Revilla plunder case canceled anew

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The Sandiganbayan on Thursday (February 4) cancelled for the second time Sen. Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr's pre-trial hearing over a plunder case.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — For the second time, the Sandiganbayan canceled the first day of trial for plunder of former senator Bong Revilla – who is one of several accused in the alleged pork barrel scam.

The trial didn't push through due to  Revilla's pending motion to have his plunder case dismissed, which he filed three days ago, on February 6, 2017.

During the hearing, Revilla's lawyer Estelito Mendoza said the case should be dismissed because the allegations against his client are vague and insufficient to constitute plunder.

"He (Revilla) has been detained for two years but up to this time, he does not understand the offense and for what reason he was detained," Mendoza told the justices of the Sandiganbayan First Division.

Revilla has been detained at the PNP Custodial Center since June 2014 over the plunder case.

Mendoza argued the prosecution merely established that Revilla endorsed NGOs for his pork projects, and failed to establish how the former lawmaker pocketed public funds.

"An endorsement is not a criminal act. An endorsement is required by the rules, it cannot be considered an overt criminal act," Mendoza said during an interview after the hearing.

At most, he said the allegations against Revilla only constitute bribery, and not plunder.

Plunder is a non-bailable offense, while bribery is.

"The question is simple. Is endorsement an overt criminal act as defined by the plunder law? No. The language of the information supports that," Mendoza said in court.

Mendoza also said he will make revisions in the list of documents and witnesses previously submitted by his client--that's to be presented during the trial.

State prosecutors are opposing the motion, and maintain that all elements of plunder were clearly laid out in the charge sheet filed against Revilla.

They told the court Revilla's claim that the charges are vague is erroneous, considering the former lawmaker has previously argued the evidence of guilt is weak.

"He was the one who filed a petition for bail and he argued in that petition for bail that our evidence of guilt is weak. So how can you argue that the evidence of the prosecution is not strong if you do not understand the charges against you?" Office of the Special Prosecutor Director Joefferson Toribio said.

The prosecution also questioned why the former senator waited until his trial was supposed to begin before filing a motion to quash.

Mendoza said timing is not an issue as a motion to quash can be filed at any point in the case and that he only took over Revilla's case last month.

Mendoza also represents former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile in his plunder and graft cases over the alleged pork barrel scam.

Ramon Esguerra, Revilla's lawyer in previous years, meantime, apologized to the court for any delay.

The court gave both parties five days to file their position paper on the matter before it decides on Revilla's motion.