Celebrity senator gets not guilty plea in Manila

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Celebrity senator gets not guilty plea in Manila
Philippine Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., a popular actor accused of receiving money in kickbacks, waves to reporters as he arrives for his arraignment at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, June 26, 2014. The court entered a not guilty plea for Revilla., an action movie star accused of receiving 224 million pesos ($5.1 million) in kickbacks from a scam that allegedly diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers’ pet projects. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., center, a popular actor accused of receiving 224 million pesos ($5.1 million) in kickbacks from a scam that allegedly diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers’ pet projects, is escorted by police after attending his arraignment at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Revilla, one of three Philippine senators accused of plunder, has refused to enter a plea Thursday during arraignment by the anti-graft court in the biggest corruption trial in the country in more than a decade. He is currently being held in custody in a detention facility at the Philippine National Police headquarters. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., a popular actor accused of receiving money in kickbacks, waves to reporters after attending his arraignment at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, June 26, 2014. The court entered a not guilty plea for Revilla., an action movie star accused of receiving 224 million pesos ($5.1 million) in kickbacks from a scam that allegedly diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers’ pet projects. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
In this handout photo released by the Philippine National Police Public Information Office, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. has his mugshot taken as part of a police booking process before he is brought to his detention cell in Camp Crame police headquarters, north of Manila, Philippines Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Philippine National Police Public Information Office)
In this handout photo released by the Philippine National Police Public Information Office, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. has his fingerprints taken as part of a police booking process before he is brought to his detention cell in Camp Crame police headquarters, north of Manila, Philippines Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Philippine National Police Public Information Office)
Philippine senator Ramon Revilla Jr., center, arrives at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine senator Ramon Revilla Jr., center, is escorted by security personnel as he arrives at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine senator Ramon Revilla Jr. rides inside a police car as he is driven to his detention celll at Camp Crame police headquarters in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and mighty being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine senator Ramon Revilla Jr. waves as he arrives as the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Friday, June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
In this photo released by the Philippine National Police Public Information Office, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. undergoes a medical checkup as part of a police booking process before he is brought to his detention cell in Camp Crame police headquarters, north of Manila, Philippines on Friday June 20, 2014. Revilla, also a popular action movie star surrendered after the anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and might being made to answer for alleged misdeeds. (AP Photo/Philippine National Police Public Information Office)
FILE - In this Monday, June 9, 2014 file photo, Philippine Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., center, cuddles Senator Jinggoy Estrada, left, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile after his privilege speech at the Philippine Senate in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines. Estrada, the son of an ex-president, surrendered to police Monday after a court ordered his arrest on corruption charges, the second celebrity politician in days to end up in jail allegedly for plundering this poor Southeast Asian nation's coffers. On Friday, June 20, Revilla Jr. surrendered after the anti-graft court issued an arrest warrant. A third senator, Enrile, has also been charged with economic plunder for allegedly receiving 172 million pesos ($3.94 million) in kickbacks, but an arrest warrant has not been issued yet. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)
Philippine Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. pauses during his privilege speech at the Philippine Senate in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines on Monday, June 9, 2014. Philippine government prosecutors filed corruption charges last week against Revilla and two other senators who allegedly received hundreds of millions of pesos (millions of dollars) in kickbacks from funds allocated for projects for the poor. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine Senator, actor Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr. wears a costume as he joins the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Parade of Stars in Manila, Philippines on Sunday Dec. 23, 2012. Theaters nationwide will only show locally produced films during the festival which runs from Dec. 25 to Jan. 8.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine Senator and movie actor Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., center, wave to the crowd from the top of their float during the 36th Metro Manila Film Festival Friday, Dec. 24, 2010, in Manila, Philippines. The film festival runs from Dec. 25 until Jan. 7 and only shows locally-made movies nationwide. (AP Photo/Pat Roque)
Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. carries one of the school children taken hostage by unidentified men, after their release following a 10-hour standoff in front of the Manila City Hall in Manila, Philippines Wednesday March 28, 2007. Unidentified men, allegedly armed with grenades, UZI assault rifle and handgun, took hostage 32 children and two teachers and posted their demands of free housing and education to 145 children in the poor neighborhood in Manila. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. prepare to enter a tourist bus to negotiate for the release of school children who were taken hostage Wednesday March 28, 2007 in front of the Manila City Hall in Manila, Philippines . Unidentified men, allegedly armed with grenades, UZI assault rifle and handgun, took hostage 32 children and two teachers and posted their demands of free housing and education to 145 children in the poor neighborhood in Manila. Only one hostage was released so far.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., second from right, carries a child moments after hostage-takers released the boy Wednesday March 28, 2007, in front of the Manila City Hall in Manila, Philippines . A day-care center owner hijacked a busload of his students and teachers and drove them to Manila's city hall Wednesday to demand better housing and education for the children. Jun Ducat and at least one other hostage-taker scribbled in large letters on a sheet of paper, taped to the bus' windshield, that they were holding 32 children and two teachers and were armed with two grenades, an assault rifle and a pistol, officer Mark Andal said. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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By OLIVER TEVES
Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- One of three Philippine senators accused of plunder refused to enter a plea Thursday during arraignment by the anti-graft court in the biggest corruption trial in the country in more than a decade.

The court instead entered a not guilty plea for Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., an action movie star accused of receiving 224 million pesos ($5.1 million) in kickbacks from a scam that allegedly diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers' pet projects.

The high-profile prosecutions bolster President Benigno Aquino III's campaign to fight high-profile corruption that has plagued the nation of 97 million for decades. The problem has festered amid a culture of impunity among powerful politicians and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system. Still, it's unclear whether the charges will lead to convictions, which have been rare in major cases.

Revilla has denied taking kickbacks or stealing money from state funds, but his lawyer Joel Bodegon said he advised the senator not to enter a plea so that several pending motions questioning the validity of the charges will not be dismissed.

Two other prominent senators are accused in the case - Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. They have not been arraigned yet.

Estrada, son of an ex-president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, joined Revilla in detention at the national police headquarters on Monday. He is accused of pocketing 183 million pesos ($4.2 million) in kickbacks.

Enrile allegedly pocketed 172 million pesos ($3.94 million) in kickbacks, but an arrest warrant has not been issued yet for the 90-year-old former senate president.

Estrada and his father were also accused of plunder in 2001 in a landmark trial that followed the president's ouster in a popular uprising. The younger Estrada was acquitted in 2007, but his father was convicted of illegally amassing about $81 million in bribes and proceeds from illegal gambling. He was later pardoned by his successor.

Bodegon said that his client, Revilla, feels the cases are politically motivated to hurt his chances for running for president in 2016. A bail hearing will be held next month for Revilla.

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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