MANILA - Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has called the recent Sandiganbayan decision acquitting former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. a “legal abomination.”
In a speech during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Baguio City on Monday, Sereno described the decision as a “dagger stroke to the heart of justice.”
“[T]he very sad episode in this nation’s history, when we all heard the decision of the Sandiganbayan a few days ago acquitting Senator Bong Revilla of the charge of plunder that encapsulates the most recent legal abomination that has been created in the last two years. It is a dagger stroke to the heart of justice,” she said before citing extensively the dissenting opinions of Sandiganbayan associate justices Efren de la Cruz and Ma. Theresa Gomez-Estoesta.
The Sandiganbayan Special First Division by a vote of 3-2 acquitted Revilla of plunder Friday, even as it found businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and Revilla’s staff, Richard Cambe, guilty. They were both sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
The majority opinion said not a single direct evidence was presented to prove that Revilla received any rebate, commission or kickback from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
The scam made use of bogus NGOs allegedly to funnel PDAF funds to legislators, Napoles and her cohorts.
The majority opinion also said the pieces of circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution were not enough to prove Revilla’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
“If direct evidence is insisted on under all circumstance, the prosecution of vicious felons who committed heinous crimes in secret or secluded places will be hard, if not impossible, to prove,” de la Cruz said.
De la Cruz argued that it would have been impossible for Revilla not to know the elaborate scheme of Napoles and Cambe because the two needed him to gain access to the money. It is “ludicrous,” he said, if Revilla allowed Napoles and Cambe alone to benefit from the funds.
For her part, Gomez-Estoesta faulted the majority decision for accepting Revilla’s defense of denial based on forgery. Revilla had claimed his signatures in the indorsement letters were forged, which was accepted by the majority opinion.
“Ipinakita po noong dalawang hukom kung gaano ka-imposible na hindi alam ni Ginoong Revilla ang pagdedeposito ng 124 million sa kaniyang account na kumbaga si Cambe lang po at Napoles ay nagkuntsaba para ideposito yung pera nang hindi alam ni Ginoong Revilla. Medyo mahirap po yung paniwalaan,” she said in an interview with reporters after her speech.
“Kung it defies all human logic, then it’s grave abuse of discretion,” Sereno said, referring to a possible mode of seeking the reversal of the decision acquitting Revilla through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
THE LINK BETWEEN ECONG, SERENO
The Sandiganbayan majority opinion was penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, who was once accused of being Sereno’s favorite in the impeachment complaint filed against the former chief justice before the House of Representatives.
Sereno was accused of unilaterally creating the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) and designating Econg as head, a move opposed by then-Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro.
In her testimony before the House justice committee in February, Econg denied she was Sereno’s favorite. She claimed she was in fact treated unfairly by Sereno when she was transferred several times during her tenure at the high court prior to being appointed to the anti-graft court.
In May, Sereno was removed as chief justice through a Supreme Court decision granting the quo warranto petition which questioned her appointment due to her non-submission of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
She vaguely referred to her ouster in her speech in Baguio.
“The corrupt are set free, and those who point out the errors of the President are jailed or threatened. One cannot escape the fact that it is the poor, the defenders of the poor, or those actively calling for observance of the rule of law by government, that are being targeted - not only in police operations, but also in police investigations, fiscals’ preliminary investigations, court filings, warrants of arrest, conviction, and finally adverse court decisions,” she said.
“If those who are supposed to be protected by the law are its victims, then what else will you call law if not an instrument of injustice? When law becomes the instrument of injustice, what is the recourse of the people?,” she asked.
'UNJUST' WAR ON DRUGS
In the same speech, Sereno criticized the government’s war on drugs.
“[T]here are two things that characterize the manner by which the war against drugs is being conducted – its harshness and its injustice. And because of this harshness and injustice, I will call it an ‘unjust war on drugs.’ And because it is unjust, it is already evil,” she said.
Sereno said she believes the public support for the government’s anti-drug war is not support for the rising number of unresolved violent deaths but a product of then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s successful campaign of labeling drugs as a major problem and the perception that the government is finally addressing it.
But she warned the courts, including the SC, have “increasingly shown marked disapproval for the disregard of rule of law in the conduct of the ‘war on drugs,’” citing recent court decisions on Oplan Tokhang.
“In the face of so much injustice, I call on the people to unite in prayer. Indeed, when the very weapons that taxpayers money purchase for the armed forces and the police are being turned by government against the people, when the intelligence funds of government are used to hound dissent and oppress political enemies, when corruption funds the campaigns of plunderers who are allowed to go free by an unreasoned court decision, then the people must turn to God, and call out for help amidst such despair,” she said.
“To disregard the evil that is happening amidst us is to encourage evil. We must fight it at all fronts, by using all legal means to fight not only corruption but all the manifestations of corrupted hearts in government…We must awaken the consciences of our people. We must let our voices be heard; we must not let our nation lose its soul,” she added.