Napoles, Revilla camps try to block bank witnesses in plunder trial

MANILA, Philippines – Bank tellers from the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) testified on Thursday, September 7, on withdrawals supposedly made by representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) associated with Janet Lim Napoles.

This was despite heavy opposition from the lawyers of both the businesswoman and detained former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.

A bank teller was supposed to take the witness stand by the end of the morning hearing on Revilla's plunder trial at anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, but the defense camp was able to block it, citing the bank secrecy law.

"They are justifying that there is a Court of Appeals (CA) resolution. Ang sinasabi namin na different 'yung CA resolution to the authority of AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council), not for the particular bank teller," Napoles' lawyer Dennis Buenaventura told reporters after the morning session.

(They are justifying that there is a Court of Appeals resolution. What we're saying is that the CA resolution to the authority of AMLC is different, not for the particular bank teller.)

Buenaventura was referring to a CA resolution issued in August 2013 which authorized AMLC to comb through documents of almost 400 bank accounts supposedly owned by Napoles NGOs.

Buenaventura said the CA resolution only covered AMLC, and that it did not authorize bank tellers to testify in court on specific transactions. (READ: Local execs testify in Revilla plunder trial: 'We never got projects')

As the afternoon hearing proceeded, however, the prosecution was able to argue that all the documents unearthed by AMLC upon authorization by the CA have already been subpoenaed by the Sandiganbayan.

"Confidentiality of deposits is not violated because they've already been submitted by AMLC to this court. It's the same document we have now, bank tellers are now going to testify on the transaction," lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said.

Withdrawals

Cynthia Flores, Adrian Carmona, Shenny Peralta, and Rochelle Ann Santos, all former tellers of Landbank Greenhills branch who processed withdrawals of Napoles NGOs, proceeded to testify. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom 'in less than 2 years')

They attested to withdrawal slips made by representatives of NGOs Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Incorporated (MAMFI) and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Incorporated (SDPFFI). 

The withdrawals, the tellers said, were made by an authorized representative of the account. Some of the withdrawals were made by whistleblower Marina Sula, MAMFI’s president, with one of her withdrawals amounting to P5 million. The tellers said they would not know who owns the accounts.

As Buenaventura continued to object to the testimony, Toribio challenged them by asking, "So are you now saying [your client] is the owner of the account?"

"The burden of proof is on the prosecutor," Buenaventura said.

The names of Napoles and whistleblower Benhur Luy – handwritten by the branch's verifier Lydia Alfonso – appear on the withdrawal slips. All the tellers said they wouldn't know why Alfonso wrote by hand the names of Luy and Napoles.

Alfonso will also testify in the coming weeks, Toribio said. 

Ombudsman prosecutors are now building up their case that Revilla received pork barrel kickbacks from Napoles.

Match with Luy's records

The CA also authorized AMLC to look into the accounts of Revilla and former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile. In October 2014, AMLC lawyer Leigh Vhon Santos testified before the Sandiganbayan that P87 million worth of cash deposits in Revilla's account match Luy's financial records.

The time of the deposits to Revilla's account occurred within 30 days of the dates that the senator allegedly received the kickbacks, as reflected on Luy's ledger.

Toribio is confident they will be able to connect the dots as they present their next witnesses. This is in response to consistent criticism by defense lawyers that the prosecution’s witnesses, so far, are irrelevant, and fail to link Revilla to the scam.

Revilla's lawyer Carlos Villaruz argued that the former senator's name does not appear in any of the slips so far, but Toribio said the Revilla bank accounts would come next. The prosecution is set to present 33 more bank officials.

"Abangan na lang nila, masyado silang excited (They should just wait for it, they're too excited)," Toribio said in a brief interview with reporters.

Revilla did not grant an interview on Thursday. The week before, his lead lawyer Estelito Mendoza announced that they are studying their options to demand Revilla's right to bail. The announcement followed President Rodrigo Duterte's speech where he said Revilla and Estrada should be allowed to post bail like Enrile. (READ: Still no trial for Jinggoy Estrada; urges court to grant bail)

Enrile was, however, able to petition the Supreme Court to grant him bail on humanitarian grounds, with the help of Mendoza, who's also lawyering for Revilla at present. – 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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