MANILA, Philippines – Only two more witnesses to take the stand and Ombudsman prosecutors are done with their presentation of evidence in former senator Bong Revilla’s plunder case over the pork barrel scam.
Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio told the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan First Division on Tuesday, September 19, that the last witnesses will be two more officials of banks related to Revilla and Napoles.
“It depends on how you will rule on our motion to include a Commission on Audit (COA) auditor,” Toribio told the court.
It came as a surprise initially to the justices of the First Division, but was eventually welcomed as good news. What dragged on for 3 years is nearing completion.
“Hinihiling ko lang sa ating mga kababayan na konting dasal pa, may awa ang Diyos (I am asking my fellow countrymen to pray just a little bit more, the Lord has mercy),” Revilla said after the hearing.
The Sandiganbayan is now working under revised rules that trial should last for only 6 months. The trial is into its 3rd month. (READ: Bong, JPE, Jinggoy ‘suki’ to Napoles NGOs)
After the prosecution rests its case, either the defense team will proceed with presenting their evidence or they could file a demurrer to have the plunder case dismissed that early. A demurrer of evidence is filed with the court to indicate there is enough basis to dismiss a case, based solely on the weakness of evidence presented by the prosecution.
Does the prosecution have a good case? Not for Revilla’s lead lawyer former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza.
On Tuesday, he was again mocking the prosecution “for trying hard to prove our defense.”
He and Napoles’ lawyer Dennis Buenaventura tried earnestly to block from taking the witness stand two officials of the Chinatrust Philippines Commercial Bank Corporation (CPCBC).
Noel Flores of the CPCBC said on Tuesday that the bank accounts under the names Jose Marie Bautista (Revilla’s real name) and Jesusa Victoria Bautista (the real name of wife Lani Mercado) were closed in 2013, or when the news broke out about the scam.
The CPCBC accounts were included in the list of accounts investigated by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
Mendoza and Buenaventura were successful in limiting Flores' testimony on Tuesday – to identify only what the documents are, but not go deep into their content. To produce the documents in court, the defense laywers said, would be to violate the bank secrecy law.
In the last hearing, an official from the Asia United Bank said they recorded "covered" transactions in Revilla's account or a transaction that exceeds the threshold of P500,000 within one day. The bank official said a suspicious transaction report was filed, but only after news broke out about the scam.
The first bank officials who took the stand were with Landbank which handled the accounts of Napoles NGOs. Over and over again, Mendoza said the bank officials do not prove anything.
“There is no basis...it is a wrong premise to ask about kickbacks because nowhere in these documents show that there is a kickback,” Mendoza said during hearing.
Asked how they plan to connect the bank accounts to alleged kickbacks if there are only two witnesses left, Toribio said they would rely on the AMLC’s report.
AMLC lawyer Leigh Vhon Santos had already testified before the Sandiganbayan that P87-million worth of cash deposits in Revilla's account match Benhur 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.
“Wala silang makikita sa bank account ko dahil ang bank account ko lahat ‘yun legal, lahat ng pinagkakitaan ko sa pelikula, sa telebisyon, sa commercials, wala silang makikita na galing yun sa pera ni Napoles o sa bank account ni Napoles, maski kay Benhur Luy, wala. Lahat yun kinita ko, bata pa lang ako nag-aartista na ko,” Revilla said.
(They will not see anything in my bank account because all of those are legal. Those are all my earnings from movies, television and commercials, they will not see anything that came from Napoles or Benhur Luy, nothing. All of those I earned since I was young when I started in show business.)
The prosecutors' first witnesses were local executives who testified that the supposed projects which appeared on allocation documents connected to Revilla's pork barrel were fictitious.
The next hearing is on Tuesday, September 26. – Rappler.com