Getting away with plunder
The news of former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.’s acquittal in the plunder case that accused him of pocketing P224 million in kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund PDAF is not just an unpopular decision but a painful determination of the case that people thought had all the elements to prove the widespread abuse of the pork barrel funds.
Since 2008, the annual PDAF allocation of senators is P200 million while congressmen have access to P70 million in discretionary funds. Bong Revilla served for two consecutive terms during the 14th and 15th Congress (2004 – 2010, 2010 – 2016).
It was in July 2013 when Benhur Luy came forward to expose the pork barrel scam perpetrated by his relative, Janet Lim Napoles allegedly in conspiracy with certain senators and congressmen. Luy’s initial disclosures pointed only to the 2004 fertilizer fund scam but as his revelations deconstructed the plot to steal government money through the lawmakers’ PDAF, the National Bureau of Investigation cast a wide net into the bogus foundations ran by Mrs. Napoles and her operations from 2003 to 2013.
In the course of 10 years, it was reported that the government lost some P10 billion in taxpayers money funneled to bogus foundations. The endorsement of lawmakers opened the gate and bribes were eventually transferred to participating congressmen and senators including certain local government officials and government agencies.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer widely covered Luy’s shocking expose in July 2013. The senators identified by the media report included Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bongbong Marcos and Gregorio Honasan. Revilla came out on top of the heap having funneled P1.015 billion of his PDAF funds to JLN Group of Companies.
The Commission on Audit did a parallel investigation into the abuse of legislative pork barrel. On August 16, 2013, the COA released the results of a three-year probe and practically affirmed the Inquirer expose.
In fact, the COA findings pointed to 12 senators and 180 congressmen being privy to the misuse of their PDAF funds between 2007 and 2009 during which some P6.156 billion were lost to corruption. The COA report also cited the involvement of 82 organizations in the highly irregular implementation of PDAF projects. Of the 82 NGOs, 10 are linked to Mrs. Napoles.
Benhur Luy had kept a ledger of transactions with the office of then Senator Bong Revilla through his chief of staff Atty. Richard Cambe who signed various documents in behalf of his principal. From the Napoles-controlled JLN group of companies, kickbacks amounting to P224.5 million were transferred to Sen. Revilla through Atty. Cambe according to Benhur Luy.
This went on for long periods without the lawmaker noticing his chief of staff had piled up hundreds of millions of pesos, according to the Sandiganbayan.
That is supposedly the crux of the anti-graft ruling: Bong Revilla could have pocketed the kickbacks but it is also possible that he did not. The prosecution was unable to point to any overt act on Revilla’s part to prove his participation in the PDAF scam. Such an overt act would have been the evidence beyond reasonable doubt and nail a conviction.
In sum, the majority who voted for acquittal practically believed that Bong Revilla did not know his PDAF was being stolen by his chief of staff who conspired with a woman who ran a bogus network of NGOs and that this happened under his nose for at least five years from 2008 to 2013.
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