By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
THE Sandiganbayan special first division on Friday acquitted former senator Ramon B. Revilla, Jr. of plunder charges in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
“Ngayon maitutuloy na natin ang laban, maraming salamat po mga kababayan ko sa inyong patuloy na suporta (Now we can continue our fight. Many thanks to all my supporters),” Mr. Revilla told reporters after posting bail of P480,000 in connection with 16 counts of graft filed against him, as distinguished from the nonbailable offense of plunder.
Mr. Revilla was accused of gaining P224.5 million from the multi-billion pork barrel scam exposed in 2013.
His legal counsel Ramon Esguerra told reporters, “Hopefully, after posting the bail, the court will order his release from detention. Hopefully, by this afternoon he will be out of detention from the custodial center in Camp Crame.”
Mr. Revilla was released from the custody of the Philippine National Police early Friday evening.
As he was escorted out of the PNP Custodial Center, Mr. Revilla told reporters: “After more than 4 years and six months, finally nakalabas na din ako. Lumabas na ang katotohan (finally I’m free. The truth has prevailed).”
He added, “Nagpapasalamat ako at may hustisya pa rin sa ating bansa. Salamat sa aking mga kababayan na patuloy na nagdadasal sa akin.” (I am thankful that there is still justice in our country. Thank you to my countrymen who prayed for me.)
On the other hand, Mr. Revilla’s former chief-of-staff Richard A. Cambe, and alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles were sentenced to life imprisonment, having been found “guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”
The two were also “held solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of P124.5 million.”
The special division arrived at the verdict with a vote of 3-2, in favor of Mr. Revilla’s acquittal. Associate Justices Geraldine Faith A. Econg, Edgardo M. Caldona and Georgina D. Hidalgo all concurred, while Associate Justices Efren N. Dela Cruz and Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta dissented.
The special division was organized after the regular first division court, led by Justices Dela Cruz, Econg and Caldona, failed to reach a unanimous decision.
“I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Revilla and Napoles were in a position and circumstance to forge the agreement testified to by the whistleblower,” Mr. Dela Cruz said in his opinion.
Mr. Dela Cruz voted for their conviction, adding: “They should be made to pay jointly and severally the National Treasury the amount of P185,435,000, comprising the amounts of P127,500,00; P44 million; and 13,935,000 that went to Revilla, Napoles, and Cambe, respectively.”
In his statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said, “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, “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.” — with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras