Sandigan: Bong Revilla must present own evidence

MANILA, Philippines Even veteran lawyer, former solicitor-general Estelito Mendoza failed to convince the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that there is no longer a need for his client, former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. to present counter evidence in seeking the dismissal of his plunder case over the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.

In a hearing Thursday morning, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division denied in open court Revilla’s motion for leave to file a demurrer to evidence.

Also denied by the court were similar motions filed by Revilla’s former aide Richard Cambe and the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

“The court is of the view that there is a need for the accused to present evidence. Therefore, the motions for leave are hereby denied,” First Division chairman Associate Justice Efren De La Cruz said.

The other two magistrates of the First Division who deliberated on the motions were Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Reynaldo Cruz.

The filing of a demurrer is a legal strategy usually employed by the accused to seek the dismissal of a case without having the need to present counter-evidence. The demurrer is usually filed after the prosecution rested its case.

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But under the Rules of Court, an accused may first seek the permission of the court before filing a demurrer so as not to lose his or her chance to present counter-evidence if the demurrer gets denied.

De La Cruz clarified that Revilla, Cambe and Napoles may still file their respective demurrers but under the risk of losing the chance to present their counter evidence.

The court said the accused may file their demurrer within 10 days from yesterday. If the accused would not file a demurrer, the presentation of their counter-evidence will proceed on Jan. 25, 2018, the court said.

Revilla, Cambe and Napoles’ plunder case stemmed from the alleged misuse of the former senator’s Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel.

Based on the information of the case, Revilla, through Cambe, received from Napoles a total of P224,512,500 in kickbacks of commissions in exchange for the allocation of his PDAF to the latter’s bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).

In their respective motions for leave to file a demurrer, Revilla, Cambe, Napoles maintained that the prosecution failed to present any documentary or testimonial evidence that could prove that they committed all the elements of plunder provided under Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law.

The three accused said the prosecution also failed to establish the “combination or series of overt criminal acts” that each of them supposedly committed in order for Revilla to amass kickbacks or commissions from the pork scam.

Revilla, who looked downhearted after the hearing, no longer granted any interview with the reporters but instead just said “Merry Christmas.”

His lead counsel Mendoza, meanwhile, maintained that the prosecution’s evidence is weak, thus the former senator should have been allowed to challenge it through a demurrer.

“I stand by our argument that there no evidence presented showing that Bong Revilla accepted a single peso from the P224 million alleged kickbacks,” Mendoza said in Filipino.

Mendoza, however, admitted that with the court’s denial of their motion for leave, it is now “risky” to file a demurrer.

“We have to study that carefully. We will take a chance by just filing a demurrer.. but that would mean we waive the presentation of evidence. There is a risk there,” Mendoza said.

“I have to discuss with the other lawyers and also to senator Revilla,” he added.