THERE can be little doubt now that the government intends to use Janet Lim Napoles as a state witness against those who looted public funds but were spared in the one-sided investigation of the pork barrel scam conducted by the previous administration.
The wheels began to roll when Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government’s top lawyer, spoke out on Napoles’ behalf, urging the Court of Appeals to reverse her conviction by a Makati court of serious illegal detention charges filed by her employee and relative, Benhur Luy. She had already been serving her sentence of at least 30 years imprisonment when Calida made his move.
The administration moved swiftly following her May 5 acquittal. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II declared that his department would reinvestigate the scam, and consider using Napoles, who was at the center of the scheme to use bogus nongovernment organizations to siphon away billions of pesos of legislative pork, as a state witness.
But the law prevents an accused who is deemed “most guilty” of a crime to turn state witness—a problematic restriction, given that Napoles was at the center of so many shady pork barrel deals.
Enter President Rodrigo Duterte, who told journalists that he considered Napoles “a minimal” player and therefore eligible to become state witness. Aguirre chimed in that according to accepted jurisprudence, the public official who takes a bribe is always more guilty than the private individual that proffered it.
All of this suggests that the government is ready to cut a deal with Napoles to pin down officials from the previous administration who were guilty of taking pork kickbacks, but were spared the selective prosecution by the likes of then-Justice secretary Leila de Lima and the incumbent Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, who used the justice system as a weapon against political opponents. Despite the extensive list that Napoles provided the government at the time, the Aquino administration jailed only three opposition senators, while giving its friends and political allies who were also caught in the web of corruption a pass.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the Liberal Party, which ruled during the Aquino administration, is now the most vocal against having Napoles serve as a state witness.
We welcome the reinvestigation of the pork barrel scam in the belief that many who were guilty escaped accountability during the previous administration. The current administration, however, needs to proceed with transparency and sensitivity.
First, it must not repeat the mistakes of the previous administration by pursing its own version of selective justice. All who are found guilty—friend or foe—must be held accountable this time.
Second, in cutting a deal with Napoles it must not forget that a large segment of the public sees her as the face of corrupt government dealings. The people might accept a lighter sentence for her in exchange for information that convicts corrupt politicians, but they will not tolerate a deal that keeps her liberty and ill-gotten wealth intact.