MANILA, Philippines - As it sets a reinvestigation on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam with Janet Lim-Napoles as a possible state witness, a puzzled Department of Justice (DOJ) hopes to figure out why the businesswoman went straight to Malacañang upon surrendering at the peak of the controversy in the previous administration.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II recalled that when Napoles, tagged as brains of the PDAF scam, surrendered in August 2013, she was reportedly accompanied by then-president Benigno Aquino III and then-interior secretary Mar Roxas to the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame.
“I think this is already documented and not denied,” Aguirre pointed out when asked if officials of the previous administration would be covered by the DOJ probe.
The DOJ chief, however, clarified that he was not implying the guilt of those who accompanied Napoles.
“You can say that high-ranking people are involved here,” he stressed.
He also asked why only three former senators – 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 a hundred congressmen in the list she submitted to then-justice secretary and now detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
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He believes the investigation conducted by the previous administration on the pork barrel controversy was “selective” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
“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,” Aguirre 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,” he further lamented.
Aguirre said the reinvestigation could start with the “Napolist” earlier submitted by Napoles.
He also revealed that he would meet with lawyers of Napoles to discuss her submission of a new affidavit on the PDAF scam, adding that he has 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,” he explained.
Asked if Napoles could qualify as state witness in the possible cases that could emanate from the reinvestigation, Aguirre stressed that it would depend on what she has to say.
The DOJ chief said that while several camps are pushing for Napoles to be state witness, she 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.
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 SC, according to Aguirre “because he is taking advantage of his public position.”
No more appeal
In the same forum, Aguirre said that government prosecutors will no longer appeal before the Court of Appeals (CA) the acquittal of Napoles in the serious illegal detention case involving pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, thus making the decision final.
The rule against double jeopardy also prohibits the prosecution of Napoles for the same offense.
Aguirre said he agrees with the move of Solicitor General Jose Calida to support the plea of Napoles for reversal of her conviction by the Makati City regional trial court.
“If the solicitor general did not see basis for the prosecution, he’s right to move for the dismissal of the case. It has basis because it was proven that the liberty of Mr. Luy was not fully restrained,” he stressed.
“Given the evidence, I think the case for illegal detention will not prosper,” Aguirre pointed out.
The DOJ chief also defended Calida’s action, saying it is within his mandate.
Lawmakers escaped prosecution
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson believes some lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam have escaped prosecution during the Aquino administration.
Lacson disclosed that Napoles’ husband and son approached him a few years ago when he was involved in the Yolanda rehabilitation program and showed him a list of senators and congressmen allegedly involved in the multibillion-peso scam.
The senator, however, declined to name those he saw on the list.
“My worry is when Mrs. Napoles starts pointing fingers, maybe the quorum will move to Camp Crame – not in the Senate or not in the House anymore –and we’ll have our roll call there,” Lacson told reporters. – With Paolo Romero