SENATOR Ramon Revilla Jr.surrendered Friday to the Sandiganbayan after the court’s First Division issued a warrant of arrest on him and 32 others accused of plunder and graft in the pork barrel scam.
Revilla was accompanied by his wife, Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado; their sons and daughters and other relatives from Cavite to the anti-graft court’s office on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
Revilla arrived at the Sandiganbayan at around 11:10 a.m. and proceeded immediately to the office of acting sheriff Albert de la Cruz.
He is charged with plunder and 16 counts of graft for allegedly pocketing P224.51 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group took custody of Revilla, who was taken to his detention cell in Camp Crame.
Revilla was not handcuffed.
The Palace welcomed Revilla’s arrest, calling it “a significant step forward in the judicial process.”
With a Budget undersecretary also formally charged, the Department of Budget and Management issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to preserve the integrity of the budget process.
“Notwithstanding the Sandiganbayan’s issuance of arrest warrants for Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and his staff, we will continue to pursue budget reforms towards greater transparency and accountability, concurrent to the Aquino administration’s good governance campaign,” the statement read.
The statement did not mention allegations linking Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to the pork barrel scam.
Also issued warrants were the alleged mastermind of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles; Revilla’s former chief of staff, Richard Cambe; Ronald John Lim; John Raymond de Asis; Relampagos; Rosario Salameda Nuñez; Lalaine Narag Paule; Marilou Dialino Bare; Antonio Cortez; Dennis Cunanan; Francisco Figura; Marivic Jover; Myla Ogerio; Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana; Eulogio
Rodriguez; Laarni Uy; Consuelo Lilian Espiritu; Evelyn de Leon; Allan Javellana; Encarnita Christian Munsod; Maria Julie Villaralvo-Johnson; Evelyn Sucgang; Jocelyn Piorato; Gregorio Buenaventura; Chita Jalandoni; Sofia Cruz; Ofelia Ordonez; Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal; Rhodora Mendoza; Maria Ninez Guanizo, and Victor Roman Cacal.
First Division Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz ordered PNP chief Alan Purisima to take custody of Revilla.
An arraignment is set on June 26 at 8:30 a.m.
Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, filed a petition for bail, even though bail is not normally allowed in plunder cases, saying the evidence against him was weak.
In the petition, Bodegon said his client merely released his pork barrel to projects identified by his office, and that it was the responsibility of the implementing government agencies to oversee and execute the projects.
“Truly, apart from the bare allegations of the self-styled whistleblowers and the other respondents during the preliminary investigation, the only link of Senator Revilla to the alleged PDAF scam are the endorsement letters purportedly signed by him,” the petition read.
Bodegon maintained there was no evidence to show Revilla received the kickbacks.
At the jampacked Sandiganbayan building, a look-alike of Revilla, accompanied by a look-alike of actor Christopher de Leon, showed their support for the senator. The Revilla look-alike, Efren Valenciana, said he was ready to take the senator’s place in jail.
As early as 8 a.m., Jalandoni, one of the accused, went to the Sandiganbayan’s First Division to post bail of P30,000 for each of the seven counts of graft she faced. The court granted Jalandoni’s request to lower bail from P210,000 to P90,000.
Hours after Revilla’s surrender, Cambe also turned himself in at the Sandiganbayan.
Cunanan, Technology Resource Center director general on leave, also posted a bail of P210,000 for seven counts of graft.
Relampagos also gave himself up to Sandiganbayan and posted bail.
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, also facing plunder charges, appeared before the Third Division of the Sandiganbayan with his lawyer Estelito Mendoza for a hearing on his petition that the case not proceed, and that he be allowed to post bail.
Enrile questioned the integrity of the Office of the Ombudsman to read and fully understand all the information in the 10,000-page attachment submitted by NBI and the Justice Department, and to decide to file plunder and 15 counts of graft against him.
At the Fifth Division, Associate Justice Roland Jurado took only 10 minutes to hear and deny the motion of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, the third senator facing plunder charges, for a judicial determination of probable cause in his plunder case and 11 counts of graft.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said two of the accused – former TRC chief Antonio Ortiz and the head of a bogus non-government organization, Renato Ornopia, had already left the country.
“They left a few days before the filing of the complaint referral to the Ombudsman and have not returned since then,” De Lima said, citing records of the Bureau of Immigration.
At the time, she said, the Sandiganbayan had not yet issued a hold departure order.
De Lima said the government would take all the necessary actions to bring the two accused back to the country.
“At this point, what we can do is to find out where they went so we resort to legal actions to compel them to return,” she said.
De Lima said Cunanan, whose application to turn state witness was turned down by the Ombudsman, had met with her before he turned himself in at the anti-graft court.
He informed her that he planned to appeal the Ombudsman’s rejection of his petition.
President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, hailed the arrest of Revilla as a step forward.
“We believe that through a fair and just trial, accountability will be clearly established and in like manner, those that are innocent will be exonerated. We join the citizenry in hoping that truth and justice will prevail,” Coloma said.
He also said the serving of warrants to those indicted would not be turned into a circus.
“Our authorities will do their mandate based on the order of the court with respect to the individuals involved,” he said.
From the Sandiganbayan, Revilla arrived in Camp Crame after 1 p.m. aboard a white Toyota Innova and directly proceeded to the multi-purpose hall for booking, including mugshots and a medical checkup. He was declared fit, although his blood pressure was a bit high.
After the booking, Revilla was given some time to talk to his wife and family before he was taken to his cell. His family was allowed to accompany him on the way to the newly renovated custodial center where cells have been prepared for him, Enrile and Estrada.
Several dozens of his supporters waited outside a gymnasium adjacent to the detention cell and waved to Revilla as he passed them.
He was locked up at 3 p.m.
The leftist group Akbayan on Friday criticized the special treatment for the three senators, saying they should be treated as ordianry prisoners.
“The public must see that the brand of justice applied by the government to ordinary people is the same one enforced to the high and mighty,” said Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.
“We reiterate our call to the Sandiganbayan to reject any appeal from the accused to be accorded special treatment such as hospital and house arrests or to be transferred to a special jail facility where living conditions are better than the average household. We want them detained in regular cells, not in a condominium-like detention center,” he added.
The group also urged the Aquino government to prosecute other public officials involved in the pork barrel scam, including members of the Cabinet and the President’s allies.
Estrada said Friday he would prefer to share his detention cell with Revilla, so that they could keep each other company.
Estrada said he favored marathon hearings for a speedy trial but was against the Ombudsman’s petition for the creation of a special court to try the pork barrel cases.
“Special divisions are really designed to convict the accused,” he said.
Enrile said he was confident that the court would not issue a warrant for his arrest because the government case against him was weak.
“But you can never tell. So just in case, I will bring the book on the History of Political Theory, the book about [Nelson] Mandela and a book of poems,” said Enrile.
Among Revilla’s co-accused in the graft cases, Amata posted bail of P120,000. Cunanan and TRC chief accountant Jover also posted P120,000 in bail, as did TRC group manager Francisca Figura.
TRC budget officer Espiritu posted bail of P90,000.
Jo Christine Napoles and her brother James Christopher Napoles posted bail of P450,000 each.
Others who posted a bail to prevent their arrest were Nits Cabilao (P450,000), Fernando Ramirez (P450,000), Jesus Castillo (P30,000), Dorilyn Fabian (P60,000) and Renato Ornopia (P90,000), all members of Napoles’ staff.
They were among the accused in the 15 counts of graft filed against Enrile before the Third Division. With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Rey E. Requejo, Vito Barcelo and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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