SANDIGANBAYAN FOR REVILLA: NOT GUILTY; AFTER BONG REFUSED TO ENTER A PLEA PENDING SOME MOTIONS

JUNE 26  --The Sandiganbayan yesterday entered a not guilty plea for Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. after he refused to enter one himself in the plunder case filed against him over alleged misuse of his pork barrel funds. Alleged pork barrel fund scam operator Janet Lim-Napoles and Revilla’s chief of staff Richard Cambe, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty. Around a dozen of their co-accused led by former Technology Resource Center (TRC) director general Dennis Cunanan entered the same plea. Revilla appeared before the Sandiganbayan for the arraignment and repeatedly said “no plea your honors” after each complaint accusing him of pocketing P224.5 million was read to him, prompting the court to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf. Clad in a barong Tagalog, Revilla stood for over an hour as each of the 16 charges of graft was read in court, with Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, chairman of the First Division, asking him to enter a plea for each case. The accused who were not arraigned yesterday were either at large or have motions still to be resolved by the Sandiganbayan. Revilla was accompanied by his counsel Joel Bodegon, his wife Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado and supporters that included showbiz columnist Lolit Solis. Outside the courthouse, supporters in white showed up clapping, some with clenched fists and shouting “Mabuhay si Senador Bong!” Dozens of supporters came from different towns in Cavite. READ MORE...

ALSO: No revised rap vs Bong Revilla

JUNE 26  --Court nixes gov’t bid to amend charges. PHOTO -Sen. Bong Revilla shows up at the Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday for his arraignment on plunder charges. The government prosecutors’ failed bid to amend the plunder charges against Sen. Bong Revilla to paint him as the central figure in the misuse of his pork barrel funds on Thursday gave rise to assertions that the case was defective and should be dismissed. The government prosecutors’ failed bid to amend the plunder charges against Sen. Bong Revilla to paint him as the central figure in the misuse of his pork barrel funds on Thursday gave rise to assertions that the case was defective and should be dismissed or that they wanted to picture Janet Lim-Napoles as not the guiltiest so they could use her as a state witness. But Malacañang rejected the view that the case against Revilla—and possibly the plunder cases the Ombudsman has brought against Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile as well—is weak and likely to be thrown out. The Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday denied the prosecution’s motion to amend the information against Revilla to show that it was he and not Napoles who amassed ill-gotten wealth by embezzling P224.5 million in public funds in connivance with several people, including the businesswoman. The defense opposed the prosecution’s motion, arguing that the amendment of the original information would raise questions about the court’s basis for issuing warrants for the arrest of Revilla and his coaccused last week. “We will deny the motion to amend the information insofar as the substantial amendments are concerned,” Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, division chair, said, indicating that the court would issue a formal resolution. Napoles has always been pictured as the brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam that the Inquirer exposed in July last year, but she is not a government official and cannot be accused of plunder, which the defense has pointed out in questioning the plunder charges the Ombudsman has brought against her. Unexplained charge
The prosecutors have not explained the plunder charges against Napoles, but the motion they brought on Wednesday to amend the information against Revilla may be a nod to the defense and at the same time an effort to correct a flaw in the case. The prosecution said, however, that the charges against Revilla could stand even without the amendment. Joefferson Toribio, lead prosecutor in Revilla’s case, insisted during the hearing on Thursday that the original information against Revilla charged the senator with plunder in a conspiracy with private citizens, including Napoles. He said the proposed amendments merely sought to “eliminate vagueness and cure issues that may later cause undue delay to the trial.” CONTINUE READING...Eventually,

ALSO: Palace changes tune on Enrile detention; now it's up to the courts re detention

JUNE 26  --It’s up to the courts to decide where Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile should be detained, Malacañang clarified yesterday. But the Palace sees nothing wrong with the Philippine National Police’s preparing detention rooms for the 90-year-old Enrile at the PNP General Hospital in anticipation of a Sandiganbayan order for his arrest. In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. stressed it was not for the executive branch to give Enrile special treatment, even if President Aquino had said in Japan that the senator’s advanced age should be considered in finding a place to have him detained. He said it’s the court that would decide on where to detain Enrile and that the President had only expressed his opinion on the issue. Coloma said it is best for the PNP to prepare for whatever instruction the court might relay to executive officials. The PNP General Hospital is inside Camp Crame in Quezon City. Coloma said the administration acknowledges criticism from Scrap Pork Network, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and others that detainees and prisoners are not treated equally, hence its vigorous pursuit of judicial reforms. The VACC had criticized Aquino for speaking on Enrile’s condition, saying this might influence the decision of the court. “We acknowledge that the current system of criminal justice in our country is not perfect, there are many things that must be changed. That is the why the government is pushing for the needed reforms,” Coloma said. Coloma said there must be a specific order for the detention of the three senators and that authorities had considered prevailing “special circumstances” in choosing their places of detention. “There is no intention to implement unequal treatment. And that lack of equality, that is an issue continuously being addressed as part of the reforms being pushed by the government,” he said. “In his press conference while en route to Hiroshima (on June 24), the President emphasized his belief that the courts will be cognizant of fulfilling their obligations and may consider the factor of the advanced age of Senator Enrile,” Coloma said. Now detained for plunder are Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. *READ MORE...

ALSO: Prosecution’s ‘blunder’ will prolong plunder trial, says former DOJ chief

JUNE 28  --At the very least, the government prosecutors could expect a longer legal battle following their two failed attempts to amend plunder charges against Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, which lawmakers said gave the impression that they were ill-prepared for the high-profile cases. Still, all is not lost, according to 1BAP party list Representative Silvestre Bello, a former justice secretary, who said the fate of the criminal charges would still rise or fall on the basis of the evidence the prosecutors could present in court. But by trying to change the main theory of their plunder cases, the prosecutors gave the accused senators’ defense team the ammunition to question the cases and prolong the trial, and to boost their claim that the filing of charges was rushed in order to harass them, said Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares. The proposed amendments would have made the senators the central figures in the theft of hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel funds instead of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles. The prosecutors withdrew their motion following warnings from magistrates that this could lead to the recall of the arrest warrants for the senators.
Bello said it was too early to say the case is lost, despite the initial setback, because the outcome would depend on the evidence. “In the end, what matters is the evidence they are able to present. That is what is important here, to prove the accused took advantage of the PDAF and were able to obtain illegally the amount beyond P50 million,” Bello said in a phone interview. *READ MORE...

ALSO: Strike 2 vs gov’t lawyers

JUNE 28  --Faced with the very real possibility of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada walking out of his rat-and-cockroach-infested cell, government prosecutors on Friday withdrew their motion to amend the plunder information against him to make him the central figure in the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds instead of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. As a result, Estrada will be arraigned next Monday for plunder based on the original charges filed by the Ombudsman on June 6. It was the second time for state prosecutors in the P10-billion pork barrel scam cases to fall flat on their faces with their last-minute efforts to remedy an ambiguity in the information they had filed against Estrada and Senators Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile that pictured Napoles, an ordinary citizen, as the principal in the plunder cases, with the lawmakers merely receiving kickbacks from her. Plunder is an offense that can be brought only against public officials who amass at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth. Bail is not allowed in plunder cases. On Thursday, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division junked the prosecutors’ amendments to the plunder case against Revilla because the proposed changes would alter the court’s finding that there was probable cause to make the senator stand trial, the reason it ordered his arrest and detention. The revision would have resulted in Revilla being ordered released from jail. As if they learned nothing from that debacle, the prosecutors on Friday proceeded to argue in the Fifth Division for amendments to Estrada’s case—only to be lectured by the justices on legal terminology. Motion withdrawn --The prosecutors were forced to withdraw their amended plunder information against Estrada and his three coaccused after the justices warned them that they would have to order the senator released from detention once the basis for the court’s order to arrest him was revised. Associate Justices Roland Jurado and Alexander Gesmundo of the Fifth Division, which handles the consolidated plunder and graft cases against Estrada and 25 coaccused, lectured the prosecutors on the implications of amending the plunder charges. The amended information that the prosecution introduced this week would have Estrada as the principal gainer in the pork barrel scam, pocketing P183.7 million in kickbacks from Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam.*READ MORE...

ALSO: Estrada, Revilla ignore detention rules, welcome visitors up to 2 a.m. 

Are the VIP jailbirds exempted from the “strict” prison rules at the jail facility at Camp Crame? Relatives and friends of Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. have been allowed to visit the detained lawmakers beyond the visiting period at the high-security detention facility of the Philippine National Police. On Sunday, families and close friends of Estrada and Revilla, inc luding well-known showbiz personalities, were still inside the PNP Custodial Center at 5 p.m. In a previous interview, Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP spokesman, said visitors were only allowed to see the two senators from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Thursday and Sunday. Sindac explained that the Custodial Services Unit, the PNP unit supervising the jail facility, had set the visiting period for the high-profile detainees since the holding area of the detention compound could only accommodate up to 30 persons.
But members of the media who had been staking out the prison facility noted that more than 30 individuals entered the newly detention bungalow. They also noted that visitors of Revilla and Estrada, who were ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, were seen going in and out of the Custodial Center last Saturday. A television cameraman said they saw actor Tirso Cruz III leaving the jail facility at about 2 a.m. Sunday. Comedian Bayani Agbayani admitted there were more than 30 visitors inside the prison facility when he came to visit Revilla and Estrada on Sunday. “The visitors were mostly family members,” Agbayani briefly told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The senators’ families were also seen bringing in food items in trays and big plastic containers. Since they were taken to the detention compound last week, Revilla and Estrada had refused to eat their food ration. The Inquirer repeatedly tried to get the comment of Sindac and Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, chief of the PNP Headquarters Support Service, but they did not answer calls to their mobile phones.THIS IS THE FULL REPORT.


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Sandiganbayan for Revilla: Not guilty; after Bong refused to enter a plea


Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. is escorted by police after his arraignment at the Sandiganbayan, where he refused to enter a plea. Inset shows businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles being led out of the anti-graft court. AP

MANILA, JUNE 30, 2014 (PHILSTAR)  By Michael Punongbayan - The Sandiganbayan yesterday entered a not guilty plea for Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. after he refused to enter one himself in the plunder case filed against him over alleged misuse of his pork barrel funds.

Alleged pork barrel fund scam operator Janet Lim-Napoles and Revilla’s chief of staff Richard Cambe, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty.

Around a dozen of their co-accused led by former Technology Resource Center (TRC) director general Dennis Cunanan entered the same plea.

Revilla appeared before the Sandiganbayan for the arraignment and repeatedly said “no plea your honors” after each complaint accusing him of pocketing P224.5 million was read to him, prompting the court to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Clad in a barong Tagalog, Revilla stood for over an hour as each of the 16 charges of graft was read in court, with Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, chairman of the First Division, asking him to enter a plea for each case.

The accused who were not arraigned yesterday were either at large or have motions still to be resolved by the Sandiganbayan.

Revilla was accompanied by his counsel Joel Bodegon, his wife Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado and supporters that included showbiz columnist Lolit Solis.

Outside the courthouse, supporters in white showed up clapping, some with clenched fists and shouting “Mabuhay si Senador Bong!”

Dozens of supporters came from different towns in Cavite.

Napoles, wearing a hooded sweater, arrived with Revilla at the anti-graft court for the proceedings, accompanied by dozens of policemen escorting them outside and inside the courtroom.

Both were not allowed to speak to media before, during and after the arraignment, which lasted for three hours because of the oral arguments presented by prosecutors and defense counsels.

Defense counsels said Revilla’s decision to face the arraignment but not to enter a plea stemmed from the pending motions, including a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court questioning the Office of the ombudsman’s finding of probable cause that led to his indictment.

Amendment junked

Government lawyers apparently suffered a huge loss after the Sandiganbayan denied their motion to amend the plunder complaint against Revilla, Napoles, Cambe, Ronald John Lim and Raymund de Asis.

Before the respondents were arraigned, ombudsman prosecutors led by acting Director Joefferson Toribio moved for revisions in the criminal complaint.

However, the defense counsels led by Bodegon and Napoles lawyer Stephen David vehemently objected to the motion, noting the prosecution’s right to revise the charge cannot be abused.

Bodegon said the Office of the Ombudsman’s last minute decision to amend the original complaint is a “judicial admission” that it is void and Revilla should be released from detention.

Citing a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Bodegon said not all defects in a criminal charge are curable by amendment, especially when the revisions change the whole theory of the prosecution – from alleging that there was conspiracy to now claiming that there is none, and that Revilla’s co-accused are mere accomplices.

“If the element of conspiracy is removed, the warrant of arrest is void ab initio (from the very beginning),” he stressed.

Among the parts of the charge sheet being sought to be amended is that which states that Revilla and his fellow respondents conspired with one another.

David agreed and asked that the motion to amend be denied, complaining the prosecution is trying to destroy their defense by changing the allegations, which is why the arraignment should proceed so as to prevent government lawyers from pushing through with such scheme.

Favoring Napoles

Responding to the objections, Toribio said the original plunder complaint, read in its entirety, definitely points to Revilla and other public officials as the ones being charged in conspiracy with private individuals like Napoles.

He explained the proposed amendments only seek to eliminate vagueness and cure issues that may later cause undue delay to the trial.

Bodegon, however, countered that changing the phrase to “collaborating with private individuals” means an entirely different thing because the participation of private individuals in the alleged plunder of pork barrel funds is being degraded from mastermind to accomplice.

He even went as far as theorizing that the Office of the Ombudsman might be out to downgrade the charges against Napoles so that she can be later turned into a state witness against Revilla because the prosecution has no evidence against his client.

“This is a totally new animal. This also proves that the evidence is not strong and bail should be granted,” Bodegon said, arguing that if the amendment is allowed, Revilla’s right to due process will be trampled upon.

David seconded, saying the elements of plunder are absent in the original plunder charge against his client and the prosecution now wants to change the complaint in order to comply with the requirements of the Plunder Law.

Toribio, working with a panel of ombudsman prosecutors, responded by insisting that the new complaint does not charge another or different offense and the prosecution simply wants to add or state its position, which is allowed by the rules of court as a matter of right.

Halting the argument, 1st division member Justice Rafael Lagos asked ombudsman lawyers who wrote the original plunder charge why the same was filed even though the prosecution was poised on amendments.

“Even if we deny your motion, will you still be happy? Are you still confident?” asked the magistrate, to which Toribio answered “Yes, your honor.”

With this, De la Cruz declared the Sandiganbayan is denying the motion to amend but is allowing formal amendments like clarifying mere spellings or middle names but not the substantial parts of the original charge sheet.

For Jinggoy and Enrile, too

Similar motions to amend the plunder complaints against Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile were filed by the Office of the Ombudsman, also seeking to make the same changes to the charge sheets.

The Fifth Division chaired by Associate Justce Roland Jurado will hear the motion for Estrada today, while the Third Division headed by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang will hear the case against Enrile on Tuesday, July 1.

Officials of the Office of the Ombudsman could not be reached for comment on the denial of their first motion to amend before the First Division.

As a rule, ombudsman lawyers handling cases filed before the Sandiganbayan are not allowed to grant media interviews, even after attending hearings.

Malacañang, however, expressed confidence the government prosecutors are seeking to build strong, credible and convincing cases against the three senators implicated in the pork barrel scam.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said they are confident that the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice did the necessary work to build stronger cases against the accused.

“It is our view that… the Office of the Special Prosecutor acted well within the rules of court that allow the prosecution to present its case in the manner it deems best, consistent with its duty and mandate,” Coloma replied when asked whether the ombudsman’s decision to amend the information was an admission that the case was defective.

The ombudsman moved to amend the criminal information against Enrile and Estrada just hours after the Sandiganbayan First Division trying Revilla for plunder rejected a similar motion meant to improve the indictment against the lawmaker.

As in Revilla’s case, the ombudsman wanted to emphasize that Enrile, in his plunder case, “was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his accused public officer and private individuals” and not just Napoles.

Coloma clarified though the Office of the Ombudsman was separate and independent from the executive branch, which also conducted a thorough investigation through the National Bureau of Investigation and the DOJ.

“They submitted product of their case buildup to the Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman conducted its own process. So in our view, the concerned agencies of government did what was necessary. They did their homework. They allotted ample time to evaluate the merits of the cases being filed before the courts and we would just let the courts decide,” Coloma said.

“We are confident that sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case,” he further said, adding government officials did what they thought was right on the matter.

Seeking bail

The Sandiganbayan, meanwhile, scheduled the hearings for the motions for bail of Revilla, Napoles and Cambe to be held every Thursday in the morning and afternoon starting July 10.

Napoles has filed a petition, along with fellow respondents Lim and De Asis, asking the Sandiganbayan to grant them bail.

Napoles, through her counsel David, said the testimonial and documentary evidence that the Office of the Ombudsman has against her are weak to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of plunder.

She said the testimonies of the whistle-blowers and state witnesses that government lawyers intend to present before the Sandiganbayan “are not credible and inadmissible as evidence.” – With Aurea Calica, Reinir Padua

FROM THE INQUIRER

No revised rap vs Bong Revilla By Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Leila B. SalaverriaPhilippine Daily Inquirer12:39 am | Friday, June 27th, 2014

Court nixes gov’t bid to amend charges

Sen. Bong Revilla shows up at the Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday for his arraignment on plunder charges. The government prosecutors’ failed bid to amend the plunder charges against Sen. Bong Revilla to paint him as the central figure in the misuse of his pork barrel funds on Thursday gave rise to assertions that the case was defective and should be dismissed. LYN RILLON

MANILA, Philippines–The government prosecutors’ failed bid to amend the plunder charges against Sen. Bong Revilla to paint him as the central figure in the misuse of his pork barrel funds on Thursday gave rise to assertions that the case was defective and should be dismissed or that they wanted to picture Janet Lim-Napoles as not the guiltiest so they could use her as a state witness.

But Malacañang rejected the view that the case against Revilla—and possibly the plunder cases the Ombudsman has brought against Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile as well—is weak and likely to be thrown out.

The Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday denied the prosecution’s motion to amend the information against Revilla to show that it was he and not Napoles who amassed ill-gotten wealth by embezzling P224.5 million in public funds in connivance with several people, including the businesswoman.

The defense opposed the prosecution’s motion, arguing that the amendment of the original information would raise questions about the court’s basis for issuing warrants for the arrest of Revilla and his coaccused last week.

“We will deny the motion to amend the information insofar as the substantial amendments are concerned,” Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, division chair, said, indicating that the court would issue a formal resolution.

Napoles has always been pictured as the brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam that the Inquirer exposed in July last year, but she is not a government official and cannot be accused of plunder, which the defense has pointed out in questioning the plunder charges the Ombudsman has brought against her.

Unexplained charge

The prosecutors have not explained the plunder charges against Napoles, but the motion they brought on Wednesday to amend the information against Revilla may be a nod to the defense and at the same time an effort to correct a flaw in the case.

The prosecution said, however, that the charges against Revilla could stand even without the amendment.

Joefferson Toribio, lead prosecutor in Revilla’s case, insisted during the hearing on Thursday that the original information against Revilla charged the senator with plunder in a conspiracy with private citizens, including Napoles.

He said the proposed amendments merely sought to “eliminate vagueness and cure issues that may later cause undue delay to the trial.”

Eventually, after a back and forth between prosecution and defense, Associate Justice Rafael Lagos asked Toribio: “Even if we deny your motion, will you still be happy? Are you still confident [with your case]?”

“Yes, your Honor,” Toribio replied.

Justice De la Cruz then handed down the ruling denying the motion, saying the court would allow only minor amendments such as spellings or middle names but not changes to “substantial” parts of the original information.
Unsupported charge

Napoles’ lawyer, Stephen David, said the original information did not support the charge of plunder against the businesswoman, as she is a private citizen.

David said the prosecution’s belated move to amend the information put the court in an awkward position because the justices decided last week that there was probable cause to order the arrest of Revilla, Napoles, the senator’s staff member Richard Cambe, and Napoles’ driver-bodyguard John Raymund de Asis and nephew Ronald John Lim based on the charges filed by the Ombudsman.

The court also ordered the arrest of 27 others accused of graft with Revilla.

Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, said the prosecution’s plea was intended to allow Napoles to become a state witness to bolster the case.

Revilla was arraigned on plunder and graft charges Thursday but he refused to enter a plea. The court entered a plea of not guilty for him.

He and Cambe filed petitions for bail last week.

No basis

Bodegon said the prosecution’s attempt to introduce substantial amendments to the plunder charge bolstered the senator’s position that the case against him had no basis.

“The denial of the motion is a confirmation that there is no case against Sen. Bong Revilla,” Bodegon told reporters.

“The [prosecution’s] motion under the rules of court is called a judicial admission that won’t need other evidence. That is conclusive as against the prosecution. That will become a recurring refrain in our defense in favor of Senator Revilla,” he added.

Bodegon also said the motion meant the original information against Revilla was void, making the issuance of the arrest warrant and the commitment order for the senator also void so he should be released from custody.

Cunanan state witness

Bodegon said the prosecution’s motion was also intended to allow former Technology Resource Center (TRC) Director General Dennis Cunanan to become state witness in the trial of the graft charges against Revilla.

He said Revilla could not have been the mastermind and that the senator had nothing to do with the pork barrel scam.

Amado Valdez, former law dean of the University of the East and a board member of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, said the implication of the prosecution’s plea to paint Revilla as the central figure in the pork barrel scam was that Napoles could later become a state witness.

If the charge sheet had been amended, Napoles would effectively be just a tool of Revilla and therefore not the guiltiest, Valdez said.

He explained that while the plunder charge could remain, there was a great difference between plunder as committed with senators in conspiracy with Napoles as principals and plunder committed by senators with Napoles as just a tool of the senators.

Long-lasting implications

Valdez said the prosecution’s motion to amend the information would have long-lasting implications for the case.

“Well, the defect is that they are showing a bad card because the steps they took, in going back on the original case, could indicate there was no strong evidence, which was why they’re planning to make her a state witness. You’re amending the information to allow her to be state witness, that’s the implication,” Valdez said.

“It’s as if they’re opening a small hole in a dam. If these holes become numerous, the dam would burst,” he added.

Valdez also said the prosecution’s move could be used by the defense to claim the evidence was weak and therefore the accused should be allowed bail.

Asked if the prosecution’s failure to amend the information showed the case was lost, Valdez said he could not say because he did not know what evidence the prosecution had.

“They may have other evidence in their hands,” he said.

Defective information

Lawyer Raymond Fortun, who represents some of the complainants in the pork barrel scam cases, said the case against Revilla may be defective and could be dismissed.

He said in a phone interview that the prosecution’s motion to amend the information “implied admission” of the “defect in the language of the information.”

“If it appears (in the information) that Napoles was the one who engineered and masterminded the misappropriation of the [public funds], that does not go with the definition of plunder,” Fortun said.

“The problem is, if you look at the information, Napoles is the mastermind and all the public officials were recipients of kickbacks,” he said. “So the information may be defective.”

‘They did their homework’

In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Hermino Coloma said the Office of the Special Prosecutor “acted well within the rules of court that allow the prosecution to present its case in the manner it deems best consistent [with] its duty and mandate.”

“We are confident that sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case,” Coloma said.

He gave credit to the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation for “doing their homework” in building the case against the public officials and their alleged conspirators in the pork barrel scam.–With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Christine O. Avendaño

FROM PHILSTAR

Palace changes tune on Enrile detention By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - It’s up to the courts to decide where Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile should be detained, Malacañang clarified yesterday.

But the Palace sees nothing wrong with the Philippine National Police’s preparing detention rooms for the 90-year-old Enrile at the PNP General Hospital in anticipation of a Sandiganbayan order for his arrest.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. stressed it was not for the executive branch to give Enrile special treatment, even if President Aquino had said in Japan that the senator’s advanced age should be considered in finding a place to have him detained.

He said it’s the court that would decide on where to detain Enrile and that the President had only expressed his opinion on the issue.

Coloma said it is best for the PNP to prepare for whatever instruction the court might relay to executive officials.

The PNP General Hospital is inside Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Coloma said the administration acknowledges criticism from Scrap Pork Network, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and others that detainees and prisoners are not treated equally, hence its vigorous pursuit of judicial reforms.

The VACC had criticized Aquino for speaking on Enrile’s condition, saying this might influence the decision of the court.

“We acknowledge that the current system of criminal justice in our country is not perfect, there are many things that must be changed. That is the why the government is pushing for the needed reforms,” Coloma said.

Coloma said there must be a specific order for the detention of the three senators and that authorities had considered prevailing “special circumstances” in choosing their places of detention.

“There is no intention to implement unequal treatment. And that lack of equality, that is an issue continuously being addressed as part of the reforms being pushed by the government,” he said.

“In his press conference while en route to Hiroshima (on June 24), the President emphasized his belief that the courts will be cognizant of fulfilling their obligations and may consider the factor of the advanced age of Senator Enrile,” Coloma said.

Now detained for plunder are Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.

*No suspension yet

With regard to Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos who is among those charged with graft, Coloma said there is no preventive suspension order yet on him.

“Mario Relampagos is a career executive service officer who is by law afforded security of tenure,” Coloma said, adding that based on Civil Service Commission rules, Relampagos is entitled to due process before getting slapped with suspension.

“The same principle applies to other government officials and employees covered by CSC rules,” Coloma said.

He said a process must be followed to protect the rights of government people, including the conduct of necessary investigation, to determine the basis for suspension.

Relampagos, his staff members Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare, are facing graft charges in connection with the pork barrel scam. They posted bail last week.

Malacañang earlier said it would not ask Relampagos and his staff to resign, or “at least not until they haven’t been proven guilty.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said that the concerned budget employees were still performing their duties at the DBM but with “limited responsibilities.”

According to whistle-blower Benhur Luy, Relampagos and his staff were the DBM contacts of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Napoles allegedly facilitated the swift release of special allotment release orders (SAROs) and notice of cash allocations (NCAs) for the senators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund, also known as pork barrel.

The PDAF allocations were allegedly diverted to fake NGOs put up by Napoles.

Lawmakers reportedly received kickbacks in exchange for channeling their PDAF funds to Napoles’ dubious foundations.

Meanwhile, the PNP also said it is ready to take in as detainees Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes and Pauline Labayen – the only women among those charged with plunder and graft.

Reyes is a former chief of staff of Enrile while Labayen is a staff of Estrada.

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, director of the PNP-Public Information Office, said the fourth detention cell may be reserved for Reyes and Labayen. He said the cell is inaccessible from the first three cells.

“They have put a barrier between the third and fourth detention cells,” said Sindac. “It’s just one of the options. But as we have been saying in the past, it’s the court which has the final say.”

The 4th room has a double deck bed, a night table, a toilet with shower.

Police are also mulling over the possibility of putting both Reyes and Labayen at the main detention facility with the other female inmates.

Reconciliation

For Sen. JV Ejercito, his half-brother’s getting jailed for plunder has made him consider reconciling with him.

In a press briefing in Legazpi City yesterday, Ejercito said he was surprised to feel sorry for his brother when he saw him turn himself in to authorities last Monday.

“All the while I thought my relationship with my brother is already irreconcilable. But when I saw my brother surrendering at the Sandiganbayan, I suddenly feel sad. I felt that he is my brother after all,” Ejercito said.

Ejercito said he would not have felt the need to reconcile with Estrada if the latter had not been charged and detained for his alleged participation in the pork barrel scam.

“Yes, I believe that this event helps me think that in due time, we would be in good terms again as brothers. I always believe that things happen for a reason. And this includes what happened to my brother Jinggoy,” Ejercito said.

He admitted they were never on speaking terms.

Asked if he is expecting any request for help from their father for Jinggoy, Ejercito said: “No. My father would not tell me to help my bother because he very well knows that I will not heed him. I am hard-headed when it already involves my principles in life.”

He also shrugged off allegations that Jinggoy was getting special treatment in detention.

“It does not matter whether his jail has better facilities than the rest of the prisoners. After all, a cage although made of gold remains a cage. The people inside have no freedom,” Ejercito said, adding that “it is enough that the judicial processes are being observed.” Cet Dematera, Cecille Suerte Felipe

FROM THE INQUIRER

Prosecution’s ‘blunder’ will prolong plunder trial, says former DOJ chief By Leila B. SalaverriaPhilippine Daily Inquirer8:46 pm | Saturday, June 28th, 2014


Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—At the very least, the government prosecutors could expect a longer legal battle following their two failed attempts to amend plunder charges against Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, which lawmakers said gave the impression that they were ill-prepared for the high-profile cases.

Still, all is not lost, according to 1BAP party list Representative Silvestre Bello, a former justice secretary, who said the fate of the criminal charges would still rise or fall on the basis of the evidence the prosecutors could present in court.

But by trying to change the main theory of their plunder cases, the prosecutors gave the accused senators’ defense team the ammunition to question the cases and prolong the trial, and to boost their claim that the filing of charges was rushed in order to harass them, said Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.

The proposed amendments would have made the senators the central figures in the theft of hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel funds instead of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles. The prosecutors withdrew their motion following warnings from magistrates that this could lead to the recall of the arrest warrants for the senators.

Bello said it was too early to say the case is lost, despite the initial setback, because the outcome would depend on the evidence.

“In the end, what matters is the evidence they are able to present. That is what is important here, to prove the accused took advantage of the PDAF and were able to obtain illegally the amount beyond P50 million,” Bello said in a phone interview.

*But Bello also noted that the attempt to amend the charge sheet gave the impression that what the prosecutors filed in the first place was incorrect, although he noted that making substantial changes was a fairly normal occurrence if there was newly discovered evidence that could affect the nature of the case.

“The impression is, they made a mistake. In the first round, the defense got the upper hand. So they have to recover,” he said.

He also noted that the prosecutors, when asked by the Sandiganbayan justices, maintained the cases could stand even without amending the charges.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte also believes the strength of the case remains even if things do not look good for the prosecution at present.

“I really don’t know what they were trying to do. But certainly it didn’t look good insofar as public perception of their ability is concerned. I think the merits of the case and evidence are unchanged,” Belmonte said in a text message.

Colmenares was baffled by the prosecutors’ move to amend the charges shortly before the senators’ arraignment, especially since it took a while before the cases were filed in court, leading people to believe these were less than meticulously prepared.

The prosecutors withdrew the amendments when these were questioned by the justices, but this will still have an adverse impact on the case because the accused will use this to their advantage, he said.

“The trial will be prolonged…. As it is, they have to pass through the plunder law and the anti-graft law. With this development, the trial will probably take longer to finish because objections will be raised along the way,” Colmenares said in a telephone interview.

The proposed amendments were substantial and it was not as if these were based on newly discovered evidence, he added.

“Did it weaken the case? Yes, it gave the defense a lot of grounds for objections. You expose the weakness of the information and it’s so substantial. This is a big thing because they were even forced to move for the amendment and the basis for it is the theory [of the case],” he said.

He added that the defense would also use this to claim that the filing of the cases was intended to harass them.
“How can you make that mistake which will jive with the theory of the defense that the cases were rushed to get them?” Colmenares added.

Still, he said, the outcome of the case would depend on what would happen in the trial, and on what evidence would be brought up.

What the prosecutors could do is to prepare for the defense’s attacks on their case.

“They should try their best to argue it well…. The best thing is to anticipate the questions to be raised by the defense and to be ready with their answers,” Colmenares said.

The prosecutors should also expect that the case may be challenged before the Supreme Court, he said.

For, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, government prosecutors should have insisted on the amendment of their charges against the senators before the latter’s arraignment if they really believed there was a need to strengthen the cases.

Zarate said the prosecution’s attempt to change the theory of the cases exposed their vulnerability, wittingly or unwittingly.

To ensure better handling of the pork barrel cases, he said, officials at the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice should ensure there would be a team of full-time special investigators and prosecutors handling these cases.

Revilla’s lawyer has seized on the motion to amend the information to insist that the plunder and graft charges against his client have no basis and their arrest warrants should be recalled.

Revilla and Estrada are currently detained for plunder for the alleged embezzling of their pork barrel funds. A similar case has been filed against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, though the court handling the matter has yet to issue a warrant for his arrest.

Strike 2 vs gov’t lawyers By Dona Z. PazzibuganPhilippine Daily Inquirer1:23 am | Saturday, June 28th, 2014


Philippine Senator Jinggoy Estrada blows a kiss as he is whisked to his detention cell after surrendering to police authorities Monday, June 23, 2014 at Philippine National Police headquarters at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. AP FILE PHOTO

Faced with the very real possibility of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada walking out of his rat-and-cockroach-infested cell, government prosecutors on Friday withdrew their motion to amend the plunder information against him to make him the central figure in the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds instead of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

As a result, Estrada will be arraigned next Monday for plunder based on the original charges filed by the Ombudsman on June 6.

It was the second time for state prosecutors in the P10-billion pork barrel scam cases to fall flat on their faces with their last-minute efforts to remedy an ambiguity in the information they had filed against Estrada and Senators Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile that pictured Napoles, an ordinary citizen, as the principal in the plunder cases, with the lawmakers merely receiving kickbacks from her.

Plunder is an offense that can be brought only against public officials who amass at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth.
Bail is not allowed in plunder cases.

On Thursday, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division junked the prosecutors’ amendments to the plunder case against Revilla because the proposed changes would alter the court’s finding that there was probable cause to make the senator stand trial, the reason it ordered his arrest and detention. The revision would have resulted in Revilla being ordered released from jail.

As if they learned nothing from that debacle, the prosecutors on Friday proceeded to argue in the Fifth Division for amendments to Estrada’s case—only to be lectured by the justices on legal terminology.

Motion withdrawn

The prosecutors were forced to withdraw their amended plunder information against Estrada and his three coaccused after the justices warned them that they would have to order the senator released from detention once the basis for the court’s order to arrest him was revised.

Associate Justices Roland Jurado and Alexander Gesmundo of the Fifth Division, which handles the consolidated plunder and graft cases against Estrada and 25 coaccused, lectured the prosecutors on the implications of amending the plunder charges.

The amended information that the prosecution introduced this week would have Estrada as the principal gainer in the pork barrel scam, pocketing P183.7 million in kickbacks from Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

*Jurado, the division chair, and Gesmundo pointed out that the court found probable cause to order the arrest of Estrada and his coaccused based on the the original charges filed by the Ombudsman.

Without the basis for the finding of probable cause, there would be no basis for the arrest, according to the justices.

“If I were you I would not amend the information,” Jurado told the prosecutors while defense lawyers listened during a court hearing on Friday morning.

“We are just warning you of the effect of (amending) the information. The accused will be released. If we amend that, Estrada will be released,” Jurado continued.

Lead prosecutor Danilo Lopez, who was defending the amended information before the justices, gave up upon hearing that.

“If that is the case, we are withdrawing our manifestation of motion to amend information,” Lopez said.

Different legal concepts

Before the exchange, Gesmundo asked Lopez why the element of “conspiracy” disappeared in the amended information against Estrada.

Lopez replied that the prosecutors changed “conspiracy” with “connivance,” as the two words were “interchangeable.”
Gesmundo came back, pointing out that the two words conveyed different legal concepts.

Unlike connivance, Gesmundo said, conspiracy implicates all the accused for the acts committed by each one under the doctrine “the act of one is the act of many.”

“This is a criminal indictment so every word in the information must be precise,” Gesmundo said.

“What will happen to Napoles, who is a private individual, [when] there is no more conspiracy?” Jurado asked Lopez.

With no answer coming immediately from the lead prosecutor, Jurado proceeded to tell him it was possible for Napoles to gain relief should the conspiracy charge against her be lowered to collaboration.

Napoles’ camp argued that she cannot be charged with plunder because she is an ordinary citizen.

PDAF conspiracy

The original plunder information accused Estrada and his deputy chief of staff, Pauline Therese Labayen, of “conspiring with one another and with Napoles and her driver-bodyguard John Raymund de Asis (to) willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass, accumulate and/or acquire ill-gotten wealth amounting to at least P183.7 million.”

It charged that Napoles gave Estrada or Labayen or both received a percentage of the cost of a project funded from the senator’s allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in exchange for his endorsement of the ghost projects to the implementing government agencies.

For the amendment, prosecutors wanted to delete the phrase “thus enabling Napoles to misappropriate the PDAF proceeds for her personal gain.”

The prosecutors also wanted to rephrase the introductory paragraph of the information “to emphasize that the senator was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his coaccused public officer and private individuals.”

They also wanted to include the phrase that Estrada enriched himself through kickbacks and commissions “by exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorably act on his endorsement of the NGOs (nongovernment organizations) of Napoles to ensure that his PDAF will be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts.”

Cases may be thrown out

Legal commentators have said the prosecution’s error has weakened the case, raising the possibility of their cases being thrown out.

Some of the commentators have said, however, that the prosecution’s attempt to amend the information is aimed at picturing Napoles as not the guiltiest, which will enable the state to use her as witness, bolstering the cases against the three senators.

Asked on Friday whether Napoles would get immunity in exchange for her testimony against the three senators, her lawyer Bruce Rivera said her camp still hoped the Ombudsman would reconsider its rejection of her request to be made a state witness.

“We are praying for them to change their minds,” Rivera said in a text message.

“We cannot speculate whether the position of the Ombudsman is better for Janet Lim-Napoles or not because she is still an accused in the case. If the shift is toward the lawmaker as the mastermind of the scam, that has always been our position,” he said.

Lawyer Levito Baligod, a private complainant in the plunder cases, said the rejection of the amendments would not change the case.

“She remains one of the principal conspirators,” Baligod said.

Newly appointed Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Maria Theresa Gomez-Estoesta took part in the Fifth Division hearing for the first time on Friday. She was appointed on Monday.

The Fifth Division announced it would decide on Estrada’s request for bail based on the written petitions.

Estrada will be arraigned for plunder next Monday along with Labayen, Napoles and De Asis.

Estrada is also accused of 11 counts of graft along with 25 others.

Despite the two consecutive failures, the prosecution will try to convince the Third Division next Tuesday to allow it to amend the plunder information against Enrile.

The court has yet to decide whether there is probable cause to send Enrile, his former chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes and Napoles to trial and order their arrest.

Enrile is accused of pocketing P172 million in kickbacks from Napoles’ phantom, pork barrel-funded projects.

The Senate minority leader also faces 11 counts of graft with 48 coaccused, including Reyes and Napoles.

Napoles will be arraigned again next Monday, this time with Estrada. She was arraigned in the First Division on Thursday in the case involving Revilla, who is accused of embezzling P224.5 million in public funds in connivance with the businesswoman.

Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David said he wanted the arraignment to proceed because he believed the case had been shown to be weak by the prosecution’s attempt to revise the charges.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima rejected that view, saying the information was “sufficient.”

Speaking to reporters in Bacolod City, De Lima said the Ombudsman tried to amend the charges to make them clearer.
“It is clarificatory to preclude or obviate any perceived ambiguity,” she said.

De Lima said she remained confident the government’s evidence was sufficient to prove plunder in the cases against Revilla and Estrada. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan in Manila and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas

Estrada, Revilla ignore detention rules, welcome visitors up to 2 a.m.By Marlon RamosPhilippine Daily Inquirer7:44 pm | Sunday, June 29th, 2014


Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Are the VIP jailbirds exempted from the “strict” prison rules at the jail facility at Camp Crame?

Relatives and friends of Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. have been allowed to visit the detained lawmakers beyond the visiting period at the high-security detention facility of the Philippine National Police.

On Sunday, families and close friends of Estrada and Revilla, including well-known showbiz personalities, were still inside the PNP Custodial Center at 5 p.m.

In a previous interview, Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP spokesman, said visitors were only allowed to see the two senators from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Thursday and Sunday.

Sindac explained that the Custodial Services Unit, the PNP unit supervising the jail facility, had set the visiting period for the high-profile detainees since the holding area of the detention compound could only accommodate up to 30 persons.

But members of the media who had been staking out the prison facility noted that more than 30 individuals entered the newly detention bungalow.

They also noted that visitors of Revilla and Estrada, who were ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, were seen going in and out of the Custodial Center last Saturday.

A television cameraman said they saw actor Tirso Cruz III leaving the jail facility at about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Comedian Bayani Agbayani admitted there were more than 30 visitors inside the prison facility when he came to visit Revilla and Estrada on Sunday.

“The visitors were mostly family members,” Agbayani briefly told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The senators’ families were also seen bringing in food items in trays and big plastic containers.

Since they were taken to the detention compound last week, Revilla and Estrada had refused to eat their food ration.

The Inquirer repeatedly tried to get the comment of Sindac and Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, chief of the PNP Headquarters Support Service, but they did not answer calls to their mobile phones.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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