The Supreme Court has allowed the Sandiganbayan to continue its trial of former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who is charged with plunder for diverting P224.5 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus foundations of coaccused Janet Lim Napoles.
The PDAF, a pork barrel that finances pet projects of senators and members of the House of Representatives, was a source of kickbacks for lawmakers until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in November 2013.
The high court voted 13-1 with one abstention to deny Revilla’s appeal to stop the trial for lack of probable cause, according to at least two Supreme Court insiders. Revilla filed his plea more than two years ago.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco was the lone dissenter. Associate Justice Francis Jardaleza inhibited himself from the case as he was still serving as solicitor general two months before the arrest of Revilla. Jardaleza was appointed to the high court in August 2014.
Revilla, the first senator to be charged with plunder in the pork barrel case, has been detained at Unit One of the Philippine National Police Custodial Center since June 20, 2014.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, filed on April 2014, Revilla, through his former lawyer Joel Bodegon, said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales committed grave abuse of discretion when she signed a resolution finding probable cause to charge him with plunder.
Revilla’s camp claimed that the senator, whose term ended in June this year, did not get copies of the complaint.
“The Ombudsman violated Senator Revilla’s fundamental constitutional rights to due process and to confront the accusations against him. Such rights are not mere rights ‘he believed in’ but are rights that are guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution,” Revilla’s pleading stated.
Revilla argued that the Ombudsman had no basis to charge him with plunder. He cited the case of former President Joseph Estrada in which the antigraft court said that a public officer could be held liable for plunder if it could be shown that he amassed ill-gotten wealth worth at least P50 million.
“Indeed, the assailed resolutions do not even have a proof that Senator Revilla has the qualifying amount of P50 million in his possession or in his bank account, much less proof that any money that is in his possession has been acquired unlawfully,” the petition said.
Revilla also claimed that his signatures on the documents were forged.
After more than a year of trial, the Sandiganbayan, in its ruling denying Revilla’s appeal for bail, said the prosecution had “strongly proven” that Revilla and his former chief of staff and coaccused, Richard Cambe, had pocketed P103 million of the P224.5 million in pork barrel they plundered “willfully, unlawfully, and criminally.”
Before the Supreme Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional, each senator was allotted P200 million and each representative, P70 million.