MANILA (UPDATED) - Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. surrendered to the Sandiganbayan Friday morning after being slapped with graft and plunder charges for alleged misuse of public funds.
"I am innocent of the charges. I am just a victim of dirty politics," he said in an interview before his surrender.
It was a long journey to surrender for Revilla, who first made his name as an action star before turning his eye on politics.
On Friday, Revilla's supporters in Cavite held mass and prayed for the senator before his surrender.
Revilla and his family also stopped by St. Michael's Parish in Bacoor before proceeding to the Sandiganbayan.
Revilla said he decided to surrender to the anti-graft court to spare his family the spectacle of his arrest. This is after the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant Friday morning.
Revilla, a former governor of Cavite, is one of three opposition senators tagged in the so-called P10 billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles. He is accused of amassing P242 million from his priority development assistance funds.
The senator has denied the charges, saying he does not need to steal public funds.
"I can get the money from my own films. My movies are always number one or number two," he said in an ANC interview.
He blamed a "syndicate" in government, involving officials of implementing agencies and the Commission on Audit, for perpetrating the scam.
Revilla, however, earlier admitted that the Revillas and the Napoleses know each other and sometimes meet in social gatherings.
Revilla said his son, Leonard Bryan Bautista, and one of Napoles’ children, James Christopher Napoles, met in high school and eventually became business partners.
The two sold imported rubber shoes under the PB & J Corporation.
Revilla said the business was legitimate.
In the ANC interview, the senator criticized President Aquino for hitting his family and making him a target.
He said the President told Cavite voters during the last election not to believe in "anting-anting" (magic amulets), in possible reference to Revilla's action roles where he wears amulets.
At that time, Revilla's son, Jolo, was running for vice-governor against Jay Lacson, son of Panfilo Lacson.
Revilla said the persecution did not let up after his son won the election.
"Parang bangungot na para sa aming pamilya e...Para kang sinasaksak ng sibat sa lalamunan mo na di ka mamatay-matay tapos unti-unti kang tinatalupan," he told ANC.
Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. arrives at the Sandiganbayan under heavy security. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBNnews.com
FIRST TO BE DETAINED
Revilla is the first politician detained over a massive corruption scandal that has rocked the nation, with two of his colleagues set to follow.
One of the other senators who has been indicted and facing arrest is Juan Ponce Enrile, a 90-year-old politician famous for his cunning who was defense minister during dictator Ferdinand Marcos's martial law regime.
The other is Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, the son of former president Joseph Estrada who was toppled in 2001 in a popular uprising triggered by his plundering of government coffers while in office.
All three senators have protested their innocence, insisting they were targeted simply because they were members of the political opposition.
But President Benigno Aquino'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 AFP.
"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.
De Lima said she expected arrest warrants issued against Estrada and Enrile by next week.
The case exploded last year when businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles was accused of conniving with senators and congressmen in embezzling an estimated 10 billion pesos ($230 million dollars) in "pork barrel" funds allocated for development projects.
Napoles has also been detained, and Aquino's government has said many other politicians are expected to be charged.
Aquino won the presidency in 2010 on a promise to end deep-seated corruption in the Philippines.
Aquino had succeeded in having corruption charges filed against his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.
She has been detained since October 2012 while being tried for charges unrelated to the "pork barrel" scam, but the case is expected to take many years. With Agence France-Presse