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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Stunning acquittal of ex-Sen. Bong Revilla---a majority decision of Sandiganbayan's five-member special division, from which the nation may not recover in a long while. As the saying goes, something's rotten and it's not in Denmark.

Former Senator Bong Revilla accepting handshakes from fans after his acquittal by Sandigan Special Division





Last Dec. 7 was a particularly bloody Friday for the Filipino people, as the majority decision  of the special division of the Sandiganbayan condemned PDAF queen Janet Lim Napoles and lawyer Richard Cambe, former Sen. Bong Revilla's staffer, for plunder, with the punishment of reclusion perpetua---virtual imprisonment for life---for having absconded with Revilla's PDAF funds during his incumbency.

Under Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, the two convicted people are "solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of P124,500,000.00," but the damning part is that this 5-member special division of the anti-graft court EXONERATED the former senator himself ---Cambe's boss---from the same plunder charge.

Concluded this special Sandiganbayan division in a 186-page decision with a 3-2 vote for Revilla's acquittal:  "For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., received directly or indirectly the rebates, commission and kickbacks from his PDAF, the court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder. Accordingly, he is acquitted."

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The special Sandigan division's decision to convict Cambe and Napoles while absolving former Sen. Revilla has rocked the nation in utter disbelief.

If a poll were taken on that very day, it would have clearly shown that no one would ever believe that Revilla's legal staffer Cambe and business-woman Janet Napoles could just siphon off all those many millions in pork barrel funds of Revilla, to form part of the P10 billion pork barrrel scam of Napoles to which various legislators' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were funneled---without the boss' participation in that scam.

This is because this PDAF scam would readily beg the question about Cambe: WHO HE?  Why would Napoles deal with Cambe when he was just a key staffer in Revilla's office. Could he really have been so free to finagle with that gargatuan PDAF amount of his boss---without Revilla's order?

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This case of the Sandiganbayan vs. Revilla is most interesting on a number of counts. One, originally the three members of the graft court's First Division---chaired by Justice Efren de la Cruz with Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona as members---took a vote on the case of the  Cambe/Napoles.  Chair De la Cruz voted to convict Revilla of plunder, whereas Econg and Caldona voted to acquit him even as they also voted to convict Cambe and Napoles of plunder.

The ruling of the Sandiganbayan, however, is that there must be a clear UNANIMOUS decision in a given division, but in the 2 vs. 1 ruling of the First Division on Revilla's conviction, this was absent.  Hence, the division was reconstituted to include two more members recruited from another Sandiganbayan division: namely, Associate Justices Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo.

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What was called for in the expanded Special Division of 5 members is a simple majority vote, and in its final 3-2 vote three justices voted to EXONERATE REVILLA BUT  CONVICT his key staffer Cambe and PDAF queen Janet Napoles.  The three justices who exonerated Revilla and doomed Cambe and Napoles were Justices Econg who penned the ponencia, Caldona and Hidalgo. Two other division members voted to convict Revilla---namely, presiding Justice De la Cruz and Justice Estoeste.

This is why former Sen. Bong Revilla is for the moment a free man---ending four years of prison confinement in Camp Crame. I don't see this, though, as a closed case, as the Supreme Court will undoubtedly weigh in on such a grievous matter.

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All the members of the new First Division had strong arguments, but by far the strongest belonged to Justice Estoeste (a woman, and women generally and arguably have stronger convictions especially about issues that affect the nation's welfare). Joining Justice de la Cruz in accusing Revilla of the crime, Justice Estoeste stressed, "The avalanche of an acquittal will soon fall, but let it not resound without the few words that hope to pierce then what is about to come."

Continued Estoeste:  "\This consequential ruin runs deep, and may eventually free a man once accused of having conspired in raiding the public treasury of hundreds of millions. His imminent freedom has dismally thrown away all evidence that once forbade of repelling the scathing tale that never before of such magnitude has been told."

There is a feeling among some lawyers and judges that the recantation of the former staffers of Janet Napoles of their testimonies against their former boss, namely Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas and Mary Anne Baltazar,  has considerably weakened the case for the prosecution. But to Justice Estoeste, this is not so, for as she put it, "The whistle-blowers' revelation of the PDAF scandal is the Pandora's box that takes it all."

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New First Division chair De la Cruz argued that fundamental to a crucial case is that the accused is entitled to an acquittal unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt. He stressed, however, that indicating proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such degree of proof as, excluding possibility of error, produces absolute certainty.  What's only required, De la Cruz argued, is moral certainty---or "that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind."

Justice De la Cruz argued that parenthetically, direct evidence is not a condition sine qua non, to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. For in the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution may resort to adducing circumstantial evidence to discharge its burden.

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In the case of the alleged absconding by Revilla's lawyer, Richard Cambe, of many millions of  his boss' PDAF---depositing it with Janet Napoles, c/o Benhur Luy, in return for generous interest on Cambe's "deposits"---what should have been fatal to the boss himself is the evidence on hand. These are the countless deposits in large amounts made ALMOST DAILY,  as testified by bank tellers, which obviously came from kickbacks from Janet Napoles, with matching dates to boot.

 As the Sandiganbayan justices query:  how could this have been done by lawyer Cambe with such regularity---without the knowledge and approval of the big boss himself?

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Another evidence presented against Revilla, as noted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was the Anti-Money Laundering Council's report starting from April 06, 2006 up to April 28, 2010, showing that members of his family made numerous deposits amounting to P87.63 million within 30 days of dates, as mentioned in Luy's ledgers. The Sandiganbayan special court, however, gave little weight to these pieces of evidence, for according to it, the fact of the deposits coming from Janet Napoles was not clearly established

This is a grand modus operandi that would be hard to match in future years, but the victim here is not just the justice system that was screwed up. IT'S THE FILIPINO PEOPLE.

 Something really stinks and it's not in Denmark.

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