THE surrender and detention of Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., one of the lawmakers accused in the controversial P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, drew mixed reactions from lawyers and local leaders here.
Revilla gave himself up to the Sandiganbayan last Friday, June 20, after it found probable cause in plunder and graft charges against him.
Asked by this paper if the imminent prosecution of Revilla, and his co-senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose Ejercito Jr., more popularly known as Jinggoy Estrada, is politically motivated or just the ‘matuwid na daan’ (righteous way) campaign of President Benigno Aquino taking its course, lawyer James Judith and 2nd district Representative Rufus Rodriguez both agreed that the rule of law, rather than a political witch hunt, is at work.
“It is a signal that this administration has the political will to prosecute bigwigs, that no one is above the law,” Judith, in a text message sent to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Sunday, said.
“The prosecution is not politically motivated. This is part of the judicial process. While cases have been filed and arrest warrants issued, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty by final judgment. They will have their day in court as every person has the right to due process under our Constitution,” Rodriguez said.
But lawyer Jesusa Prima Quinsayas, a private prosecutor in the Maguindanao Massacre cases, believes it might be possible that politics is involved in the senators’ cases considering that the accused are not Aquino’s party mates.
“All three are not allies of the palace so the suspicions that the cases are politically motivated do have basis (unless [Aquino’s] allies do get indicted later). At the same time, it is rare for government to prosecute cases like these. So, we all hope that this is ‘matuwid na daan’ at work,” Quinsayas said.
Judith added that the prosecution of the senators will pave the way for the country to produce better lawmakers in the future.
“No president has done this unprecedented move. The cases might not be finished in [Aquino’s] term but this means something already. What matters if perception… Am sure [that] 2016 will usher in a new breed of legislators, the kind of politicians who have better qualifications than being scions of dynastic political families or those with political pedigrees,” he said.
Although Quinsayas is not so keen that the accused lawmakers’ cases will be decided by the Sandiganbayan before the presidential election in 2016, Rodriguez is hopeful that the charges Revilla, Enrile and Estrada are facing will be resolved within Aquino’s term.
For his part, Jerry Orcullo, president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC), thinks that there might be more to the events unfolding that affect the country’s political landscape than meet the eye.
“Let me be objective, frank and clear here that in a government that serves a semi-colonial and semi-feudal socio-economic-political system, there is no such term as ‘matuwid na daan’ in governance but just a campaign slogan or a battle cry of a bourgeoisie political party,” Orcullo in a text message said.
“The prosecution of Enrile, Revilla and Estrada as a propaganda is certain under [Aquino] whose advisers are scholars of Zunzi’s Art of War—pursue and subdue the enemy while rattled and weak. Like Erap [Estrada, former president], GMA [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, also a former president] and these three, they will end up pardoned, but a poor uneducated man suspected of stealing chicken will end up rotten in a cramped cell,” he added.
In news reports, Revilla’s legal counsel has filed a motion for bail on Friday, although the plunder charge is non-bailable, but it will be heard by Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday, June 26.
Aside from the three legislators, other senators, both incumbent and inactive, implicated in the PDAF scam—reported to be masterminded by Janet Napoles-Lim—are Edgardo Angara, Manny Villar, Tessie Oreta, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Rodolfo Biazon, Robert Jaworski, Robert Barbers, Loi Estrada, Ramon Magsaysay and Revilla’s father Ramon Sr.
Lim was identified by whistleblowers as playing the lead role in orchestrating the PDAF scam by negotiating with lawmakers to release funds in millions of pesos, usually for ‘ghost projects’ or projects that were on paper and unimplemented.
As part of the deal, the legislators will receive their kickbacks once the funds are released.
According to the exposé of whistleblower and Lim’s former employee Benhur Luy and published in various media outlets, Enrile was said to have used some P683 million out of his pork barrel from 2004 to 2012; Revilla, P1.2 billion; and Estrada, P1.6 billion. All these were allegedly tied to the PDAF scam.
Revilla was said to have allegedly gotten the biggest kickback out of the PDAF scam with some P224 million; Estrada, P183 million; and Enrile, P172 million.