Updated: June 19, 2014 08:30 PM GMT
Senator Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr (center) embraces former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile (right) and Senator Jinggoy Estrada (left) who are also accused of diverting government funds (Photo by Alex Nuevaespana)
Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr surrendered to authorities on Friday after the Philippines’ anti-graft court ordered his arrest on plunder charges.
"I am ready to go to jail," Revilla told a crowd of supporters before boarding a vehicle that brought him from his home in Cavite province to the Manila court.
"I hope the court will be fair and I will have the chance to clear my name," the senator added.
Revilla could face a sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty of stealing at least US$5.11 million of government funds.
A state audit last year revealed that some six billion pesos (about $137 million) in "pork barrel" money was allegedly misused between 2007 and 2009 by at least 12 senators and 180 congressmen, who stand accused of channeling the money to dubious NGOs.
Aside from Revilla, two other opposition senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, also face charges of plunder.
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr said the arrest warrants issued for the senators and 32 others involved in the scheme was a "significant step forward in the judicial process”.
"We believe that through a fair and just trial, accountability will be clearly established and in like manner, those that are innocent will be exonerated," he added.
"Today is a breath of fresh air. Today is a 'Thank God it’s Friday' kind of day," said Representative Walden Bello of the Akbayan Party, an ally of President Benigno Aquino.
Bello said the Filipino people "are now seeing the fruit of their collective struggle" after staging anti-corruption protests since last year.
Revilla’s arrest "will serve as a stern warning to other guilty parties and a powerful symbol to mobilize the people against massive corruption", he added.
Revilla, Estrada and Enrile, who are all Catholics, are known supporters of the Catholic bishops' conference’s campaign against the implementation of the controversial Reproductive Health Law.
"They were our allies before in a particular issue, now that they are down and that they are being accused of corruption it doesn’t mean we will just drop them," said, Fr Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the bishops' conference.
“Let’s leave it to the courts. If they are guilty then so be it. But as of now, guilty or not, we have to accompany them," Castro said.
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