THE anti-graft court on Tuesday junked a petition for bail sought by Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., his aide, Richard Cambe, and alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, owing to the “strength” of plunder charges that were slapped on them by the government.
In a 71-page resolution promulgated on December 1 but was issued only Tuesday morning, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division denied a request of the three accused for their temporary freedom in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
After almost five months of hearing arguments of the prosecution and the defense, and assessment of the evidence so far presented, the court ruled, “In fine, the prosecution has duly established that there exists strong evidence that accused Revilla, Cambe and Napoles, in conspiracy with one another, committed the capital offense of plunder defined and penalized under RA [Repblic Act] 7080, and thus are not entitled to the constitutional right to bail.”
Revilla, Napoles and Cambe were charged for plunder for alleged misuse of the senator’s PDAF worth P224 million.
But the Sandiganbyan said its ruling is not a verdict, which will only be determined after the trial.
“However, the court cautions that such conclusion shall not be regarded as a prejudgment on the merits of the case that are to be determined only after a full-blown trial,” it added.
With the bail pleas resolved, trial proper can begin.
The resolution was signed by First Division Chairperson Efren dela Cruz, Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada and Associate Justice Rafael Lagos.
“Concededly, there are no direct proofs that accused Revilla received commissions/rebates out of the proceeds of his PDAF routed to accused Napoles, but the circumstances persuasively attest that accused Revilla, on several occasions, received money from the illegitimate deals involving his PDAF, through accused Cambe. Also, accused Cambe profited from the same transactions so far computed at P13,935,000.00,” the ruling said.
Of the P224 million allegedly plundered by Revilla and Cambe, the prosecution has proven the amount of P103 million, the court said.
“This is the total amount received by accused Cambe for Revilla, to which [Benhur] Luy, [Marina] Sula and [Merlina] Suñas have testified of their personal knowledge . . . Luy, Sula, or Suñas either directly handed the money to accused Cambe, or they saw accused Napoles, or any one of them, give the money to accused Cambe,” it added.
The Sandiganbayan explained that while the three former subordinates of Napoles testified as state witnesses in exchange for their discharge from indictment, their credibility is not lessened. And, as co-conspirators, they know about the subject conspiracy.
“[T]here appears to be no reason or ill-motive for them to specifically implicate accused Revilla and Cambe, as they could easily incriminate all the senators and their respective staffs, if not for the truth of their words,” it said.
Dela Cruz wrote that prosecutors have presented compelling evidence, which was “established by the testimonies of the witnesses and the documents they testified to which, at this stage of the proceedings, has remained unrebutted, and thus, given full faith and credence by the court.”
“Natutuwa po kasi totoo naman ang sinasabi ko [I am happy because what I am saying is true],” Luy told reporters in a chance interview at noon while he exited the Fifth Division courtroom, where he testified in Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s bail hearing.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales welcomed the development and commended efforts of the prosecution team handling the case against Revilla—acting Director Joefferson Toribio, Assistant Special Prosecutor III Jacinto dela Cruz, ASP II Lyn Dimayuga and ASP I Emerita Francia.
Revilla said he was “very disappointed” with the ruling.
“It was not the outcome we were expecting especially when we consider the facts and the evidence. Nevertheless, there is nothing we can do but to respect the court’s view,” he added.
Meanwhile, Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David said they will appeal the ruling.
“And if ever, hopefully it is not denied, we will go to the Supreme Court [SC] on Certiorari,” David told reporters.
The court cited Revilla’s letter to the Commission on Audit dated July 20, 2011 where he confirmed that the signatures/initials on the documents attached to COA’s letter appeared to be his or that of his authorized representative Cambe.
COA Special Audits Office Director Susan Garcia earlier testified that Revilla’s signatures were found in memorandums of agreement between non-government organizations (NGOs) and between Revilla and implementing agencies such as the National Agricultural Business Corp., ZNAC Rubber Estate, National Livelihood and Development Corp. and Technology Research Center.
“Again, accused Revilla has yet to disprove that his letter was not a conclusive confirmation of the signatures appearing on the documents before the COA. Until then, the court will take the documents as what they plainly purport,” the Sandiganbayan said.
While the tribunal admitted that there were “dissimilarities and observable strokes in the signatures” which suggest that Cambe may not be the one who signed the documents, it explained that this alone does not weigh much against the circumstances pointing to a convincing presumption that he knew or consented to the “forgery.”
On Napoles, the court said although her signature does not appear in any of the documents, “evidence abounds” to support the allegation that she was the brains behind the alleged conspiracy.
Napoles’ connection to and control of the NGOs were made evident by the NGO’s bank transactions, the ruling further read, citing the testimony of Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Bank Officer Leigh Vhon Santos.
Santos had testified on AMLC’s finding that the NGOs’ accounts were only temporary repository of funds and that withdrawals had to be confirmed first with Napoles.
The court noted that bank accounts were opened by the NGOs’ named presidents using JLN Corp. identification cards.
Over objections of the defense, the court was also satisfied with the integrity of Luy’s hard disk drive and disbursement ledgers.
Revilla and Cambe are detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Quezon City while Napoles is being held at another police camp, the female dormitory of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City (Metro Manila).