'Hindi pa tapos ang laban': Prosecution downplays witnesses in Revilla plunder

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr closed his presentation of evidence in his plunder case on Thursday, June 28, only after two hearing days.

Revilla's lawyers Rean Balisi and Estelito Mendoza appeared to dominate the hearing, with their confidence boosted by two friendly witnesses – Marina Sula and Mary Arlene Baltazar, both employees of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

"Natutuwa kami sa mga sinabi nila. Parang mabigat na kalooban namin, naiyak na nga ako sa loob, pero para sa amin it took them 4 years to say this, bakit nila pinatagal?" said Revilla's wife, Bacoor City Mayor Lani Mercado Revilla.

(We are happy over their statements. It was hard for us, I was almost crying inside, because we were thinking, it took them 4 years to say this, what took them so long?)

But Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano downplayed the witnesses' testimonies, saying, "For evidence to be believed, it must not only come from a credible witness, it must be credible in itself."

Soriano added that the prosecution panel has the official documents to connect the dots. For instance, there's the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report which shows matching amounts and dates between Luy's kickback records and Revilla's bank accounts.

"Hindi pa tapos ang laban (The fight is not yet over)," Soriano said.

Witnesses

Sula on Thursday claimed that star witness Benhur Luy forged Revilla's signature on some of the endorsement letters to funnel the senator's pork barrel to beneficiaries, which ultimately turned out to be fake projects. Revilla is accused of receiving as much as P224.5 million in kickbacks.

During its presentation, the prosecution brought to the court local government officials who testified that they never received the projects reflected in Revilla's pork barrel records. But Revilla has maintained he is a victim of fraud, saying he was no longer involved in the implementation of those projects.

Sula's private lawyer Stephen Cascolan claimed that his client did not recant anything, as it was supposedly the first time for her to say what she said on Thursday.

But the prosecution sees it the other way.

"In a way, parang dini-disown na niya 'yung ebidensya namin laban kay Revilla. Dati sana kung sinabi niya 'yun na wala siyang alam, eh di sana hindi namin siya kinuhang witness. Voluntary naman eh, prinesent namin 'yung affidavit niya, inadmit niya na assisted by counsel siya nung inexecute niya 'yung mga 'yun. Nagbago lang siya, hindi natin alam kung ano ang dahilan," Soriano said.

(In a way, it's as if she's disowning our evidence against Revilla. If she had said earlier on that she didn't have any knowledge of the allegations, then we wouldn't have gotten her as a witness. It was voluntary, we presented her affidavit, she admitted that she was assisted by counsel when she executed her statements. Now she changed her story, we don't know why.)

Baltazar, a bookkeeper at JLN Corporation, was more explicit in her testimony favoring Revilla.

Baltazar said she worked closely with Luy and personally saw Luy sign endorsement letters on behalf of Revilla. She also said she didn't see Revilla's name as having received anything from their company when she prepared their financial statements.

At one point, Baltazar even said, "I can certainly say Revilla did not receive any kickback."

The testimonies came as a delight to the courtroom packed with Revilla supporters.

Documents vs testimony

However, the Revilla camp said on Thursday that they would not offer any documentary evidence. The two witnesses plus Revilla were all they presented. 

For the first and last time in his trial, Revilla took the stand to deliver rousing statements on how he was allegedly sabotaged by political rivals after he declared in 2013 his plan to run for president.

Sandiganbayan First Division chairman Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz did not let these statements continue.

Soriano quizzed Revilla on letters he supposedly sent to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) requesting for funds and identifying projects to use those funds for. Revilla confirmed some letters, but denied some, too.

This direct examination did not fly because Balisi repeatedly objected. 

Soriano was trying to connect the dots. Revilla confirmed writing the request letters for projects, and some projects turned out to be fake. Did Revilla have involvement in those fake projects?

"Kapag nag-request po ako sa DBM, pinauubaya ko na sa kanila at sa implementing agency. Kapag nasa implementing agency na, wala na po ako pakialam do'n. Kung may problema siya, sana nag-red flag na agad noon pa ang COA (Commission on Audit)," Revilla said.

(Whenever I would make a request to the DBM, I would entrust it to them and the implementing agency. Once it reaches the implementing agency, I would no longer be involved. If there were problems, COA should have flagged it immediately.)

This is the crucial connection. Soriano said the request letters to the DBM were very general, and did not specify the cost, the beneficiaries, and even the project titles.

"Paano mai-implement ng implementing agency kung very general? Makikipag-coordinate siya para alamin kung ano ba ang gusto niyang ipatupad na project," Soriano told reporters afterwards.

(How would the implementing agency implement the projects if they were very general? The agency would coordinate to find out the specific projects.)

He added: "Millions of pesos 'yun tapos ikaw ang pumili ng project na 'yun tapos papabayaan mo na gano'n gano'n lang? Na hindi mo imo-monitor? Imposible."

(That's millions of pesos and you chose those projects, then you will just ignore them after? You won't monitor them? Impossible.)

Revilla's former chief of staff Richard Cambe is set to submit his documentary evidence, which the prosecution will rebut on August 7 and 9.

After that, the case will be submitted for resolution. It will be the first pork barrel scam case to be decided.

Revilla's camp still has a pending petition before the Supreme Court to stop the Sandiganbayan proceedings. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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