Local execs testify in Revilla plunder trial: 'We never got projects'

MANILA, Philippines – Witnesses at the trial of former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr testified before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Thursday, July 27, that they never received the projects supposedly funded from the then lawmaker's priority assistance development fund (PDAF).

Prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday, July 27 presented the witnesses at the trial of Revilla, who is charged with plunder and graft in connection with the pork barrel scam. 

They are  Jeanien Cervantes, private secretary to former Atimonan, Quezon, mayor Jose Mendoza testified that her signatures were forged on the acknowledgment and delivery receipts of the agricultural kits meant for her town funded from Revilla's PDAF.

"I was surprised to see my name on those documents because I haven't seen those documents before and I didn't sign them," Cervantes told the Sandiganbayan's First Division.

Two other witnesses made similar testimonies before the court – Councilor Efren Noforio of Barangay Duhat, in Plaridel town, Quezon; and farm leader Sofronio Jimenez of Barangay Ilosong, Plaridel.

Noforio and Jimenez also testified that while their names appeared in the list of beneficiaries to receive farm kits, they never received anything.

May Calaunan, former mayor of Diffun town in Quirino, testified that according to documents retrieved from the Diffun municipal office, the town did not receive agricultural kits.

When asked by defense lawyers, however, Calaunan admitted that she only checked the documents last week.

Revilla's defense

Revilla's lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, reiterated that the testimonies were irrelevant to Revilla because it was not established that the ghost projects were funded by the  former senator's pork barrel.

Mendoza, in his cross examination of the witnesses, established that when witnessed referred to the "projects from the funds of Revilla," they did so because investigators told them. The witnesses admitted they have no direct knowledge whether the ghost projects came from Revilla's pork barrel.

"They're trying very, very hard to prove that Revilla is not guilty, that we are correct. I thank the prosecution," Mendoza said, eliciting a few laughs from the prosecutors.

Prosecutor Adonis Laure reasoned that there is an allegation of conspiracy, and that the court had already ruled to accept that position.

After the hearing, lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio pointed reporters to a resolution issued by the  Sandiganbayan's 1st Division on June 8.

Part of the court resolution read: "It would be consistent and selective if the evidence that would be adduced to prove these bogus projects would only apply against Napoles to the exclusion of accused Revilla Jr. Besides, as correctly pointed out by the prosecution, the Information alleges the existence of conspiracy among the accused."

The resolution added, "Thus, their respective culpabilities are to be treated collectively and not individually."

The octogenarian Mendoza, who uses a hearing aid and transciber but is larger than life in court, repeatedly tried to block the testimonies of the witnesses. 1st Division Chair Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz overruled him and proceeded to hear the witnesses.

This didn't stop Mendoza from manifesting that the prosecution should cut to the chase, and present witnesses and evidence that answer basic issues in the plunder case.

Revilla, who attended the hearing with his wife, Bacoor Mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla, stuck to Mendoza's arguments when interviewed by reporters.

"I have nothing to do with this. Hindi ko kilala 'yung mga taong ito, so 'yun. Ang ano lang natin, alam natin biktima sila. Biktima rin ako e. Dapat managot dito kung sino 'yung dapat managot. Kung ghost project ito, sino 'yun? Sino 'yung nagpeke ng signature namin, sino 'yung kay kagagawan? 'Yun ang dapat managot, not me. Three years na po akong nakakulong. 'Yun ang masakit dito," Revilla said.

(I have nothing to do with this. I don't know these people. We know they are victims, but so am I. The ones who did this are the ones who should be punished. If these were ghost projects, who was behind it? Who forged my sigantures? They should be held liable, not me. I've been in jail for 3 years. That's what hurts.) – 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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