By Elizabeth Marcelo, April 2 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Alleged pork scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles has no other recourse but to elevate her case before the Supreme Court (SC) after the Sandiganbayan upheld her conviction for plunder.

In a 16-page resolution promulgated on March 13, the anti-graft court denied Napoles’ appeal in connection with a ruling sentencing her to a maximum of 40 years in prison.

The court found Napoles guilty for the misuse of P517 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of former senator Ramon Revilla Jr.

Convicted with Napoles was Revilla’s former staff member Richard Cambe.

Revilla, the primary accused in the case, was acquitted as the Office of the Ombudsman’s prosecution panel supposedly failed to present evidence showing that he received rebates, commissions or kickbacks for the allocation of his PDAF to Napoles’ bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).

In denying Napoles’ appeal, the anti-graft court’s First Division said Revilla’s acquittal does not clear her of liability as there was sufficient evidence showing she and Cambe conspired to commit the crime.

In an earlier motion for reconsideration, Napoles argued that Revilla’s acquittal consequently extinguished the case as there can never be a plunder offense without a “main plunderer.”

She cited Section 2 of Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law, which states that a private individual can only be held liable of plunder if it was proven that he conspired with the main plunderer, who is a public official, in amassing at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth.

Napoles said Cambe could not be considered the main plunderer in the case as the prosecution’s evidence showed that Cambe only received commissions amounting to P13.935 million, which is way below the P50-million threshold for a plunder case to prosper.

The First Division rebuked Napoles, saying she and Cambe are both main plunderers in the case.

The court gave weight on the testimonies of pork scam whistleblowers – Benhur Luy, Merlina Suñas, Marina Sula and Arlene Baltazar – who unanimously said that Cambe was the only person they dealt with in connection with Revilla’s PDAF.

The court said the witnesses, who are former employees of Napoles, were consistent in saying that all the payments made to Cambe were always under the instructions of Napoles or within her presence.

It said this debunked Napoles’ claim that the conspiracy could just be between Cambe and Luy.

“A conspiracy between Cambe and Luy, to the exclusion of Napoles could not be possible, because the NGOs, through which the funds were diverted, were all creations of Napoles. Napoles has control of the bank accounts of these NGOs… all payments of kickbacks to Cambe were made either in the presence of Napoles or under her instructions,” the court said.

The court said that while Luy’s ledger showed that Cambe received only P13.935 million in kickbacks, the same ledger as well as the other pieces of documentary evidence presented by the prosecution, proved that Cambe was the sole taker of an additional P124.5 million representing Revilla’s supposed share in the PDAF scheme.

“But the line or the connection between the money from Cambe to Revilla was not established with certainty. Cambe was caught with the proverbial ‘money bag’ clearly in his hands, with no sign that it was passed on to his ‘boss’,” the court said.

The Sandiganbayan said this showed the amount of ill-gotten wealth received by Cambe, in conspiracy with Napoles, has sufficiently met the P50-million threshold for a crime to be considered as plunder.