MANILA - Former Senator Bong Revilla was not ordered by the Sandiganbayan to return the P124.5 million after he was acquitted of a plunder charge in relation to the funneling of his "pork barrel" into alleged ghost projects, his lawyer said Monday.
Only businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and Revilla's former chief-of-staff Richard Cambe were told to return the said amount to the National Treasury, according to Ramon Esguerra, the former lawmaker's counsel.
The last paragraph of the dispositive portion of the Sandiganbayan's decision, after saying Revilla is acquitted but Napoles and Cambe are guilty of plunder, said "pursuant to Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, accused are held solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of One Hundred Twenty-Four Million, Five Hundred Thousand Pesos."
But Esguerra said there was a "misreading" of this portion because Article 100 simply stated that "every person found criminally liable for a felony should also be held civilly liable."
"If Sen. Bong was not found criminally liable by reason of acquittal, how can he be held civilly liable?" he told ANC's Headstart.
Asked if Revilla won’t return the money, Esguerra said: "No, very clearly."
"We only need to consider what the law says, what the decision makes reference to insofar as the earlier discussion were said about his non-criminal liability and the basis is there: no criminal liability, no civil liability," he said.
The Sandiganbayan decision "did not contain a reason explaining directly the civil liability for all excused and this would have been significant because the anti-graft court did not distinguish as to who were the accused," said former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te.
"The dispositive portion, first paragraph names 2 accused. The second paragraph names one accused, and he is described as an accused even if he was acquitted. The third paragraph simply says accused," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"Given the 2 previous paragraphs, if the court wanted to distinguish it, it could have because it already did earlier. But it only said accused, well apparently it's a collective term for all three," he said.
Revilla, who is seeking to return to the Senate next year, was cleared of plunder charges due to the prosecution's "failure" to prove that he received millions in kickbacks from alleged ghost projects that were funded using his Priority Development Assistance Fund.
The Sandiganbayan promulgated its decision on Friday, about 4 years since the actor-turned-lawmaker was detained. He still has 16 graft cases pending in connection with the same alleged pork barrel scam.