JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday said he is unsure if alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles would be eligible for a plea bargain considering the status of the pending plunder cases against her in the Sandiganbayan.
Aguirre issued the statement after Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David said they were looking into a plea bargain with the government in her plunder and other cases pending before the Sandiganbayan.
“There are several options we are looking into and one of those is plea bargaining. There are many options for us,” David said in an interview.
David earlier said he met with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Aguirre before seeking the transfer of Napoles from detention in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City to the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation under provisional coverage of the Witness Protection Program.
David, Medialdea and Aguirre were schoolmates in the San Beda College law school—along with President Duterte. The private lawyer said he’s a friend of the President since a “long, long time ago.”
But Aguirre, who admitted Napoles into the WPP on a provisional basis, said he was not sure she would still be eligible for a plea bargain in her plunder cases.
“I think it might be too late for that. I don’t know the status of the cases there in the Sandiganbayan if that is still feasible,” Aguirre said in a text message.
But Aguirre said Napoles would not need to enter into any plea bargain on any new cases that might be filed if she becomes a state witness.
Aguirre said his office continues to evaluate Napoles’ eligibility for full coverage under the WPP, once she completes her sworn statements.
“But as I said, she could qualify as state witness,” Aguirre said.
A plea bargain, as provided in the Rules of Court, is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.
This means that the defendant could plead guilty to a less serious charge, or to one of the several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges; or it may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence.
The Sandiganbayan approved a plea bargain in the P303-million plunder case against former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia in May 2011. After returning P135 million of the plundered money, the former military officer was allowed to plead guilty to two lesser offenses and post a P60,000 bail that gave him temporary freedom in December 2010.
The DoJ has placed Napoles under provisional coverage of WPP.
Under Republic Act 6981 (Witness Protection Act), before a person is admitted into the WPP, he or she shall execute a sworn statement describing in detail the manner in which the offense was committed and his or her participation.
If after the examination of the person, his or her sworn statement and other relevant facts, the DoJ is satisfied that the requirements of the law and its implementing rules are complied, then that person can be admitted into the WPP.
Napoles has reportedly implicated Senators Franklin Drilon, Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima and other lawmakers as well as former Budget secretary Florencio Abad in her affidavit.
She reportedly tagged Abad as her “mentor” in the pork barrel scam.
But Aguirre would not confirm the contents of Napoles’ affidavits, saying they were still under assessment and verification.