Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. will be arraigned today for plunder at the Sandiganbayan First Division along with Janet Lim-Napoles and the other co-accused.
Revilla is accused of amassing P224 million in kickbacks by diverting his pork barrel funds to bogus projects. He also faces 11 counts of graft.
Strict security measures will be implemented because the anti-graft court expects a big crowd. Limited seats were allotted to the media inside the courtroom. Reporters are barred from bringing cellular phones, recorders and other electronic gadgets to ensure that there will be no live media coverage.
But Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and three employees of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)—Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare—asked the court to defer their arraignment, maintaining that there is no probable cause to charge them.
Relampagos and the three employees each posted P240,000 bail for 16 counts of graft last Friday.
Witness Benhur Luy alleged that they were Janet Lim-Napoles’ contacts at the DBM who allegedly expedited the release of Special Allotment Release Orders (Saros).
But they claimed that Saros are prepared by DBM bureaus, not Relampagos’ office and there was no undue haste in the signing of five Saros.
“Signing a Saro is not a crime. Neither is entertaining persons following up the release of a Saro,” the accused said.
“On second hard look, there exists no probable cause to indict accused-movants as to justify the warrant of arrest against them, let alone their arraignment,” they added.
The other accused are Richard Cambe, Revilla’s former chief of staff who also surrendered last Friday; Napoles’ brother John Raymund Lim and driver Raymund de Asis; Technology Resource Center executives Antonio Ortiz, Dennis Cunanan, Francisco Figura, Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana, Marivic Jover and Consuelo Espiritu; National Livelihood Development Corp. officers Gondelina Amata, Emmanuel Sevidal, Ofelia Ordoñez, Sofia Cruz, Chita Jalandoni and Gregoria Buenaventura; National Agribusiness Corp. officials Allan Javellana, Rhodora Mendoza, Encarnita Munsod, Maria Villaralvo-Johnson, Victor Cacal and Maria Guanizo; Napoles employees Jocelyn Piorato, Evelyn de Leon, Myla Ogerio, Eulogio Rodriguez, Laarni Uy and Evelyn Sucgang.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s arraignment was set for Monday.
On Wednesday, the prosecution asked the Sandiganbayan to admit an amended plunder charge against Revilla.
It also recommended amendment of the criminal complaint filed against senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.
Although government lawyers found the plunder charge sheets sufficient in form and substance, they deemed it wise to amend them “to minimize, if not obviate, objections thereto by certain accused which may cause undue delay in the proceedings.”
On Tuesday, the defense filed a motion to quash the plunder complaint against Napoles, Lim and de Asis.
Napoles’ counsel, Stephen David, argued that the facts charged in the information do not constitute a violation of the plunder law.
He said the conspiracy alleged in the charges was geared toward helping Napoles, a private individual, not any of the accused public officers, amass ill-gotten wealth.
Prosecutors recommended that the introductory paragraph be rephrased to emphasize that Revilla was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in conspiracy with his co-accused.
The phrase at the end of paragraph (a), “thus enabling Napoles to misappropriate the PDAF proceeds for her personal gain,” was deleted.
Paragraph (a) of the amended plunder Information alleged that the amassing of ill-gotten wealth was committed “by repeatedly receiving or collecting, directly or indirectly, from Napoles and/or her representatives Lim, de Asis and others, kickbacks, percentage or commissions under the following circumstances: before, during and/or after the project identification, Napoles gave, and Revilla Jr. and/or Cambe received or collected, a percentage of the cost of a project to be funded from Revilla Jr.’s Priority Development
Assistance Fund (PDAF), in consideration of Revilla Jr.’s endorsement, directly or through Cambe, to the appropriate government agencies, of Napoles’ non-government organizations which became the recipients and/or target implementors of Revilla Jr.’s PDAF projects, which duly-funded projects turned out to be ghosts or fictitious and/or anomalous;”
In paragraph (b), it was specified that Revilla used his influence “by exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorably act on his endorsements of the NGOs [non-government organizations] of Napoles to ensure that his PDAF be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts.”
“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.”