CEBU

Espinoza: More questions

Free Zone

THIS is not to preempt the Sandiganbayan, but it’s not far-fetched that former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada would also be acquitted of the crime of plunder and violation of the graft and corrupt practices act after the anti-graft court acquitted former senator Bong Revilla. Although charged separately, but the charges filed against Revilla, Enrile and Estrada are similar as these all arose from the same infamous pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam that Janet Lim Napoles masterminded with the use of her nonexistent non-government organizations (NGOs).

Napoles and Richard Cambe, member of Revilla’s staff, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In a 3-2 vote, the Sandiganbayan also acquitted Revilla for the failure of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he “received, directly or indirectly the rebates, commission and kickbacks from his PDAF.” The prosecution had said that Revilla, through Cambe, received from Napoles P224.5 million in kickbacks in return for providing his PDAF to the fake NGOs of Napoles. To recall, the Sandiganbayan in 2015 ordered the freezing of P224 million in Revilla assets. If it were Cambe who received the money, then he must be rich now.

The evidence that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) provided, that Revilla and his family had a deposit amounting to P87,626,587.63 from April 6, 2006 to April 28, 2010, the same period that appears in the ledger of whistleblower Benhur Luy when Revilla allegedly received the kickbacks from his PDAF, was not given credence.

In defense of her decision as the ponente, Justice Geraldine Faith Econg said: “Yes, I know it’s unpopular. I would have loved to be a heroine that I convicted him. But at the end of the day, I’m bound to rule based on evidence presented by both the prosecution and defense.”

The big question that even the lawyers of Revilla could not comprehend is the Sandiganbayan order for Revilla to return the amount of P124 million to the government. If Revilla was not guilty of the crime charged, why should he be ordered to return the money? It certainly is an amazement!

The acquittal of Revilla cannot anymore be appealed to the higher court as it would amount to double jeopardy that our Constitution abhors; thus the statement of Ombudsman Samuel Martires that his office will not raise on appeal the graft court’s decision was expected.

With due respect to the Sandiganbayan, its decision acquitting Revilla of the plunder charges only raises more questions. And, with the revival by the House of the giving of the pork barrel (House members P60 million each and the senators P200 million each), what would prevent the soulless from repeating the practice of the same fund scam?

House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo is in the public eye again after Sen. Ping Lacson exposed the decision of the House to allocate huge funds, the pork barrel, for the congressional districts whose representatives are allies of the speaker.

What caught the attention of some congressmen was the uneven distribution of the pork barrel. Arroyo allies got bigger slices of the pork. And with the coming midterm elections, the giving of pork barrel is suspect.


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