla’s theatrics of having his family and supporters around him en route to his arrest as an awful attempt to gain public sympathy.
“Until such time that the whole exercise shows it’s a real and objective one, then it can’t scare the crooks in government. As for his theatrics, getting public sympathy would be a long shot,” Tayao said.
The case exploded last year when businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles was accused of conniving with senators and congressmen in stealing an estimated P10 billion in pork barrel funds.
Napoles has also been detained, in a police commando camp in Santa Rosa City, Laguna, and Aquino’s government has said many other politicians are expected to be charged.
At the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Revilla was booked, fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken.
The facility is a former officers’ quarters that had held rebellious military officers and high-profile criminals.
From the Sandiganbayan, Revilla was accompanied to Crame Crame—national headquarters of the PNP—by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief, Director Benjamin Magalong.
While under detention, the senator will not be allowed to use electronic devices like mobile phones.
Malacañang also on Friday welcomed the Sandiganbayan decision to arrest Revilla, calling it as a “significant step” toward attaining justice.
“The issuance of warrants of arrest against Senator Revilla and others implicated in the plunder case pertaining to the alleged misuse of public funds is a significant step forward in the judicial process,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
Coloma stressed the Palace’s assurance to the accused of a “fair and just trial.”
“We believe that through a fair and just trial, accountability will be clearly established and in like manner, those who are innocent will be exonerated. We join the citizenry in hoping that truth and justice will prevail,” he said.
Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, wasted no time filing a motion for bail, invoking the constitutional provision that an accused is entitled to it, even in a non-bailable offense, when the evidence of guilt is not strong.
The First Division will hear Revilla’s motion for bail on June 26, the same day he will be arraigned for plunder.
Thousands of his supporters had gathered at Revilla’s house in Bacoor, vowing their loyalty to the senator.
Former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and other political allies also visited Revilla.
Revilla’s eldest son Bryan said his father told him to take over as head of the family and look after their mother, Lani.
“With my incarceration I’m hoping there will be unity among our leaders and put an end to too much politicking,” Revilla told reporters before he proceeded to the Sandiganbayan.
ANTHONY VARGAS, LLANESCA T. PANTI, JOEL M. SY EGCO, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, ROGELIO LIMPIN AND AFP