Senators divided on Bong Revilla's acquittal on plunder case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) — Some of Bong Revilla's former colleagues in the Senate are divided on the Sandiganbayan's decision to acquit him of plunder charges in relation to the pork barrel scam.

Senate President Tito Sotto said he is happy with the court's decision, which will boost Revilla's campaign to return to the Senate.

"Its a booster to his candidacy," he said.

Senator Gringo Honasan believes the acquittal of the former senator is a breath of fresh air for lawmakers facing similar charges, like him.

Honasan is facing graft charges due to the scam.

"To me that it can allow us to move forward, move on na tayo [we can move on] as long as these two conditions are met: rule of the law and due process," Honasan said.

Senator Dick Gordon said the major takeaway from the anti-graft court's decision is that funds intended for government purpose should not be pocketed by senators.

Gordon said the pork barrel scam gave the Priority Development Assistance Fund a bad name, and affected a number of people in the province who need help but are not attended to by the national government.

"Kasi yun ang problema dyan, nagkakaroon ng interest ang mga congressmen, mga senator," Gordon said. "That is not the intention."

[Translation: The problem there is that congressmen and senators take interest in the funds, they take charge of the projects. That is not the intention.]

Gordon said government must be transparent on the disbursement and appropriation of these funds.

"I think we have to review the whole system, all over again. Pork barrel is not unique to Filipinos it is elsewhere. Reason for that is equalization of opportunity in term sof getting investment," he said.

Senator Ping Lacson, who has been a strong advocate against pork since his first senatorial term in 2001, said he is on the fence about the ruling.

"As a former colleague and friend, I am happy for ex-Sen. Bong Revilla. As a strong advocate against the pork barrel system, I feel weak and defeated," Lacson said in a message.

But as an incumbent senator, Lacson added he respects the court's ruling as it has "better appreciation of the evidence."

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Lacson's respect for the court ruling, saying Revilla can now have a chance to continue his public service.

"At for Senator Revilla, of course magkakaroon na siya ngayon ng panahon para ipagpatuloy yung kanyang gustong ipagpatuloy lalo na pagdating sa pagbibigay serbisyo sa publiko," he said.

[Translation: And for Senator Revilla, this will give him time to continue with what he wants to pursue, most especially public service.]

Opposition senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan is not pleased with the ruling.

"Paano naging guilty ang nanuhol pero not guilty ang sinuhulan? Mahirap unawain ang naging pasya,"  Pangilinan said, as alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and Revilla's staff Richard Cambe were found guilty.

[Translation: How would the briber be guilty and yet the one bribed is not? It's hard to understand the decision.]

Pangilinan added the P124.5 million ordered to be returned from all those accused is a huge sum of money.

"Ang pinababalik na P124 million ay makakapagpasweldo ng 248,000 na minimum wage earner sa isang araw," he said.

[Translation: The P124 million can give wages to 248,000 minimum wage earners in a day.]

The verdict comes more than four years after the Ombudsman filed Revilla's plunder case, and is the first to be resolved among dozens of cases involving lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Revilla was accused of amassing P224.5 million-worth of kickbacks from Napoles when he was a senator.

Palace abides by Sandiganbayan ruling

Malacañang, in a statement Friday, said they are bowing to the Sandiganbayan's judgement.

"We have consistently respected the independence of the Judiciary and we will continue to do so in this case as we implement the final orders of the anti-graft court on the matter," Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panelo said in a statement.

Panelo added concerned or aggrieved parties may seek legal remedies.

He said the administration has taken note of lessons and issues involving public funds, and that government has implemented measures to ensure the integrity of the national budget.

Congress is current deliberating on the 2019 budget, where some senators decry the presence of pork barrel anew.