The Philippine anti-corruption court has cleared former senator Revilla of plunder in connection with the ‘pork barrel’ fund scam.
The Sandiganbayan Special First Division today (Friday, December 7) acquitted Ramon “Bong” Revilla in connection with his alleged involvement in the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund.
At the same time, the court found businesswoman Janet Napoles and Revilla’s former chief of staff, Richard Cambe, guilty of plunder.
Cambe and Napoles were both sentenced to ‘reclusion perpetua’ or life in prison.
“For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Revilla received, directly or indirectly, the rebates, commission, and kickbacks from his PDAF, the Court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder,” the court’s 186-page decision read.
Cambe and Napoles were also “held solidarily and jointly liable” to return 124.5 million pesos to the national treasury.
After being cleared of plunder, Revilla immediately posted a 480,000-peso bail for 16 counts of graft that are yet to be heard by the court.
After being checked out of the Camp Crame police headquarters — where he has been jailed for four years — he was free to return to his home town of Cavite, where he received a rapturous welcome from his friends and supporters.
His lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, described Revilla’s acquittal was “God’s will.” He refused to comment on what convinced the judges to vote for Revilla’s acquittal.
His close friend, former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who is also charged with plunder, was present at the hearing. He expressed hope that the acquittal would mean that he and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile would also be cleared of their plunder charges. Both former senators have previously been allowed to post bail.
In the decision, the justices stated that they were “unanimous” in their conclusion that Cambe and Napoles were “guilty as charged”.
“However, the majority of us harbour serious doubts as to the culpability of Revilla beyond reasonable doubt,” they said.
The decision has provoked widespread criticism, with many suggesting that Cambe and Napoles could not possibly have conducted the fraud without Revilla’s participation. Former President Benigno Aquino, for example, said that the decision was not only “confusing” but impossible to explain. “I am glad it is not my job to explain the unexplainable,” he said.
For some brief background on the ‘pork barrel’ case, read this primer by the Inquirer.
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