Alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and Richard Cambe, aide of former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla, were convicted while Revilla was acquitted yesterday in the first ever Sandiganbayan decision related to the pork barrel controversy.
Napoles and Cambe were found guilty of plunder and were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years maximum imprisonment.
With the conviction, Napoles will remain inside the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong while Cambe, who was previously detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center, will be transferred to the New Bilibid Prison.
Napoles and Cambe were also “liable to return” P124.5 million to the government for their civil liability as the Court cited Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code which states “every person criminally liable for a felony is also civilly liable.”
The court ruled that it was Cambe and not Revilla who was guilty of misusing the funds.
In June 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman filed plunder cases before the Sandiganbayan against Revilla along with his colleagues, former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. Napoles and Cambe were among the co-accused.
Enrile, then 92-years-old, was allowed to post bail due to his old age while the court said evidence failed to establish that Estrada was the main plunderer in the case.
By a hairline
The decision on Revilla came after a tense situation in the First Division that resulted in a deadlock that required two additional justices to vote on the case.
In regular cases, each Sandiganbayan Court Division has three assigned justices who should come up with a unanimous decision. In case of a dissenting opinion from just one of the justices, two justices through drawing of lots join in and a majority decide the outcome.
The Sandiganbayan First Division was originally composed of Associate Justices Efren de la Cruz, Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona and the special members who joined them were Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo, both from the Seventh Division.
De la Cruz and Gomez-Estoesta voted for Revilla’s conviction while Econg, Caldona and Hidalgo affirmed his acquittal.
Court has spoken
Malacañang urged respect for the Sandiganbayan decision.
“The court has spoken and the Palace abides by its decision,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“The Judiciary has performed its constitutional duty of dispensing justice. While justice grinds so slow most of the time, it does grind, and when it stops it renders a verdict that is exacting and immutable,” he added.
He likewise expressed that although it is expected for the court’s decision to be met with a negative response by many, the public must still respect the ruling of the Sandiganbayan.
“We have consistently respected the independence of the Judiciary and we will continue to do so in this case as we implement the final orders of the anti-graft court on the matter.
Nevertheless, we note that either party, whether for the prosecution or the defense, who feels aggrieved of the decision may still pursue remedies available under our procedural laws,” Panelo said.
The Palace official also assured that President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration will continue to acknowledge the independence of the Sandiganbayan and the judicial process and will “implement the final orders of the anti-graft court on the matter.”
“In any event, this Administration takes stock of the lessons learned from cases involving unconstitutional discretionary funds and has implemented measures to ensure the integrity of the national budget and its proper utilization for our people,” he stated.
Not for private citizens
Napoles’ lawyer, Stephen David, refuted the decision on his client’s case claiming that Napoles is a private individual and the court cannot find her guilty of the plunder.
“Why did they convict a private individual when the case was plunder? Plunder is a crime committed by a public officer,” David said.
“I’m really wondering why a co-conspirator was acquitted while the private individual was convicted. It’s really hard to believe that,” he added. “Their decision to acquit the senator was right because they did not see any evidence, but if he was acquitted, how about my client who was left convicted and she is a private individual?”
Jurisprudence via GMA
David told reporters the camp of Napoles will file a motion for reconsideration based on jurisprudence, citing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s plunder case and Revilla’s case as basis on their motion.
He said they will avail themselves of this legal remedy as soon as they study the decision rendered by Sandiganbayan.
The Sandiganbayan Special First Division acquitted Revilla on charges he allegedly acquired P244.5 million in ill-gotten wealth by siphoning off his pork barrel allocations under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) declared the PDAF unconstitutional.
With Kristina Maralit and Mario J. Mallari