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Sandigan acquits Revilla of plunder

FORMER Sen. Ramon ‘Bong’ B. Revilla Jr. reacts after hearing the decision of the Sandiganbayan acquitting him of plunder in connection with the ‘pork barrel’ fund scam yesterday. (Mark Balmores)

FORMER Sen. Ramon ‘Bong’ B. Revilla Jr. reacts after hearing the decision of the Sandiganbayan acquitting him of plunder in connection with the ‘pork barrel’ fund scam. (Mark Balmores)

The Sandiganbayan Special First Division on Friday acquitted former Sen. Ramon “Bong” B. Revilla Jr. of plunder in connection with his alleged involvement in the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund or “pork barrel” fund scam.

On the other hand, the anti-graft court found businesswoman Janet L. Napoles and Revilla’s former chief of staff, Richard Cambe, guilty of plunder.

Cambe and Napoles were sentenced to reclusion perpetua with perpetual absolute disqualification from holding any public office.

“For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Revilla received, directly or indirectly, the rebates, commission, and kickbacks from his PDAF, the Court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder,” the dispositive portion of the decision said.

Cambe and Napoles were also “held solidarily and jointly liable” to return P124.5 million to the national treasury pursuant to Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code.

The 186-page decision did not state who among them should pay, but according to the law, only those who are criminally liable in the case should be held civilly liable. Since Revilla is not criminally liable, his lawyers have claimed that he is not required to pay.

After being cleared of plunder, Revilla immediately posted a P480,000 bail for the 16 counts of graft before the Clerk of Court of the Sandiganbayan First Division.

He then proceeded to Camp Crame in Quezon City to finalize his release. Revilla had been detained at the Custodial Center there prior to his acquittal.

“Maraming salamat sa hustisya. Maraming salamat sa mga kababayan ko,” Revilla said before being escorted away.

His lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, said that Revilla’s acquittal is “God’s will.” He refused to comment on what convinced the judges to vote for Revilla’s acquittal, but in his personal opinion, “there is no evidence to indict him.”

Revilla was accompanied during the promulgation by his  wife, Bacoor City, Cavite Mayor Lani Mercado and children Jolo Revilla, Bryan Revilla, Viktoria Gianna Bautista, Franzel Loudette Bautista, and Luigi Revilla.

Revilla had his head bowed down while his decision was being read. After, he turned around, hugged someone, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. His wife leaned on the wall, while Jolo appeared close to tears.

His good friend, former Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” E. Estrada, who is also charged with plunder, was also present to give his support. He clasped his hands after Revilla was acquitted.

Estrada said he hopes Revilla’s acquittal would mean that he and former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile would also be cleared of plunder charges.

The prosecution team all wore black during the promulgation as if they were anticipating defeat. Assistant Special Prosecutor Martier Delfin Santos expressed how “disappointed” they are while Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano said they will be studying their next move.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires said in a statement that Revilla’s acquittal can no longer be appealed.

“It is an elementary doctrine in law that you cannot appeal a judgment of acquittal,” he explained. “The policy is based on double jeopardy or the prohibition ‘against being twice put in jeopardy.’ This doctrine has its roots in Roman law that an ‘issue once decided cannot be tried again.'”

The First Division is comprised of chairperson Efren dela Cruz and Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona. All three of them have to reach the same conclusion for a decision to be promulgated.

Econg and Caldona voted for Revilla’s acquittal. Since Dela Cruz dissented, a special division was created with two special members from other divisions – Associate Justices Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Georgina Dumpit-Hidalgo.

Hidalgo voted for acquittal while Estoesta dissented. As a result, the majority vote, which is to acquit, won.

Econg said that she hopes the public would understand how they came to their conclusion. She knows Revilla’s acquittal is an “unpopular decision,” but they have to go by the evidence.

“I would have loved to be a heroine, that I convicted him. But at the end of the day, we are bound by evidence of the prosecution and defense,” she said.

In the decision, the justices stated that they are “unanimous” in the conclusion that Cambe and Napoles are “guilty as charged.”

“However, the majority of us harbor serious doubts as to the culpability of Revilla beyond reasonable doubt,” they said.