Trial wraps for Revilla: Did prosecution tie loose ends?

MANILA, Philippines – Trial has ended for the plunder case of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, concluding 4 years of legal battle at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that stemmed from the multi-billion pork barrel scam.

The Sandiganbayan First Division ended the trial on Thursday, August 9, and directed both the prosecution and defense to file their memoranda in 30 days. After the memoranda, the case will be submitted for decision – the first-ever pork barrel scam case to be finished.

The big question: was the prosecution able to tie its loose ends to bag a big fish like Revilla?

“We are confident that we have proven our case against Senator Revilla and the rest of the accused,” said Assistant Special Prosecutor Mariter Delfin-Santos on Thursday after the hearing.

Richard Cambe

Star witness Benhur Luy is able to point only to Revilla’s Senate staff Richard Cambe. Luy said he talked to Cambe personally many times over the years, and even hand-delivered to Cambe millions in kickbacks.

Luy said that one time, he even accompanied Cambe across the street and into the parking area of a mall to his car because they were carrying a bag full of cold cash.

Cambe denies ever talking or seeing Luy in his life.

Hindi (kami magkakilala), dito lang (We only came to know each other here),” Cambe told reporters on Thursday.

In a rare instance, Cambe directed questions at Luy.

To demonstrate the extent of how they knew each other, Luy had earlier told the court personal details about Cambe, like his engineer brother and a business proposal to sell medical machines.

Cambe told Luy on Thursday: "I don't have an engineer brother."

“But that’s what you told me,” Luy told Cambe, smiling.

Luy said it was Cambe who finalized and gave them endorsement letters, memoranda of agreement (MOA), a project listing and Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to use Revilla’s pork barrel or discretionary funds for projects which their bogus non-governmental organization (NGO) was to implement then.

The projects are fake, and as payoff to letting the NGO use the senator’s pork barrel, Luy said they paid millions in kickbacks to Revilla through Cambe.

Associate Justices Edgardo Caldona and Georgina Hidalgo asked Luy repeatedly: Did you ever see Revilla, or see him sign the endorsement letters? At all times, Luy said “no.”

Tying it to Revilla

“The SAROs cannot be released without the endorsement letters and the project listings which he himself signed. Those are the important documents para madikit namin si Revilla sa scam (for us to link Revilla to the scam),” Santos said.

The endorsement letters named the Janet Napoles-owned NGO which will implement the projects using Revilla’s pork barrel. The letters are public documents obtained by the Commission on Audit (COA) when they investigated the implementing agencies (IA). 

IAs were middleman agencies between the lawmaker and the NGO. Revilla has always claimed the signatures on the letters were forged.

But Luy would point to Cambe. Luy said that although he never personally transacted with Revilla, “‘Segurista si Madame Janet, hindi siya magbibigay ng pera kay Attorney Cambe kung wala silang agreement ni Revilla (Madame Janet does not take chances, she would not give money to Attorney Cambe if there's no agreement with Revilla).”

‘Hindi ako kabado’

Cambe said he is not at all nervous that he might be the only one to fall in the case. Cambe said his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) would show he didn’t earn the kind of money Luy said he did.

Luy said Cambe earned 5% cuts from Revilla’s kickbacks.

“In fact nung gusto nilang i-freeze kuno, ayaw ng bangko i-freeze, bakit? Kasi panay utang ang aking ano eh (In fact when they wanted to freeze my assets, the bank refused. Why? Because all I had were debts),” Cambe said.

He added: “Hindi, hindi ako kabado (No, I'm not nervous).”

Cambe asked Luy during Thursday’s hearing, “Did you see my SALN?”

Luy said: “I’m not interested in your SALN.”

Cambe would like the Sandiganbayan to seriously consider the Court of Appeals’ acquittal of Napoles in the illegal detention case, and see Luy as a non-credible witness. The CA acquitted Napoles for finding Luy’s accusations unbelievable.

FALL GUY? Revilla's staff Richard Cambe (in white) is the only person that star witness Benhur Luy can point to as having transacted using pork barrel funds. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

FALL GUY? Revilla's staff Richard Cambe (in white) is the only person that star witness Benhur Luy can point to as having transacted using pork barrel funds.

Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

AMLC

Finally, there is the  Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report which will show that millions of deposits made to Revilla accounts matched dates and amounts from Luy’s records of when he supposedly gave Cambe kickbacks.

The defense never addressed nor rebutted the AMLC report in their presentation. Instead, they presented 3 witnesses – Revilla himself, and two Napoles employees who tried to pin down Luy as having forged the senator’s signatures.

Whistleblower Marina Sula also accused former lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio of coaching her in her testimony against Revilla. Toribio was summoned by the court, but the prosecution said his testimony isn’t necessary.

“(Toribio) already vehemently denied to us the statement by Marina Sula,” Santos said. 

Done, at last

Both parties are relieved the trial is done at last. A decision may be handed down before the end of 2018.

Revilla believes they have this case in the bag, and is confident he will be free soon after a 4-year detention.

“God is good!” he exclaimed to reporters as he was being whisked away by his jail guards.

The prosecutors smiled on the side.

They shook hands with Revilla’s lawyers whom they had gone up against for 4 years, happy to call it a day, and hoping for the best. – 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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