THE alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, confirmed in a “tell-all” sworn statement the involvement of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. in a scheme that channeled development funds to bogus projects, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday.
De Lima met Napoles for five hours late Monday night in her hospital room before her scheduled surgery to remove a cyst in her uterus.
In a press conference, De Lima said Napoles decided to tell all she knows and expressed willingness to turn state witness in the plunder and graft cases set to be filed before the Sandiganbayan against her and others, including lawmakers, involved in the pork barrel scam.
She said Napoles was not yet considered a state witness, however, as this was a matter for the Office of the Ombudsman to decide.
The Justice Department could only assess her qualifications and make its recommendations to the anti-graft court, she added.
Asked if Napoles spilled the beans on the three opposition senators, De Lima said: “Oh yes, absolutely.”
De Lima declined to reveal other details in Napoles’ sworn statement pending verification, saying only that her account had “really a lot of details.”
De Lima also refused to confirm reports that Napoles tagged 19 former and incumbent senators, including members of the ruling Liberal Party.
“It would be reckless and irresponsible on our part to share these details to the public without validating and assessing the veracity or truthfulness of her claims. We can always counter-check from documents,” De Lima said.
Napoles was tearful and clutching a rosary inside her hospital room when De Lima arrived at 10 p.m. Monday, the Justice secretary said.
She said it was agreed during the meeting with Napoles, who was assisted by her lawyer Bruce Rivera, that the details of her affidavit would not be disclosed pending verification by the National Bureau of Investigation.
De Lima said investigators would meet with Napoles to clarify certain points of her statement, and said the verification process would be completed as soon as possible.
“Independently of whether or not she will qualify as state witness, the main objective here of the DOJ and executive department is the search for the truth in this whole issue. That’s our objective in securing Mrs. Napoles because she knows more information that Benhur Luy,” she said, referring to the main whistleblower in the pork barrel scam.
De Lima acknowledged that Napoles decided to tell all out of fear of what could happen to her during surgery, as well as threats to her own safety.
“She realized that the more she remains silent, the more she is at risk. She cited instances of alleged security threats like [threatening] phone calls,” she said.
De Lima said it was Napoles who sought their meeting through her lawyer, Rivera.
She said she also laid down three conditions before agreeing to meet with Napoles.
“First and foremost, I said I wanted her to tell all—no more, no less. I want all names irrespective of their political affiliations,” she said.
De Lima said she also wanted Napoles not to talk to other people, especially those involved in the cases. She said Napoles admitted that she was confused after several people tried to talk to her.
De Lima said she made it clear that there was no commitment from the government that she would be treated as a state witness.
If the Ombudsman proceeds with the filing of cases against her before the Sandiganbayan, the court might reject her bid to become a state witness, De Lima said.
De Lima said she sought clearance from President Benigno Aquino III before agreeing to meet Napoles.
“I asked clearance from the President before I went to the Ospital ng Makati. I cannot do it on my own with this kind of sensitive issue. I had to get his clearance. He told me there’s nothing wrong if we listen to her and let’s see if it’s worth putting it in a statement,” De Lima said.
De Lima said she believed Napoles’ cooperation would help the government’s search for truth and justice in the pork barrel scam.
“Gradually, we are completing the whole picture. What Mrs. Napoles offers will be very helpful to us, especially once validated from other sources,” she said.
The President’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, confirmed that Aquino had told De Lima to evaluate what Napoles had to say.
“This is a significant development in our quest to find the truth. A new avenue has been opened and that’s where Secretary Leila de Lima and her team will now be investigating and evaluating the credence of the testimony of Ms. Janet Napoles,” Lacierda said.
Like De Lima, Lacierda said there was no guarantee that Napoles would turn state witness.
Napoles, who has been in hospital since March 31, was scheduled for surgery at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Two teams of physicians are attending to her medical needs.
Napoles, who was detained at the Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, was brought to Ospital ng Makati after Judge Elmo Alameda gave the go signal for her to be treated at a government hospital, as long as she shouldered all her medical bills and other expenses related to her confinement.
Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim were also charged with serious illegal detention for detaining their cousin, Luy, in a house in Magallanes Village, Makati City, from December 2012 up to March 2013.
In the House, Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption and Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe said Napoles would not qualify as a state witness.
“The state cannot make Napoles a state witness. There are several requirements for an accused to be discharged and be a state witness, two of which are the following: 1) There is no other direct evidence against the other accused, except the testimony of the accused applied to be discharged and 2) The accused does not appear to be the most guilty,” Tugna said.
“The prosecution will have a hard time during the discharge hearing to show that there is no other direct evidence against the other accused because there is the presence of Ruby Tuason, Benhur Luy and other state witnesses who can give direct evidence,” he said.
He added that Napoles would also fail the test of appearing not to be the most guilty.
Batocabe said that the government should not accept Napoles as a state witness. “Otherwise we might just as well invite all the accused to be state witnesses,” he said.
But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said a private individual such as Napoles might not be the most guilty.
“Since public office is a public trust, a higher sense of trust and confidence are expected from public officials than from private individuals who participate in the pork barrel scam,” Barzaga said. With Joel Zurbano, Maricel V. Cruz and Joyce Pangco Pañares
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