Plunder raps found ‘defective’

Sandiganbayan junks Ombudsman revision

Alleged pork-barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles (in hood) is shown leaving the Sandiganbayan after she pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.

MANILA – A Sandiganbayan justice said Thursday that prosecutors have yet to establish “the body of crime” in their plunder complaint, as the First Division of the anti-graft court denied a bid by the Ombudsman to amend the charge sheet to show that Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., and not Janet Lim Napoles, was the mastermind behind the pork barrel scam.

“Minadali. The 9,560-page complaint was hastily done. It is filled with inconsistencies, defects and loopholes. The amendment even made it worse,” the Sandiganbayan justice, who requested anonymity, said about the government’s case against Revilla and two other opposition senators, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada.

“The amendment made it worse because to establish conspiracy, the prosecution has to have evidence to prove that Revilla was in cahoots with Napoles from the start, such as in setting up the bogus NGOs and carrying out the scam. But based on the evidence submitted that was made the basis of the three separate 10,000-page complaints, conspiracy was not established with Revilla’s camp even claiming that the senator’s signature was forged in pertinent documents,” the justice told the Manila Standard.

The defense pounced on the denied amendment, declaring they would use it against the prosecution as proof that the plunder case against Revilla was “defective and void from the start.”

“We amended the case information to emphasize that the senator was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his co-accused public officer and private individuals,” the special prosecutor told the court during Revilla’s arraignment Thursday.

“The prosecutors deemed it wise to amend them to minimize, if not obviate, objections therein by certain accused which may cause undue delay in the proceedings,” the special prosecutor said.

The amended complaint sought to emphasize that Napoles and her cohorts were private individuals who collaborated with the senators in amassing ill-gotten wealth.

Under the law, only government officials can be charged with plunder. The prosecutor also sought to delete the phrase that said “enabling Napoles to misappropriate the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) proceeds for her personal gain.” Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, said the move was aimed at taking the heat off Napoles and making the senator the mastermind of the scam.

“It was done to justify that Napoles was not the most guilty so she can be made a state witness,” Bodegon added. At his arraignment, Revilla refused to enter a plea, so the court entered a “not guilty” plea for him.

“The prosecution’s move is a judicial admission that they have no case against Revilla,” Bodegon said.

In indicting Revilla, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales charged that the senator collected some P224.512 million in kickbacks from 2006 to 2010 from the alleged illegal disbursement of his PDAF allocations.

But the Sandiganbayan justice who spoke to the Manila Standard described Morales as an “amateurish featherweight” who allowed the defective complaint reach the anti-graft court.

The justice said he could not understand why Morales, a retired Supreme Court associate justice, allowed loopholes in the complaint, making it vulnerable to attack from the defense. The Justice explained that the affidavit of Napoles employee-turned whistleblower Benhur Luy was made the basis of all three complaints against the senators.

“In Benhur Luy’s affidavit, he said John Raymond de Asis, Napoles’ driver, ‘helped’ in the preparation of the money. But in the complaint, the prosecution stated that De Asis ‘delivered’ the money.

That’s a serious overlook, if indeed it was overlooked,” the justice said. The justice added that there was no paper or money trail leading to Enrile.

“Evidence shows that in 10 deliveries made by Ruby Tuason, Gigi Reyes [Enrile’s former chief of staff] only received once. The rest, Tuason received on behalf of Enrile,” the justice said.

In the case of Estrada, Tuason claimed to have delivered the money to the senator but said she did not know how much money was delivered, the justice said. Asked why the Sandiganbayan found probable cause to issue arrest warrants against the senators, the justice said: “Finding probable cause is far different from finding the accused guilty and sentencing them.”

“With all the hype about truckloads of evidence, the prosecution has yet to establish the body of crime,” the justice concluded. “The justices will rule based only on evidence at hand, and presented.

The prosecution had better make up their minds real soon and come up with better and stronger arguments and evidence.” The Palace said it was confident that the plunder cases against the three opposition senators were strong, despite the Ombudsman’s failure to have the charge sheet amended.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Justice Department did a thorough investigation and built an evidence-based airtight case.

“We believe the concerned agency of the government has already done what it should do. The DoJ has done its homework. They have spent enough time to examine the merit of the case that they have filed,” Coloma said.

“We are confident that sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case,” he added. Coloma said the Ombudsman’s special prosecutor was acting “well within the rules of court” in seeking to amend the charge sheet.

Despite its failure with the Revilla case, the Ombudsman’s prosecutors sought to file similar amendments in the plunder cases against Estrada and Enrile. Enrile “was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his accused public officer and private individuals,” the prosecutors said.

The prosecutors are also seeking to alter portions of the original information sheet against Estrada to highlight his role in directing the pork barrel scam.

“By exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorable act on his endorsements of the NGO’s of Napoles to ensure that his PDAF be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts which undue pressure and endorsements were made in exchange for kickbacks, percentage or commissions, thereby unjustly enriching himself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice, of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,” the amended information said.

The Fifth Division trying the Estrada case will hear the prosecutor’s amendment as well as Estrada’s bail petition today. Estrada’s arraignment is set on June 30 at 8:30 a.m.