Whistle-blowers to take witness stand vs Bong, Janet

By Michael Punongbayan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 17 2014 04:20 AM | Updated as of Jul 17 2014 12:20 PM

MANILA - Ombudsman prosecutors will fire their big guns today with the principal whistle-blowers taking the witness stand against Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., his former chief of staff Richard Cambe and alleged pork barrel fund scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles at the Sandiganbayan.

Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas, Mary Arlene Baltazar and Simonette Briones are scheduled to be presented as prosecution witnesses before the anti-graft court’s First Division headed by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz.

Security at the Sandiganbayan is again expected to be tight since the whistle-blowers are under the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Ombudsman lawyers handling the plunder and graft charges against Revilla, Cambe and Napoles are led by acting Director Joefferson Toribio, who vowed to put Luy and his group on the witness stand today after being dared by defense lawyers to lay their best cards on the table for the bail hearings.

The Sandiganbayan also directed government prosecutors to do so last week in order to speed up the process of determining whether or not there is strong evidence that would justify the denial of bail to the accused.

Luy and other whistle-blowers exposed the pork barrel scam where the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of senators and congressmen was funneled to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) controlled by Napoles.

Revilla and fellow Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada were probed and eventually indicted for plunder and graft for allegedly receiving kickbacks or commissions from ghost projects handled by the Napoles NGOs.

Defense lawyers who challenged the Office of the Ombudsman to have Luy, Sula and Suñas testify earlier expressed readiness to confront the witnesses. Revilla, Cambe, Napoles, Estrada, Enrile and the latter’s former chief of staff Jessica “Gigi” Reyes have all been arraigned by three separate Sandiganbayan divisions.

The closure of the Sandiganbayan’s offices due to Typhoon Glenda did not disrupt the anti-graft court’s hearings on the pork barrel scam cases.

No scheduled motion hearings were suspended since none were scheduled by the First, Third and Fifth Divisions where Senators Revilla, Enrile and Estrada are respectively facing charges.

Lawyer Stephen David, lawyer of Napoles, said only some pre-marking of documents were supposed to be carried out yesterday.

The Sandiganbayan has been conducting motion and bail hearings almost everyday since the Office of the Ombudsman indicted the three senators and a number of other respondents in the plunder and graft charges last month.