Lawmakers Lanete, Valdez gain freedom
SEEING the evidence presented against them as weak, the Sandiganbayan allowed Janet Lim-Napoles and two lawmakers charged with plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam to post bail.
The anti-graft court’s Fifth Division on Wednesday granted the bail petitions filed by Napoles, former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez.
In a separate decision, the court’s Fourth Division also granted the bail petitions of Napoles and former Masbate congresswoman and dismissed governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete.
Lanete’s camp posted P830,000 bail–P500,000 for the plunder case and P330,000 for the 11 counts of graft filed against her. She has obtained a release order.
Valdez, meanwhile, posted P1.7 million bail for his temporary liberty.
His lawyer, Joel Ferrer, confirmed to The Manila Times that the former lawmaker Valdez has completed the bail process.
Napoles has not posted bail.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense but only if the evidence presented by the prosecution can strongly prove guilt.
“Taking all the evidence and the pertinent law and doctrinal rules together, it would appear that for purposes of bail, there appears to be doubt as to the total amount of alleged ill-gotten wealth amassed, accumulated and/or acquired by accused Valdez, directly or indirectly, with Napoles and [John Raymund] de Asis,” the court said in its resolution.
Associate Justice Roland Jurado, who leads the court’s Fifth Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.
The court said it would not be fair “and underhanded” to conclude that Valdez amassed P57 million in kickbacks from alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
“As a cautionary parting word, it must be categorically stated herein that in making the above pronouncements, this court is not making any judgment as to the final outcome of this case,” it added.
Valdez had been detained at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City (Metro Manila).
Napoles is serving a life sentence at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) for serious illegal detention.
In the case of Lanete, the Fourth Division held that the prosecution failed to present strong evidence that the former lawmaker did receive kickbacks from her PDAF.
Lanete was accused of pocketing P108.405 million from 2004 to 2010 by coursing her pork barrel to non-government organizations (NGOs) supposedly run by Napoles.
“The court is of the opinion that the evidence, presented by the prosecution, of the guilt of accused Lanete and accused Napoles is not strong,” the court said in a 77-page resolution promulgated on April 12 and made public on Wednesday.
The court pointed out that the ruling “should then not be construed as a prejudgment or a disposition of this case.”
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg and concurred in by Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, who leads the court’s Fourth Division, and Associate Justice Alex Quiroz.
The court noted that “it was not clearly shown that the total amount allegedly amassed by accused Lanete from her PDAF allocation for the years 2007-2010 reached the threshold of P50 million.”
It said no strong proof was also presented to show how Lanete used her PDAF to fund alleged ghost or fictitious projects.
The court added that even the prosecution admitted that Napoles and Lanete never met to discuss the latter’s alleged percentage of kickbacks. Lanete also never visited Napoles’ office, or joined her in parties.
Even Benhur Luy “testified that there was never an instance that money was handed over personally to accused Lanete. It was always through accused [Jose] Sumalpong, in cash or through online transfers/deposits to accused Sumalpong’s account. No corroborating witnesses, such as a representative from the AMLC or from Metrobank, were presented to validate Luy’s testimony on this matter,” the court said, referring to the Anti-Money Laundering Council.