Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. on Thursday refused to enter a plea during his arraignment before the Sandiganbayan’s First Division where he is charged with plunder.
Revilla is accused of amassing P224 million in kickbacks by diverting his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to bogus projects.
First Division Chairman and Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz entered a not-guilty plea for the Senator. Under court rules, if the accused refuses to enter a plea, the court enters a not-guilty plea in his behalf.
Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and Revilla’s chief of staff Richard Cambe also pleaded not guilty, and so did 13 other respondents.
Revilla is the first of three senators to be arraigned before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the pork barrel scam. The others are Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who like Revilla is in police detention, and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Revilla also faces 16 counts of graft in connection with the scandal that has shaken the country.
Napoles, wearing dark glasses, a sweatshirt with a hoodie, jeans and sneakers, sat at the far end of the courtroom’s front bench. Revilla, wearing a barong Tagalog sat at the opposite end.
The senator’s wife, Lani, sat behind him in the second row. She was seen briefly massaging her husband’s shoulder.
The clerk of court read the plunder charge after the court denied the prosecution’s plea to admit an amended charge.
Scores of media representatives had posted themselves outside the Sandiganbayan gate as early as 5:30 a.m. for the arraignment. Only a limited number of courtroom seats were reserved for the media.
Napoles arrived almost 20 minutes past 7 a.m. Revilla arrived about a half-hour later, entering the building through a backdoor.
The arraignment took up most of the morning. Among those who were not arraigned for graft was former Technology Resource Center (TRC) Director General Antonio Ortiz, whom the Bureau of Immigration (BI) confirmed had left the country before a hold departure order against him was issued.
Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and Budget department employees Rosario Nunez, Marilou Bare and Lalaine Paule had their arraignment deferred pending their motions.
Pleading not guilty of graft were Napoles, Cambe, Eulogio Rodriguez (16 counts each); Gondelina Amata, Ofelia Ordoñez and Gregoria Buenaventura (eight counts each); Chita Jalandoni (seven counts); Jocelyn Piorato (five counts); Dennis Cunanan, Rosalinda Lacsamana, Marivic Jover and Ninez Guañizo (four counts each); and Consuelo Espiritu (three counts).
Cunanan, Cacal and Mendoza earlier lost their bids for immunity. Cunanan is asking the Office of the Ombudsman to reconsider its resolution denying his immunity plea.
Revilla and Cambe are detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame (PNP headquarters in Quezon City), and Napoles, in a police camp in Santa Rosa City, Laguna.
Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, explained that they refused to enter a plea because it would mean waiving their right to seek other legal remedies.
Bodegon said Revilla has a pending petition before the Supreme Court and another for the suspension of proceedings.
They will also file a motion for reconsideration on the court’s finding of probable cause, he added.
The court rejected the prosecution’s plea to amend the plunder charge. “The additional modifications do not alter the prosecution’s theory of the case so as to cause surprise to the accused and affect the form of defense he has or will assume,” it said.
Napoles filed a Joint Motion to Quash Information with Urgent Motion to Recall Warrant of Arrest that she lodged with John Raymund de Asis.
Napoles—the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scam—mirrored her defense in the P224- million plunder case leveled against her and Revilla by claiming that she merely lent cash advances to the senator.
When asked why Revilla and Cambe were not wearing detainees’ uniforms at the arraignment, Chief Supt. Reuben Thedore Sindac, also PNP spokesman, said the two are prominent personalities who are easily identifiable, and are not prone to escape.
Revilla and Cambe also needed to be presentable in court, Sindac added.
They were not handcuffed because they surrendered and that means they have no intention of escaping, the PNP spokesman said.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND ANTHONY VARGAS