THE Sandiganbayan has granted the request for bail of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and Masbate Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete in connection with the plunder case filed against them for their alleged involvement in the theft of millions of pesos in congressional project funds.
The court’s action drew sharp responses in the Senate, which protested the granting of bail to Napoles even if she will remain in detention because of her conviction on a separate charge of illegal detention.
The anti-graft court found that the evidence of guilt presented against the two accused “is not strong” in its 77-page ruling written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg and concurred with by Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Jose Hernandez, all of the fourth division.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense, but the anti-graft court can grant bail plea if the accused proves that the evidence is weak.
After posting bail in the amount of P500,000, Lanete can leave Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, where she is currently detained.
But Napoles, who was also asked to post a similar amount for her temporary freedom, would have to remain at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.
This is because of her conviction on the serious illegal detention charge filed by her cousin, whistleblower Benhur Luy, who is also the principal witness in the P10-billion plunder scam involving Napoles and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
The anti-graft court’s first and fifth divisions earlier denied Napoles’ bail petitions in the plunder case involving Revilla and Estrada. Enrile’s plea for bail, however, was granted by the Supreme Court for humanitarian reasons.
The court ruled that the prosecution failed to show how Lanete participated in the theft of Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations and that the total amount she allegedly amassed for the years 2007-2010 reached the threshold of P50 million for the crime of plunder.
Other plunder and graft charges have been filed against Napoles and Lanete before the fourth division for alleged misuse of the latter’s pork barrel fund when she was still a congressman.
The Office of the Ombudsman indicted Lanete for allegedly pocketing P108.4 million in kickbacks from her PDAF from 2004 to 2010 using fake beneficiary-foundations put up by Napoles.
In the Senate, Senator Teofisto Guingona, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee which investigated the alleged theft of P10 billion in pork funds using an elaborate scam involving senators, congressmen and bogus non-government organizations and foundations set up by Napoles, said the court’s ruling could enrage the public.
“The people’s frustration and fear are understandable,” said Guingona.
Guingona’s panel recommended the filing of plunder charges against Napoles and three of his own colleagues in the Senate—Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.
“While we respect the decision of the Sandiganbayan, at this juncture, we strongly urge the prosecution to be diligent in presenting sufficient evidence and the court to exercise due caution in its proceedings. After all, this is the people’s money and the public trust that we are talking about,” Guingona said.
Vice presidential candidate Senator Chiz Escudero said he was surprised by the Sandiganbayan’s decision.
“We have seen the evidence against Napoles in the Senate. To say the least, I was surprised and I didn’t expect this decision of the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
Escudero said it was “sad” that Napoles has been granted bail, while 76 starving farmers who were arrested by policemen in Kidapawan City last April 1 for demanding rice from the government remain in detention and cannot post bail.
Malacañang on Wednesday noted that the Sandiganbayan is an independent body under the judiciary and that Napoles will still remain in jail.
“The Sandiganbayan [is] a separate branch of government under the judiciary,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. “However, it should be emphasized that Ms. Napoles was convicted in April 2015 by the Makati RTC for serious illegal detention. Accordingly, she cannot be released due to such conviction and the several other cases for plunder pending against her.”
In its ruling, the court pointed out that the prosecution admitted during the bail proceedings that Napoles and Lanete never actually met to discuss the latter’s supposed percentage of kickbacks from the projects to be funded by her PDAF.
The court also noted the prosecution’s admission that Lanete never visited the office of Napoles nor attended any of the latter’s parties.
The court also said that primary state witness Luy, during the bail hearing, admitted he never personally handed money to Lanete.
Lastly, the court said the evidence presented by the prosecution indicated that “some projects were not ‘ghost’ projects at all.”
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