MANILA — The prosecution’s failure to prove where Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.’s family’s supposed unexplained bank deposits came from was key to his acquittal in the plunder and graft charges against him, his lawyer Ramon Esguerra said Tuesday.
Speaking to ANC’s Rundown, Esguerra said the prosecution failed to establish that Revilla received kickbacks from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), despite the report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council showing P87 million in deposits entering his family’s bank accounts from 2006 to 2010.
The deposits supposedly fell on dates within 30 days from dates mentioned in whistleblower Benhur Luy’s ledger when Revilla, through his aide Richard Cambe, allegedly received commissions or rebates to his PDAF in cash.
“[T]he AMLC report is rather short — meaning — it did not serve its purpose. It only listed what you call deposits made over time, and they made the conclusion that the deposits were made at about the same time that there were transactions involving PDAF. They made a 'one plus one', 'ok, this is it, this is the booty'… the product of their conspiracy,” he said.
“But they could have gone more. Where is the SALN? Will those amounts in the report of AMLC correspond to the SALN that had been filed by the senator and even by the wife, who was also a government official? That’s the issue. And they did not do so. What I am saying [is], they fell short of really closing that particular issue of fact in the trial of the case,” he added.
Revilla was accused of conspiring with his now-deceased aide Cambe, and pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles, in diverting millions in PDAF to the latter's bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange supposedly for a 50 percent kickback from the projects.
He was acquitted in December 2018 after the Sandiganbayan First Division found no single direct evidence to establish he received the rebate, commission or kickback from his PDAF projects, and that circumstantial evidence were not enough to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
In a resolution dated July 1 but released Monday, the Sandiganbayan Special First Division also junked 16 counts of graft charges against Revilla by granting his demurrer to evidence, essentially a motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of evidence presented by the prosecution.
The ruling was penned by Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, concurred in by Justices Rafael Lagos and Edgardo Caldona, while Justices Efren dela Cruz and Bayani Jacinto dissented.
In his dissent, Dela Cruz said there were sufficient evidence to convict Revilla, just as he had said in his dissent to the ruling junking the plunder charge against the senator.
Dela Cruz cited the AMLC report, which also showed that a company controlled by Revilla’s wife, Lani Mercado, recorded deposits of about P28 million even when it was not operating and later received a deposit of P16 million from the Revilla couple.
He also said Revilla himself admitted and confirmed to the Commission on Audit the signatures in some 68 documents.
Revilla was acquitted of plunder due to variance in his supposed signatures, based on the Sandiganbayan justices’ own physical examination of the senator’s alleged signatures.
In addition, Dela Cruz said it was against human nature for Revilla to continue employing Cambe even if the latter did not turn over to him his rebates/commission amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos.
“A criminal scheme so complex in nature, such as in these cases, would reveal that the accused carefully orchestrated the same that evidently, no direct proof linking some of them to the crime scene will be available. However, this does not impede this Court to ascertain the involvement of the accused through circumstantial evidence,” he said.
But Esguerra rejected Dela Cruz’s view.
“The confirmation simply says ‘they appear,’ he did not say they are my signatures. ‘They appear.’ You know, you’re talking here of so many endorsements. So we do not want to go into detail of which endorsements were confirmed by the senator as they appear to be my signature. But he did not say they are my signatures. That’s two different things,” he told ANC regarding supposed signatures of Revilla in some documents.
Esguerra also stressed the Revillas were under no obligation to explain their wealth.
“They are not bound. Remember that at the point that the good senator filed his demurrer to evidence, the prosecution has just rested. And that is the basis really of demurrer to evidence - that the evidence is insufficient to have him convicted of the charges under RA 3019. And you remember the burden, the burden of proving that one is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, is upon the prosecution,” he said.
“So that’s where, as I said, the prosecution fell short. They should have put in additional evidence to show that this income or incomes reported, deposits made in the banks could not have been sourced from their ordinary or regular sources of income, their salaries, allowances, from being public officials or from their businesses. But nothing. That’s where the prosecution stopped eh. The prosecution, after presenting the AMLC report, that’s it. They should have gone further,” he explained.
Esguerra faulted the prosecution for the fate of the graft and plunder charges against Revilla.
“It was not really a blunder. But it was, to me, a neglect on the part of the prosecution to close that particular piece of evidence. There is no conclusion that you can derive from it other than, 'ok, there were deposits made or found', but what are they? Are they the very kickbacks that Mr. Revilla or the senator received from Napoles? Walang dikit. Hindi naidikit. That’s my point there,” he said.
Aside from the failure to prove that Revilla received kickbacks, the anti-graft court also held that Revilla’s endorsements of PDAF funds to NGOs were merely recommendatory and that he could no longer be separately charged with graft since the same acts were the bases for the plunder charge against him.
The same court upheld the graft charges against Napoles while it dropped the case against Cambe due to his death in April this year.
Before he died, Cambe was able to issue a statement, through his lawyer, in January this year, which Dela Cruz quoted in his dissent.
“What am I, alone in the jail right now? I don’t have money, even the AMLC doesn’t have —(paused)—no evidence that I have ill-gotten wealth, that I have accumulated ill-gotten wealth during my stay in the government. I don’t have ill-gotten wealth, Your Honors. I don’t have money. I even gave my statement of assets and liabilities for them to investigate, but no, they are not interested,” he wrote.
Cambe, who was convicted for supposedly amassing P224 million in kickbacks from the pork barrel scam, died of stroke in a public hospital while serving his sentence at the New Bilibid Prison.