The Sandiganbayan’s decision acquitting former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. over plunder charges sends the wrong signal that public officials would hardly be made accountable for misusing funds, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima said.
In her Dispatch from Crame No. 432, De Lima said Revilla’s acquittal now made it appear that lawmakers and other government officials are no longer responsible for how they use public funds even if it ends up being plundered.
“We will remain perplexed at this strange outcome of the judgment in Revilla’s plunder case. But with Revilla’s exoneration and the near impossibility of recovering what was plundered, we can all say goodbye to deterrence of plunderous proclivities among certain lawmakers and other government officials, she said.
“Under this administration, what is now patently evident is that the corrupt and big plunderers are set free, while critics are targeted and charged with fabricated accusations, and mere suspects are gunned down in broad daylight,” she added.
Last Dec. 7, the Sandiganbayan Special First Division cleared Revilla from plunder charges for misusing his congressional development fund. It however found guilty his two co-accused, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and Revilla’s former staff Richard Cambe.
In 2013, the Aquino administration investigated the so-called the multi-million pork barrel scam and filed plunder charges against then Senators Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada – all of whom are now out of jail. Some other lawmakers were also investigated and charged.
If the trend of not holding government officials accountable for their misuse of public funds continues, the lady Senator from Bicol pointed out that all senators and congressmen awaiting trial and judgment at the Sandiganbayan “can rest easy.”
“They will always have their chiefs-of-staff and Napoles to blame for hoodwinking them into giving away their PDAF, without any accountability on their part. And ‘forged’ signatures would now be a favorite defense,” she said.
The former justice secretary said she finds it incredulous that while Revilla is now out of jail, his two other co-accused Napoles and Cambe have been found guilty by the Sandiganbayan for the same charges.
“Let’s also ask: was the proven fact, based on AMLC reports, that numerous deposits of more than P87 million were made in Revilla’s and his family’s accounts, within a time frame which jibes with Benhur Luy’s ledgers, ever explained by the defense?,” she asked.
De Lima cited the opinions of Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, and joined by the other dissenter, Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, in questioning the reliability of the document examiner’s testimony.
“Most logical is (Associate Justice) de la Cruz’s view that assuming that the signatures were forged, it is because ‘Revilla knew and consented to the affixing of his signature on these documents’,” she pointed out.
“(But) In the end, this is also a matter of conscience. A principal being able to bear with his conscience in sacrificing a loyal and trusted aide. And justices of the anti-graft court struggling with their own,” she added.
detained on politically-motivated trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the
Duterte administration, De Lima has continued to work as chairperson of the
Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.