MANILA (Reuters) - A popular Philippine action movie hero-turned senator pleaded not guilty to plunder on Thursday in a case seen as landmark test of the government’s ability to tackle entrenched corruption in the poor Southeast Asian nation.
Ramon “Bong” Revilla, known for possessing amulets to defeat his enemies in film, stood quietly with about 20 other co-accused during the arraignment hearing. “Not guilty” one of the three judges said when they did not hear him enter a plea.
The opposition senator faces life imprisonment if found guilty of pocketing 224 million pesos ($5.11 million) from 2007 to 2010 from congressional funds. Revilla is being held at a police camp.
The plunder trial is central to President Benigno Aquino’s effort to shed the country’s image as one of the most corrupt in Asia.
The court set Revilla’s first hearing for July 10.
Two other opposition senators are facing similar plunder charges. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, son of former president and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, will be arraigned next week.
Juan Ponce Enrile, a 90-year-old former senate president and hero of People Power revolt against the dictatorship in 1986, is appealing to avoid detention due to his age and poor health.
Prosecutors, citing government-commissioned reports and witness testimony, said the three senators had siphoned off funds to non-existent non-government organizations for agricultural projects.
($1 = 43.8600 Philippine Pesos)
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence