THE government on Wednesday set the stage for the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, to be a state witness against an expanded list of suspects as the Justice Department reinvestigates the diversion of billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Funds during the previous administration.
President Rodrigo Duterte referred to Napoles as “a minimal player” in the massive looting of government funds during the Aquino administration, but stopped short of declaring she would be used as a state witness.
“As to the question of whether or not she could be utilized as a state witness, there’s a law which says that one of the requirements at least [ist that] she appears to be the least guilty. If you are a major player, I don’t know if you can do it… If you are asking for an expanded explanation, it’s just that she appears to be the minimal player and not the major player in the commission of the crime,” he said.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, meanwhile, said the reinvestigation would seek to determine why Napoles went straight to Malacañang when she surrendered to Aquino administration officials, and also hinted that Napoles might be used as a state witness.
Stephen David, Napoles’ lawyer, said Napoles could enter a guilty plea to a lesser offense to enable her to qualify as a state witness.
“A plea bargaining is likely. There are options,” he said.
He added that Napoles was willing to tell all that she knows once she is allowed to be a state witness.
Aguirre recalled that when Napoles surrendered in August 2013, she was reportedly accompanied by then President Benigno Aquino III and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II to the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crime.
“I think this is already documented and not denied that when the name of Janet Napoles was exposed, the first thing she did was go to Malacañang. You already know who accompanied her to Camp Crame,” Aguirre said, when asked if officials of the previous administration would be covered by the DoJ reinvestigation.
However, Aguirre clarified that he was not implying that those who accompanied her were guilty.
“What I’m just trying to say is, why did this person go straight to Malacañang, to the highest officials of the land, including Cabinet secretaries? You can say that high-ranking people are involved here,” Aguirre said.
The Justice secretary also asked why only three former senator—Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada—were indicted before the Sandiganbayan when Napoles implicated about a dozen incumbent and former senators and over 100 congressmen in the list she submitted to then Justice secretary and now detained Senator Leila de Lima.
The investigation conducted by the previous administration on the pork barrel controversy was “selective” and a “miscarriage of justice,” Aguirre said.
“If you will recall during the time of Secretary De Lima, she said more than three times that they are going to come out with additional respondents, but it did not happen. During the Aquino administration, there were only three senators indicted so there was selective justice,” he said.
“There were a number of people who were accused of PDAF misuse, but only three were charged. There should be more people charged back then. There really was a miscarriage of justice,” he added.
Aguirre said the reinvestigation could start with the list submitted by Napoles.
He also revealed that he would meet with lawyers of Napoles to discuss her submission of a new affidavit on the pork barrel scam, adding that he has already discussed the matter with former Manila Councilor Greco Belgica, an anti-pork barrel advocate who petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the PDAF during the previous administration.
“If that list is true, then we could go by it. But that list is not really needed as long as she could prove her accusations and provide supporting evidence,” Aguirre said.
Asked if Napoles could be qualify as state witness, Aguirre said that would depend on what she has to say.
Aguirre said that to qualify as state witness, Napoles would have to meet the qualifications set by law—that she should not be the most guilty of the crime and that her testimony must be indispensable for the cases to stand.
He said he could only make an assessment of her eligibility once he reads her sworn statement.
Aguirre also pointed out that in cases of plunder or corruption involving a government official and a private individual, the former is considered the most guilty per ruling of the Supreme Court.
“Based on a Supreme Court decision, it will be the government official who will be considered as the most guilty, because he is taking advantage of his public position,” Aguirre said.
Both Duterte and Aguirre said they agreed with the Court of Appeals decision to overturn Napoles’ conviction of the illegal detention complaint filed against her by pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Aguirre also defended Solicitor General Jose Calida, who spoke out in favor of Napoles’ acquittal.
Despite her acquittal in the illegal detention case, Napoles remains detained because of the pending plunder cases filed against her in the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan.
In 2015, Napoles was sentenced to 40 years in prison by Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda for detaining her cousin and employee Luy from December 2012 until March 2013. Luy later blew the whistle on the pork barrel scam.
However, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, the CA’s 12th division granted the appeal filed by Napoles and reversed the verdict of the RTC.
The CA said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the crime was committed. It said there was no indubitable proof that Luy was held against his will at the Bahay ni San Jose retreat house when Napoles’ brother Reynaldo Lim approached priests and suggested Luy’s spiritual renewal.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has never received any pork barrel, said he believed there were officials who should have been charged for diverting their PDAF, but got off the hook.
He added that beyond providing a list, Napoles must have evidence against those on her list.
Senator Risa Hontiveros slammed the possibility of Napoles becoming a state witness, saying it would be a travesty of justice.
“It is glorifying a villain as a hero. Napoles is not a hero,” she said.
Hontiveros said she is afraid that the plan to turn Napoles into a state witness is an “attempt to turn her into a political weapon to harass members of the political opposition.”
“She is a criminal mastermind who orchestrated one of the biggest multi-billion scams in recent history,” she said.