PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Monday rejected state witness status for the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, and said the circulation of several versions of her list of implicated lawmakers and officials seemed designed to “bring the whole house down.”
“We are sure there is a strategy to bring the whole house, to show that we are all guilty and involved [in the scam] to muddle the issue. We are conscious that the lists have been changing, and so our leads change,” Aquino said in an interview in Legazpi City.
“If we allow them to dictate the tempo of each lead, I might not have enough time to pursue the cases since I only have two years and one month. We will not allow that,” the President added.
Aquino, who has yet to disclose who gave him the first copy of the so-called Napoles list, said the number of names in the three versions do not tally.
He said the first list that he received had 14 senators, of which 10 were incumbent. The second list, which Napoles gave to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, only had 11, Aquino said.
The third list was given by Napoles’ husband, Jimmy, to rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson and had enough names “to ratify a treaty” or at least 16 senators.
Aquino said it was also next to impossible for Napoles to claim to be not the most guilty in the scam for her to qualify as state witness.
“Because she is at the center of all this, and she is the connection to all those involved, how can we say she is not the most guilty if she is at the center?” the President said.
“But even if she is [telling] the truth or not, we can glean something from her testimony,” he added.
But the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said it was the Palace that was muddling the issue.
Malacañang was doing more than burning down the house, it was protecting its allies, said UNA secretary general and Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco.
De Lima, who had earlier said she was studying Napoles’ application for immunity from suit, denied she was acting as Napoles’ lawyer.
De Lima also lamented as baseless the insinuations that she is allowing herself to be used by Napoles.
“I don’t think anyone can use me. I don’t think anyone can influence me in the discharge of my mandate,” she told reporters.
“I’m not at all sleeping with the enemy if that is what some people are trying to paint me [doing] now. It’s quite unfair for me because I’m just doing my job to find out the truth about this matter,” she said.
De Lima said the Justice Department decided to validate the information from Napoles precisely because there is a need to ensure the veracity of her claims.
This means the Justice Department does not instantaneously believe her claims, she said.
“It doesn’t mean that if we talk to Mrs. Napoles or accept her more comprehensive affidavit, we already believe in everything she says… I don’t want to vet [the claims] in order to assist Mrs. Napoles,” De Lima said.
Earlier, Senator Francis Escudero said De Lima was acting like Napoles’ lawyer, and questioned the need to validate her affidavit before releasing it to the public.
Escudero said De Lima should have let the sworn statement stand or fail on its own.
He also suggested that De Lima might have already struck a deal with Napoles.
Escudero was among the senators reportedly included in the list of lawmakers who benefitted from the scheme in which lawmakers channeled their development funds to bogus projects in exchange for kickbacks from Napoles.
Frustrated by such comments, De Lima once again appealed to the lawmakers to give her space to perform her duties.
“We need to know exactly what Mrs. Napoles is saying so we can establish if it’s true or not. I’m not committing, but at least give me that opportunity, give me enough space to fulfill my mandate, which is truth-seeking,” she said.
Napoles’ lawyer, Bruce Rivera, has confirmed they will submit Napoles’ more comprehensive and complete affidavit to the Justice Department Wednesday or Thursday, with more names added to the list.
De Lima on Monday confirmed that the principal whistleblower in the case, Benhur Luy, also has a list of politicians and officials who benefitted from the pork barrel scam.
She denied the claims of Luy’s former lawyer Levito Baligod, who said that the primary whistleblower never made a list.
“There are names, transactions, figures and other entries in the hard drive [kept by Luy]so I think it’s not accurate to say that Benhur did not keep his own list,” she said.
A Makati court will decide today if it will allow Napoles to stay longer at the Ospital ng Makati or if she will be transferred back to her detention cell in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Napoles, who is detained on a serious illegal detention charge filed against her by Luy, underwent surgery last month to have her uterus removed.
Her lawyers filed a motion asking the court to allow her to stay longer.
Rivera said Napoles had in her possession checks, vouchers and transaction records to support her allegations.
He added that Napoles said lawmakers implicated in the scam should inhibit themselves once the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee reopens its hearings.
Records from the Commission on Audit showed that more than P2 billion in PDAF were allocated to Napoles’ non-government organizations from 2007 to 2009. With Maricel Cruz and Joel E. Zubano