Philippine senator Ramon 'Bong' Revilla faces music over graft charges

Former action hero tackles most challenging role of his life after turning himself in to Manila court over alleged role in pork barrel scandal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 10:09pm

Philippine senator and former movie star Ramon "Bong" Revilla yesterday became the first politician detained over a corruption scandal that has rocked the nation, with two of his colleagues set to follow.

The senator, a former action hero who parlayed his fame into a political career, surrendered following an emotional saga played out for weeks on national television.

"I will go to jail with my head held high, and I will come out with my head held high," Revilla, 47, said after attending a televised mass with his family, dressed in white to symbolise his supposed innocence

I will go to jail with my head held high, and I will come out with my head held high

He later arrived at the anti-graft court that ordered his arrest and beamed at supporters before entering the building to meet the court sheriff.

Revilla is one of three senators to have been accused so far of participating in a years-long pork-barrel scam in which politicians embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars meant for development projects.

President Benigno Aquino took office in 2010 on a promise of battling graft. He has made some progress, and enjoys popularity ratings of more than 70 per cent, although he has failed to eradicate the problem.

Revilla was later taken into detention at the national police headquarters, where he will be held during his trial. He has applied for bail.

Revilla faces life imprisonment and forfeiture of any assets he may have illegally acquired if found guilty of pocketing more than 224 million pesos (HK$39.5 million) from congressional funds from 2007 to 2010.

The Office of the Ombudsman says Revilla funnelled the funds to non-existent non-government organisations for agricultural projects.

The money was then ploughed back to him, several government officials and a businesswoman who devised the scheme, prosecutors say.

Aquino abolished such funds last year as part of his fight against graft.

Two other opposition senators face similar charges: Juan Ponce Enrile, a 90-year-old former senate president and a hero of a 1986 pro-democracy "people power" uprising, and Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, a son of former president and Manila City mayor Joseph Estrada.

The elder Estrada was ousted in 2001 and convicted of plunder six years later. But he was pardoned by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself now under detention and facing similar charges for wrongdoing during her nine years in office.

The government loses about 200 billion pesos a year to corruption, or 1.8 per cent of economic output, Aquino has said.

Critics say graft has drained government coffers and entrenched poverty in the country of 97 million people.

But things have improved under Aquino and last year the Philippines moved 11 places up the rankings of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, reaching 94th out of 177 countries.

In 2012, the Philippines was ranked 105th, a big improvement from 129th in 2011. Six years ago, under the previous administration, it was ranked 141st.