ALLEGED pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles was a “minimal player” in the multi-billion plunder of state coffers and could thus be tapped as state witness, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday.
Napoles, however, has to prove that she is not the most guilty of fund misuse, and the final decision rests on the courts, Duterte said in a news conference before leaving for Cambodia.
“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 [is]at least she appears to be the least guilty. If you are a major player, I don’t know if you can do it,” said Duterte, a former prosecutor in Davao City.
“It’s up to the judge. It is the judge, the prosecutor who would make the motion and the judge will decide… So if you are asking for an expanded explanation it’s just that she appears to be the minimal player, not the major player in the commission of the crime,” he added.
Duterte made the statement after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said Napoles, who has been acquitted of a serious illegal detention charge involving scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, could be a credible key witness.
But Luy’s former counsel, Levito Baligod, believes Napoles will be a weak state witness, considering her inconsistent public statements.
Napoles had been tagged by witnesses as the mastermind of the scam, in which some P10 billion of taxpayers’ money was coursed through her bogus nongovernment organizations for “ghost projects” implemented by lawmakers.
Duterte agreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision to acquit Napoles in the serious illegal detention case filed by her second cousin, Luy.
“She remains in prison actually. What she got off was an acquittal on the illegal detention [case]… as a former prosecutor, I cannot think of how a person could be a victim of being hostage when he had all the while all the opportunity to go out and never come back, and he was allowed to go home,” Duterte said.
He denied claims that he and Napoles have reached a “sweetheart deal” because of her acquittal in the Luy detention case.
“You know you must understand lawyering as we understand you whatever you publish and say. Trabaho lang po ‘yan. We have to earn our keep. As a lawyer, when we accept a case, the only promise there is that we will do our best. But we will not corrupt the truth. That is the line that we have to be conscious of,” he said.
Napoles was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 on April 14, 2015, and was sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay Luy P50,000 in civil indemnity and P50,0000 in moral damages.
On Monday, the Court of Appeals found “reasonable doubt” to acquit Napoles for the crime of serious illegal detention.
The appellate court pointed out that Luy “never attempted to escape” nor did he divulge his predicament to anyone, which the magistrates found “baffling” considering that he was in contact with several persons, including priests, every day.
‘Surrender to Aquino fishy’
Giving a hint of how Napoles’ testimony as a state witness could be used, Aguirre said Napoles’ surrender to President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Malacañang in August 2013 still “stinks” and “smells fishy.”
Aguirre on Wednesday said he would push for a reinvestigation of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) scam with Napoles as a possible state witness.
“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 during the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay, referring to Aquino and then interior secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd.
“What I’m just trying to say is that 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,” he stressed.
Aguirre questioned why only former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada were in jail when Napoles implicated about a dozen incumbent and former senators and over a hundred congressmen in the list she submitted to the then Justice secretary, the now detained senator Leila de Lima.
“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 said.
Aguirre said he was set to meet with groups interested in the reinvestigation of the pork barrel scam, including former Manila councilor Greco Belgica.
Napoles seeks transfer to NBI
Also on Wednesday, a lawyer for Napoles said she had requested to be transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detention center in Manila from the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
“Actually I wrote to the DOJ yesterday if she could be transferred. Because she should no longer be there because that is a correctional, it is for convicted prisoners,” Stephen David said.
Asked for other legal remedies that could be sought for Napoles, David said: “We can file a petition for bail again.”
The Sandiganbayan will have to issue another order on where Napoles will be detained, following her acquittal in her serious illegal detention case.
JOMAR CANLAS AND REINA TOLENTINO