Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo noted that the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s placement of Napoles under the witness program comes on the heels of absolving drug lords and those responsible for a P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped through Customs.
Miguel de Guzman
Aguirre using Napoles as diversion – lawmaker
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  By placing alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles under witness protection, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II might be trying to divert public attention from his prosecutors’ controversial clearing of high-profile drug lords, lawmakers said yesterday as they demanded the official’s resignation.

Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo noted that the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s placement of Napoles under the witness program comes on the heels of absolving drug lords and those responsible for a P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped through Customs.

He said the DOJ, which “is supposed to be the bastion of justice, has become a clearinghouse of those who violated laws of the land and has been used instead to harass the opposition.”

He urged Aguirre “to resign and spare the whole DOJ from further destruction and embarrassment.”

“His failure to perform his duties with utmost competence and fairness has been a huge disappointment. Even the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison continues to flourish under his watch,” he said.

Alejano said the administration would use Napoles to destroy its critics, in the same manner that it used drug lords serving time in Bilibid against detained Sen. Leila de Lima.

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said Aguirre is aiming to divert public attention away not only from his prosecutors’ exoneration of drug lords but also from President Duterte’s “looming investigation” by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

He said the administration would also use Napoles to silence its critics.

“After DOJ prosecutors absolved confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, Peter Co, among others, and after using them against Senator De Lima, now Aguirre is setting up Napoles as state witness to implicate former officials of the Aquino administration, including incumbent elected officials,” he said.

He said the President is aiming to eliminate the political opposition so he could establish one-man rule.

For Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers, it is not far-fetched that Napoles could be exonerated soon.

“First, the big-time drug lords. Next the pork barrel queen. The Duterte administration is proving to be the protector of crime and corruption lords,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate warned the administration against using Napoles to blackmail its critics.

“Using Napoles as a weapon to retaliate against its political enemies will not do justice to the Filipinos deprived of needed services because of the billions of pork barrel corrupted and plundered by politicians in cahoots with the pork barrel queen,” he said.

He urged the suspected pork barrel scam mastermind to “tell all, name all, not just selectively, those who conspired with her in corrupting the people’s funds.”

He said the credibility of President Duterte and Aguirre is in doubt with the exoneration of Lim, Espinosa and Co, and the impending exculpation of Napoles.

He said the public should be wary of this development in the pork barrel fund narrative “because as things stand now, many of those who have been charged of plundering the people’s coffers are getting off the hook.”

Zarate shared the sentiments of Alejano and Villarin that the Napoles story could be a diversionary tactic.

He said in the past, there had been instances when administration officials would break a story just to bury a bigger news story that was catching public attention.

He said such tactic is usually the handiwork of corrupt public relations practitioners hired by politicians in trouble.

‘Crazy development’

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, an administration ally, said Napoles’ inclusion in the WPP was an “unbelievable, crazy development.”

“Do some people in the DOJ really believe that Janet Lim-Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF scam which she herself invented, organized and perpetuated?”

Sen. Joel Villanueva said Aguirre must make sure he has a solid justification for his move, considering his prosecutors’ questionable exoneration of other high-profile personalities accused of serious crimes.

He cited the way Aguirre handled the P50-million bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration in which the plunder charges against officials were downgraded due to a missing P1,000 bill.

He also cited the clearing of Espinosa and 20 others on drug trafficking charges.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he was “disturbed and dismayed” by the DOJ’s move, which he described as “a setback in our fight against corruption and the pork barrel system.”

“I am not prepared to accept the idea that Mrs. Napoles is the least guilty in the PDAF scam. Napoles rigged the system in order to enrich herself and others at the expense of the public,” Ejercito said.

“I urge the President, who has adopted a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption and inefficiency in government, to review the performance of the DOJ,” he said.

He said the inclusion of Napoles in the WPP as well as the other questionable decisions and actions by the DOJ “undermine the success of this administration in its relentless war against drugs and corruption.”

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV also pointed to the string of questionable decisions of Aguirre.

“Where’s justice for the victims of the war on drugs and for the people who were robbed of their hard-earned money?” Aquino said.

He asked President Duterte to “put his house in order” and for Aguirre to resign.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros described Napoles’ inclusion as a travesty of justice and warned she could also be used as a political weapon to further harass other members of the political opposition.

“Napoles could also be used as a means to enforce loyalty within the Duterte camp. All those who will not toe the line and have strong opinions against the government’s policies and the President himself could easily be included in Napoles’ pork barrel list,” Hontiveros said.

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson pointed out it is not the DOJ, but the Office of the Ombudsman, that is prosecuting the PDAF cases – which means the justice department has no control whatsoever over her possible discharge as state witness.

He said even if the DOJ is the one prosecuting the cases it is still the courts that will decide whether a respondent may be dropped from the case and discharged as a witness.

“What is interesting in this move of the DOJ is, who Mrs. Napoles will implicate who have not been investigated and charged yet,” Lacson said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said the DOJ should look carefully at the criteria provided under the WPA.

He said that for Napoles to qualify under WPP, her testimony should be absolutely necessary and can be corroborated; there is no other direct evidence available to prosecute the cases; and she should be the least guilty with no previous convictions.   Jess Diaz

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