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Anti-graft tribunal clears senator in pork barrel scam

THE COUNTRY’S anti-graft court has dismissed corruption charges against a senator whom the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III had managed to send to prison for allegedly pocketing hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel funds.

In a 196-page decision, the Sandiganbayan Special First Division junked 16 counts of graft against Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. for insufficiency of evidence. The court granted his plea to dismiss the cases without the defense having to present evidence.

Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg wrote the decision, with two justices concurring and two dissenting.

Prosecutors in 2014 indicted the actor-turned-politician of getting P224 million in kickbacks after funneling part of his discretionary funds as a senator to bogus nongovernment groups.

The court also junked the remaining cases against Mr. Revilla’s former chief of staff Richard Cambe, who died from stroke while jailed at the national penitentiary in April.

The same court cleared Mr. Revilla in 2018 of plunder over the same charges that led to his freedom. He also staged a political comeback and is now a senator again.

The lawmaker earlier argued the allegations in his plunder case were the same as in his graft cases, adding that he should not have been separately charged for corruption.

He also said prosecutors had failed to prove that he had endorsed the nongovernment groups and received kickbacks.

During trial, prosecutors presented 11 endorsement letters signed by Mr. Revilla or his aide. But the Sandiganbayan said the senator’s signatures were just recommendations and did not compel implementing agencies to award the projects to fake nongovernment groups. 

And since neither Mr. Revilla nor Mr. Cambe had the power to award the projects, they were not in a position to give “unwarranted benefits” under the country’s anti-graft law, the court said.

“The bonds posted by accused Revilla re hereby ordered released, subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedures,” according to the decision. “The hold departure orders issued against them are also set aside.”

But the court denied pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles’s plea to dismiss her cases, meaning her trial will proceed. — Norman P. Aquino and Bianca Angelica D. Añago

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