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Napoles eyed as state witness in âporkâ cases
As her conviction for the serious illegal detention case was reversed, jailed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles is now being considered as a state witness in the government’s planned reinvestigation of the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel anomaly.
STAR/File

Napoles eyed as state witness in ‘pork’ cases

Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  From alleged pork barrel scam mastermind to state witness?

As her conviction for the serious illegal detention case was reversed, jailed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles is now being considered as a state witness in the government’s planned reinvestigation of the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel anomaly.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II revealed this as he expressed belief that Napoles could be a credible key witness.

“Yes, we’re actually planning to meet with her for our review of the PDAF cases,” Aguirre said in a phone interview.

Legal experts have wondered whether Napoles can qualify as a state witness since she is not the least guilty and is in fact accused of being the mastermind of the PDAF scam.

Aguirre said he has started discussions about the reinvestigation of the pork barrel cases with former Manila councilor Greco Belgica, an anti-pork barrel advocate who petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the PDAF during the previous administration.

“We’re building up cases and we’re really committed to get Janet Lim-Napoles if she will cooperate,” Aguirre stressed.

He said, however, that the credibility of Napoles would still depend on her statements.

“She should have knowledge of everything because it all came from her. If what she would say will be coupled with documents, then there is no reason why she should not be credible,” Aguirre explained.

Palace officials have given assurance there was no deal forged by the administration with Napoles and that there is also no policy shift with regard to the PDAF scam.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said yesterday she fears Napoles will be used to persecute President Duterte’s opponents.

"It is not remote that Duterte will use Napoles to blackmail and threaten any remaining opposition in Congress," she said.

Aguirre said the Department of Justice (DOJ) respects the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) to acquit Napoles in the case involving the serious illegal detention of pork barrel scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy.

He pointed out that there was nothing wrong with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) pursuing the acquittal of Napoles.

“It was really the initiative of the OSG and they can really do that without any guidance or approval from the DOJ. In cases before the CA or the SC, the SolGen really has discretion on what to do,” he explained.

Aguirre further pointed out that Napoles, despite her acquittal in the serious illegal detention case, would remain detained because of the pending non-bailable plunder cases against her in the Sandiganbayan.

In 2015, Napoles was sentenced to 40 years in prison by Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda for detaining Luy, her cousin and employee, from December 2012 until March 2013.

Luy later blew the whistle on the pork barrel scam.

Napoles has since been serving her sentence at the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong.

But in a 35-page decision penned by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro and concurred with by Associate Justices Samuel Gaerlan and Jhosep Lopez, the CA’s 12th division granted the appeal filed by Napoles and reversed the verdict of the RTC.

The CA said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the crime was committed. It said there was no indubitable proof that Luy was held against his will at the Bahay ni San Jose retreat house where Napoles’ brother, Reynaldo “Jojo” Lim approached priests and suggested Luy’s spiritual renewal.   

Money talks?

An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) bewailed the latest development and said acquitting Napoles in her other “pork barrel” cases would be the “mother of all injustices.” 

CBCP-Public Affairs Committee executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano said following the CA decision, “Let’s just hope that the acquittal (will) not have an impact (on) some of her other cases. If it does, then it’s going to be the ‘mother of all injustices’.”

“With all the bogus foundations she put up, I guess those are overwhelming indication not only of an intent to steal from government coffers but of thievery itself with the connivance of some unscrupulous politicians,” he added. 

Meanwhile, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People chairman Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos said he does not discount the possibility that “PDAF money” might have been paid to have Napoles acquitted.

“The decision fuels suspicion that PDAF money talks,” said Santos. 

He added the appellate court’s decision “just adds to the mistrust of our people for our courts (and that) only the poor, the unknown and with no connection are convicted.”

“We are waiting to see the moneyed and those in higher ups convicted by courts,” Santos said.

Extremely happy

While her CA acquittal has fueled various speculations, Napoles claimed “truth has prevailed” in the serious illegal detention case filed against her by Luy.

Sources said Napoles’ friends and family visited her at the CIW Monday night to celebrate the legal victory and described Napoles as “happy.”     

One of her visitors told The STAR that Napoles has been insisting from the very start that Luy was neither detained nor held against his will at the retreat house.

As regards Aguirre’s statement that the DOJ is looking at using Napoles as a state witness in the PDAF scam, her lead defense counsel Stephen David said his client had always wanted to be one.

“If you remember, from the start, she has been saying that she wants the Filipino people to know what really happened but they didn’t want it because there were administration allies who will be affected,” he said, referring to the previous government.

“Why not, for the sake of the Filipino people?” David asked, stressing that it is unbelievable that a high school graduate could manipulate members of Congress. 

If Napoles would be offered to turn state witness, David said his client would, in exchange, ask for security because she would be going against powerful people. 

David said Napoles would also ask that she be dropped as a respondent in the pork barrel cases so that her testimony could be used against those really liable for misusing government funds.

David also told dzMM that they would work on her transfer back to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

David maintained his client was absolved based on evidence and that there was no truth to claims that a sweetheart deal with the Duterte administration is being pushed.

He said the decision of the Makati City RTC convicting Napoles of serious illegal detention charges in April 2015 was obviously influenced by politics or forces that probably wanted to pin her down.

He stressed there were closed-circuit television (CCTV) footages and testimony from priests showing that Luy was never detained. 

And contrary to the claims of the Office of the Ombudsman, David said the acquittal of Napoles in the serious illegal detention charges would have a big impact on the plunder, graft and other cases she and the lawmakers are facing before the Sandiganbayan.

“If you were able to follow the plunder and graft cases, all testimony pinning down Mrs. Napoles was because Benhur said so. But the Commission on Audit (COA) admits that in the truckload of evidence that they are presenting, not one document shows the participation of Mrs. Napoles,” David explained.

“The only reason she is there is because Benhur is saying that she is the mastermind. That’s just what Benhur said. Benhur also said he was detained but that is not true. So how can you believe him now when he is not telling the truth in the issue of illegal detention? How can you now say that he is telling (the truth) here when other witnesses say that Benhur had transactions that Mrs. Napoles really did not know of?” he said.

Preventive suspension

As this developed, the Sandiganbayan has issued another preventive suspension order against Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary for Operations Mario Relampagos and 14 other government officials and employees facing trial for alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam. 

This time, the Office of the Ombudsman said the 90-day preventive suspension order stemmed from the cases filed against former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives party-list lawmaker Edgar Valdez.

Also suspended were DBM officials Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare; Marivic Jover and Consuelo Lilian Espitritu from the Technology Resource Center (TRC); Salvador Salacup and Eduardo Nolasco from ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC); Romulo Relevo and Maria Ninez Guañizo from the National Agri-Business Corp. (Nabcor); and Gondelina Amata, Gregoria Buenaventura, Chita Jalandoni, Sofia Cruz and Ofelia Ordoñez from the National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC).

“Suspension pendente lite (awaiting litigation) is a measure imposed by the law to safeguard the state while the case is pending and the accused is not penalized per se,” the Sandiganbayan order stated.

Based on Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, suspension is a “preventive measure that arises from the legal presumption that unless the accused is suspended, he may frustrate his prosecution or commit further acts of malfeasance or do both.”

Valdez, Relampagos and their co-accused are facing trial for graft after investigation showed that the former lawmaker siphoned more than P50 million in commissions or kickbacks when he channeled his 2007 to 2009 pork barrel allocations to questionable non-government organizations (NGOs) controlled by Napoles. 

The same DBM, TRC, ZREC, Nabcor and NLDC officials, some of whom have already been dismissed from government service, have been previously issued preventive suspension orders because of the other cases they are facing in alleged connivance with various other former and incumbent lawmakers also accused of being involved in the pork barrel anomaly.  – With Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero

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