MANILA – Expecting a potential backlash over the acquittal of Janet Lim Napoles in her serious illegal detention case, the Palace insisted the government did not strike a deal with the alleged pork barrel mastermind.
“Government is clear that there is no policy shift on how we deal with Napoles. Neither there is an agreement forged between the Duterte administration and Napoles,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement Monday.
Abella said Duterte respects the independence of the court and “has vowed not to interfere with the decisions of the judiciary or legislature.”
Citing reasonable doubt, the Court of Appeals reversed a Makati Regional Trial Court ruling and ordered Napoles' immediate release. Napoles in April 2015 was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly detaining her second cousin, pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Napoles is however facing other non-bailable cases in connection to the pork barrel scam.
CA's decision comes two months after Solicitor General Jose Calida claimed a local court “erred” in handing a guilty verdict on the alleged pork barrel mastermind in her serious illegal detention case.
In February, Duterte backed Calida’s call to acquit Napoles in her serious illegal detention case.
“I think he’s right. I agree with the -- because your job even if you are a prosecutor -- I’ve done that several times. I myself would move for the dismissal of the case,” Duterte had said.
Luy, who was employed by Napoles’ JLN Group of Companies, had testified Napoles detained him in two places to prevent him from revealing to authorities how she used bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) to get billions of pesos of pork-barrel funds from dozens of lawmakers, for fake projects. Napoles has repeatedly denied having Luy kidnapped.
OSG’s manifestation before CA prompted critics and observers to allege that the Duterte administration may have already reached a modus vivendi with Napoles.
Calida then said his office’s move to ask for Napoles’ acquittal was done in the interest of justice and Duterte "has nothing to do with this decision."
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo also said that Napoles’ acquittal in the detention case will have no impact on her pork barrel cases, where Luy stands as a primary witness.
“In the plunder cases, it’s not only him that is being presented. Meaning to say, there will be corroborative evidence in the form of documents or corroborative witnesses,” Panelo told reporters.
“If Benhur Luy would testify in court and that can be corroborated by other witnesses and supported by documents, then it becomes credible.”
Panelo also dismissed talks the government will use Napoles to go after perceived political enemies who have not been charged with pork barrel cases.
“For as long as there is corruption and there is evidence to establish a criminal case, we will pursue the case,” he said.
Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News