PORK barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles is back in the news with her surprise acquittal from the charge of serious illegal detention, which could set her free but only to be jailed again for separate non-bailable charges of plunder.
Napoles was convicted by a Makati trial court in 2015 for allegedly detaining Benhur Luy, a relative, in a retreat house against his will, supposedly to prevent Luy from spilling the beans on the multi-year, multi-billion plunder of congressional funds through ghost projects.
In the previous administration, the case was pursued in order to secure a quick conviction and immediately place behind bars the brains behind the massive theft of state coffers, ahead of the more tedious plunder cases that took more time to build up.
Enter the new administration, and the winds seem to have shifted direction. No less than the solicitor general, Jose Calida, backed up by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, moved to acquit Napoles before the Court of Appeals, claiming Luy’s case was weak.
Already, the public has begun suspecting a quid pro quo, especially now that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd wants to turn her into a state witness.
They are not persuaded by repeated assurances of administration officials that Napoles’ acquittal won’t have an impact on the pork barrel scam cases.
First, it’s unclear what direction Aguirre et al are taking. What’s the purpose of Napoles becoming a state witness? Everyone had been led to believe that the government had the goods on her and her congressional accomplices, some of whom have been charged and jailed. Truckloads of evidence, we were told, apart from the testimony of witnesses such as Luy, whose credibility as a whistleblower is now legally in question.
It strains credulity how Napoles could become a state witness given the stringent requirements of the law and previous characterizations of her by prosecutors as the “queen” and “mastermind” of the pork barrel scam.
Even if she does not appear to be the most guilty, which qualifies her to be a state witness, is there “absolute necessity” for her testimony? Is there “no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed”?
The final requirement, that the prospective state witness be free of any conviction of a “crime involving moral turpitude,” has been taken care of.
How government prosecutors could change their tune on Napoles is in itself highly questionable, and reinforces the public perception that the legal system is malleable and could be fashioned according to the will of whoever is the officeholder.
At the very least, the government seems to be choosing the easy path by taking in Napoles as state witness, instead of digging up evidence, which does not at all seem to be in short supply.
At most, Napoles is going to be used for something else, which, at this point, and as we have said above, remains unclear. Is she going to be used to pin down officials of the previous administration?
While many guilty players in the pork barrel scam have yet to be held accountable, a behind-the-scenes deal in Napoles’ favor sends the wrong message to the public that is already inured to high-profile grafters getting away with their crimes.
Even Luy, the star witness in the pork barrel scam, on Tuesday seems to have been resigned. “Pabayaan n’yo na siya [Let her be],” he told reporters.
But everyone seems to forget that the pork barrel scam is the scam of the century, spanning presidencies and political dynasties. It did not only corrupt the entire legislature, it turned Congress into a huge money-making syndicate.
Any deal with Napoles, who facilitated the siphoning off billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money to bogus non-government organizations and into the pockets of greedy lawmakers, is thus, morally unacceptable.
Such monumental crime calls for no less than the vigorous prosecution of Napoles and all pork scammers to the fullest extent of the law.