MANILA - Former Sen. Bong Revilla, his former staff member Richard Cambe and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles must now present evidence in their plunder trial at the Sandiganbayan 1st division in connection with the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
This after the court denied their motion for leave to file a demurrer to evidence, a legal recourse that cites lack of prosecution evidence to seek dismissal of charges against the accused.
The court issued its ruling after 3 hours of oral arguments Thursday, where families and supporters of Revilla, Cambe and Napoles were in attendance.
Asked for comment on the ruling, a visibly disappointed Revilla said “Merry Christmas.”
The motion filed by the three accused had sought to deviate from normal court procedure, such as the presentation of defense evidence. The plea would have also enabled them to file a demurrer to evidence and prompt the dismissal of the charges.
“After considering the evidence which the court admitted, the court is of the view there is a need for the accused to present evidence,” Sandiganbayan 1st Division Chair Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz said.
Still, the anti-graft court said it is also giving the defense the option to file their demurrer to evidence within 10 days, even if their motion for leave was denied.
Revilla’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza said the senator's camp would still discuss which option to take: present defense evidence or file a demurrer.
Mendoza also said the court denied their motion as it did not want to be inconsistent with its denial of Revilla's bail petition.
Of the three former senators on trial for plunder for their alleged role in the PDAF scam, only Revilla remains detained. Former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada was released on bail in September, while former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was granted bail in August 2015.
Mendoza again asserted that the prosecution failed to prove allegations that Revilla had pocketed P224.5 million in kickbacks from supposed disbursements of his PDAF to Napoles' bogus non-government organizations.
“Sinasabi ko lang malakas 'yung aking sinabi, pinaninindigan ko na walang ebidensya na tumanggap si Bong ni piso sa P224 million na sinasabi,” Mendoza said.
During the oral arguments, the prosecution maintained there was enough evidence presented, through whistle blowers such as Benhur Luy, to prove that Revilla got kickbacks through Cambe.
Office of the Special Prosecutor Director Manuel Soriano even challenged Revilla to take the witness stand to dispute the allegations.