Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has refuted allegations by some lawmakers that the former Aquino administration has resorted to political persecution when it filed plunder charges against former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
De Lima, former justice secretary, maintained that the case build-up against Revilla and then Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada in relation to the pork barrel scam was backed by well-documented evidence and credible witnesses.
“Reveling over the acquittal of former Sen. Bong Revilla, sympathetic lawmakers, past and present, including those also charged in other pending PDAF Scam plunder and graft cases, cry political persecution from the previous administration,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 433.
“I don’t know what their definition of political persecution is. In the case build-up versus Enrile, Estrada, Revilla et al. as an offshoot of Benhur Luy’s illegal detention and rescue, no evidence was fabricated,” she added.
After four years of detention, the Sandiganbayan Special First Division cleared Revilla from receiving P224.5 million worth of kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or popularly referred to as congressional pork barrel.
Revilla, along with Enrile and Estrada and other lawmakers were accused of receiving kickbacks from pork barrel scam mastermind and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles in exchange for channelling their PDAF allocations to bogus non-government organizations.
It may be recalled that it was during her term as Justice Secretary that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) conducted investigation that led to the filing of charges against the three former senators who are now all enjoying their freedom.
De Lima noted there was no reason to file a case against the three former senators and others, other than the fact that evidence of their PDAF misuse was so blatant to be ignored by the Aquino administration. Those filed against other lawmakers are now ongoing various stages of trial, with a few still under preliminary investigation.
“Evidence was well documented coming from official government documents like those from COA and DBM. The paper trail was established, backed up by credible testimonies of Benhur Luy and other whistleblowers. No witness was ever coerced, pressured or threatened,” she said.
“Their prosecution also went through an independent investigation of the Ombudsman, not only of the NBI and the DOJ,” she added.
The lady Senator from Bicol pointed out that the fact that the international community and world leaders opted not to act in solidarity with Revilla, Estrada and Enrile further weakens their claims of persecution.
“If indeed these powerful personalities were victims of political persecution, how come global institutions, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and even the European Parliament and UN bodies, never took the cudgels for them or acted in solidarity with them?” she asked.
“Simple. These organizations know what is and what is not persecution,” she said.
As the first prominent political prisoner under the Duterte regime, De Lima continues to gain support from international groups and human rights community, such as the IPU, HRW, AI, European Parliament, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights Council and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, among others.
Just recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for De Lima’s immediate release and referred her case to three special rapporteurs to investigate the violations committed against her as a senator and a human rights defender.