Senate probe comes to nil

Napoles denies role in pork barrel scam

Napoles’ long day. Pork barrel scam suspect Janet Lim-Napoles (top left, in armored vest) wipes her brow as she answers questions from senators (above, from right) Allan Peter Cayetano, Teofisto Guingona III and Senate President Franklin Drilon about the accusations of six former employees. She steadfastly maintained at the Senate hearing that she was innocent of the charges that she helped divert congressional pork barrel funds to spurious organizations. EY ACASIO, AND PALACE PRESS OFFICE
THE alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, denied any involvement in a scheme that bilked the government of billions of pesos at a nationally televised hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee Thursday.

“That is not true. It is all lies,” Napoles told the senators who gathered to question her about the accusations ranged against her by her former employees.

Much of the time, Napoles sat stone-faced in her bullet-proof vest, but sometimes she joked with her state-appointed lawyers.

Napoles was taken from her detention center in Laguna in a convoy guarded by rifle-toting police commandos, and she was warned during the Senate proceedings that she had good reason to fear being killed.

Senators questioned Napoles about reports of her family’s immense wealth including several expensive residences, a fleet of expensive cars, a massive family mausoleum in a private cemetery and exclusive schools for her children.

But Napoles denied that she was rich, saying she made just enough to get by.

She also repeatedly invoked her right to remain silent, saying she did not want to jeopardize her defense against expected corruption and tax evasion charges.

The Justice Department has recommended charges be filed against Napoles and 37 other people, but the Office of the Ombudsman is still reviewing the case.

Napoles is detained on a separate charge of serious illegal detention filed by one the whistleblowers in the case, Benhur Luy.

She also denied giving kickbacks to lawyers, and said she pitied the three senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. – whose names were being dragged through the mud.

But Senator Alan Peter Cayetano chided her and said if the senators were guilty, then they deserved no pity.

During his questioning, Cayetano revealed that Napoles’ husband Jaime, a retired major, had run for Congress under the Smile party-list, a group that was mentioned twice in the “Hello Garci” tapes that suggested election tampering.

But Napoles insisted that she was not aware that her husband had tried to run for congressman.

Incredulous, Cayetano told Napoles: “If I’m going to a party, I have to tell my wife where I’m going. This election will change your life if your husband wins, but he didn’t tell you about it?”

Cayetano suggested that Napoles’ husband ran for Congress to make it easier for her to run her pork barrel scam, but Napoles said he probably did so for “public service.”

When Cayetano asked Napoles how she got rich, she denied that she was wealthy and refused to talk about it. She denied press reports that the mausoleum of her mother at the Heritage Park cost P30 million, saying it cost “less than P10 million.”

Napoles said she started in business in the 1980s with a Cebu shipyard, and then bought and sold properties.

Irked by her denials, Cayetano told Napoles she was not making it easier for the senators to believe in her innocence.

Napoles admitted knowing Luy, his mother Gertrudes, and other whistleblowers, but denied that Luy had worked for her for a long time.

Early in the session, when the panel chairman, Senator Teofisto Guingona III asked Napoles why she denied the statements made by the whistleblowers, Napoles asked if she could get copies of their sworn statement to show her lawyers.

The 10 a.m. hearing was late in starting because Napoles was allowed to confer with her state-appointed lawyers.

Asked about her company, JLN Corp., Napoles refused to answer, saying that the company was already included in a case filed against her by the tax authorities.

Napoles also denied owning the non-government organizations (NGOs) tagged by the whistleblowers and the Commission on Audit as being bogus conduits for pork barrel.

“I was surprised,” she said, when asked about the NGOs, saying Luy registered them.

She also denied Luy’s statement that Napoles was already transacting with the government when he started his job at JLN in 2002.

Luy had told the panel that he saw a ledger showing Napoles’ transactions with various lawmakers with a percentage written beside them.

Asked if she knew the lawmakers mentioned in the sworn statements of the whistleblowers, Napoles said she knew of them as public figures, but they did not know her.

She also denied issuing vouchers to lawmakers and their representatives during their supposed transactions.

“If there was such kickback, do you think a lawmaker and a chief of staff will sign a voucher? There is no such voucher and there was no giving of money,” she said.

But Luy and another whistleblower at Thursday’s hearing insisted there were vouchers.

They said these were among the voluminous documents that Napoles ordered shredded in her condominium unit at Pacific Tower in Global City.

Arlene Baltazar, also an employee of JLN, said Napoles told her to shred all the evidence in case they were searched.

Napoles also denied Luy’s claim that she would buy dollars on the black market which would then be deposited to her bank accounts in the US through telegraphic transfer.

She also denied a whistleblower’s account on how they would sometimes forge signatures of the supposed beneficiaries of the pork barrel.

Before ending the six-hour hearing, Guingona told Napoles that she might still be summoned before the committee again.

“We will study the record and evaluate the case. We will meet again. We will consult the members whether we will need you once more,” said Guingona who conceded there was nothing explosive in Napoles’ testimony.

He hit Napoles for her “evasiveness” and selective memory, but said he was satisifed nonetheless because the public was able to witness her denials.

After the hearing, Napoles was whisked out of the session hall to be brought back to her detention facility in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where she is being detained.

Like Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also encouraged Napoles to consider applying to become a state witness.

Senator Cynthia Villar said she would no longer ask questions because she did not expect to get any answers from Napoles anyyway.

Enrile, who was not at the hearing, attacked some members of the Blue Ribbon committee for converting the inquiry “into a parody of justice.”

“I feel compelled to issue a statement on today’s Senate hearing lest my silence in the face of the most outrageous allegations will be construed against me. I support any investigation that seeks to

uncover the truth about this PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam,” said Enrile in a statement issued Thursday night.

“But for some members of the committee use the Blue Ribbon hearing to make wild-eyed charges, baseless assumptions, and false accusations [and] converted the investigation into a parody of justice.

They should lead the facts to a just conclusion instead of corralling their own predilections into a pre-ordained conclusion,” he added.

He did not give the names of the senators.

In reiterating his innocence and that of his staff members, Enrile said: “To this end, I urge Mrs. Napoles to reveal the whole truth no matter who is hurt, as only the truth will set me free.”

Some senators expressed disappointment over Napoles “evasiveness” during the face-off with the whistleblowers.

Senator Francis Escudero said he was baffled why Napoles initially wanted to have an executive session with the committee, when all she did was invoke her right against self-incrimination.

But Napoles said it was her lawyers suggestion to hold the hearing behind closed doors.

Asked if she were willing to turn state witness, Napoles said: “There is no scam so I don’t have the right to be state witness.”

The Palace said it was understandable why Napoles refused to divulge anything important during the hearing, since she already had a pending case before the Office of the Ombudsman.

But the President’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said the Palace was one with the Senate in its desire to reveal the truth and punish those found guilty in the pork barrel scam.

Lawmakers said Napoles could be liable for perjury for lying under oath before the Senate panel.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr., House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, also expressed disappointment over Napoles’ testimony Thursday.

Barzaga urged the senators to file a criminal case against Napoles if she continued to lie before the Senate panel.

The Federation of Philippine Industries called for sobriety as public calls for the complete abolition of pork barrel, including the President’s own discretionary funds, gathered steam.

Jesus Lim Arranza, chairman of the group, said they support President Aquino’s earlier pronouncement to discontinue the pork barrel system. – With Sara Susanne Fabunan, Maricel V. Cruz and Othel V. Campos

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