Questions being asked about Bong Revilla’s acquittal

December 7, 2018 - 1:53 PM
Bong Revilla Jr.
Former senator Bong Revilla Jr. during trial. ( photo)

The Sandiganbayan’s decision to acquit former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. from plunder charges arising from the pork barrel scam was questioned by a number of legal experts.

The first division of the anti-graft court voting 3-2 cleared the action star-turned-lawmaker from charges stemming from accusations that he received P224.5 million in kickbacks for allocating his Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel to fake foundations owned by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

Napoles and another co-accused Revilla’s former chief-of-staff Richard Cambe however were convicted. They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or imprisonment of 20 to 40 years.

Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg, Edgardo Caldona and Georgina Dumpit-Hidalgo voted for Revilla’s acquittal while associate justices Efren de la Cruz and Ma. Theresa Gomez Estoesta voted for his conviction.

The prosecution had failed to prove Revilla’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, according to the Sandiganbayan decision released on Friday.

Although he was not found criminally liable, the court ruled that Revilla was solidarity liable for the payment of P124 million with his co-accused.

Although he was not found criminally liable, the court ruled that Revilla was solidarity liable for the payment of P124 million with his co-accused.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires, whose office filed the case back in 2014, said they will not be appealing the case on account of the doctrine in law that losses or judgement of acquittal cannot be appealed.

Prior to the release of the full text of the decision, the court’s order to pay the P124 million raised questions even among legal practitioners. Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te in a tweet said that it was possible that lack of evidence to prove the criminal aspect of the charges against Revilla beyond reasonable doubt, as required by law, was the reason he was ordered to return the money despite his acquittal.

Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, also a lawyer, in a statement to the media also said that he was confused by the decision, asking why Napoles and Cambe were convicted when Revilla was acquitted and why he was still asked to return the P124 million when he was already cleared of criminal liability.

Jarring chapter in PDAF controversy

The PDAF scam which broke out in 2013 was considered one of the biggest controversies surrounding accusations of corruption in the government. Benhur Luy, a second-cousin and former personal assistant of Napoles, accused the businesswoman of helping a number of lawmakers by funneling funds from their PDAF or pork barrel into “ghost projects” implemented by her companies. The money would then be misused by Napoles and the accused legislators.

Charges were filed against Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, the three senators accused of benefiting most from the alleged scam, leading to their later arrest.

In June 2018, one of the major witnesses in the case backtracked and said that she never personally saw Revilla receive money from Napoles.

Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code holds that the finding of criminal liability for a felony also comes with civil liability.

The second paragraph of Rule 120, Section 4 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure meanwhile states that “the judgment shall determine if the act or omission from which the civil liability might arise did not exist.”

Civil liability as opposed to criminal liability can be proven by mere preponderance—or the convincing existence—of evidence.

Even the lawyer of the former accused has questions about the decision.

Questions even from Bong Revilla’s camp

Lead counsel Ramon Esguerra said that his team will be appealing the order to return the money as Revilla should not be civilly liable as he was already cleared of criminal liability.

The 386-page decision did not categorically state who among the accused was found civilly liable, according to media reports.

The Sandiganbayan has not commented about the confusion on the dispositive portion as of this writing.

Former senator Enrile, another ex-lawmaker tagged in the case, is still stuck in the pre-trial level in his case.

Revilla is a candidate in the May 2019 senatorial race.