Appearing for the first time before a Senate investigation into the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim-Napoles denied allegations she funnelled P10 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to her pockets and that of her lawmaker associates.
At the Thursday hearing of the Blue Ribbon committee that lasted for six hours, Napoles denied involvement in the scam, belying the claims of six of her trusted employees who sat not far from her.
The businesswoman, who was arrested on a serious illegal detention charge, arrived at the Senate session hall wearing a bulletproof vest.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, committee chairman, appoint the lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to assist Napoles during the course of the proceedings.
A few minutes into the hearing Napoles, after consulting PAO lawyers headed by Howard Areza, asked the committee for an executive session, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Guingona rejected the request, saying the issue does not concern national security.
Senate majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that if the panel agreed to an executive session, the Senate can vote to divulge what was discussed behind closed doors.
Guingona asked Napoles if she had ordered the creation of several foundations and used her employees as dummies.
“Hindi po totoo [it’s not true],” she answered.
Benhur Luy, the main witness against Napoles, told the panel her former employer was “lying.”
Merlina Sunas, another former employee of Napoles, backed Luy, saying Napoles directed her to register at least 20 foundations at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Napoles only admitted to having formed the Magdalena Luy-Lim Foundation she named after her late mother.
“The Magdalena Luy-Lim foundation is the only foundation that I formed which is involved in outreach programs at Boys Town, Girls Town, Golden Heart,” she said.
She denied owning properties that were used as offices of the NGOs [non-government organizations] linked to the scam, contradicting Luy’s claim she asked him to handle the registration of her properties.
Napoles denied she offered lawmakers 50 percent kickbacks from PDAF-funded projects coursed through her NGOs and insisted that she never had any dealings with them.
“Kawawa naman po sila,” she even told the panel, referring to the Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. who were charged with plunder along with her.
Luy insisted that since he started working at JLN Corp. in 2002, Napoles already had transactions with the government officials. He said he has proof of the transactions like bank documents, bank account numbers and endorsement letters of lawmakers.
Marina Sula said Napoles always kept vouchers of all her transactions with lawmakers from the time she became a JLN employee and until 2013. She said all documents were ordered destroyed by Napoles in January.
Besides the senators, heads of implementing agencies also allegedly received huge cuts from the PDAF transactions said Luy who even identified Alan Jabellana, former head of the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) and Antonio Ortiz of Technology Research Center (TRC) as among those who got kickbacks from Napoles.
Luy named the legislators and their representatives who had received 50 percent cuts from the total amount of PDAF they have allocated.
Revilla Jr., he said, allocated a total of P652 million PDAF from 2004 to 2010 and was able to get a total of P224,515,000 commission while Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile allotted P726,550,000 from 2004 to 2012 and got P172,834,500 in commissions. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, he added, allotted P751,500,000 since 2004 but got P183,793,750 in commissions based on his records.
Former Rep. Rizalina Lanete, Luy said, allotted around P256 million of her PDAF and got P108.4 million in commissions; Rep. Edgar Valdez got a P62 million commission from his total PDAF allocation of P125 million; and Rep. Rodolfo Plaza allotted P75 million and got P37 million.
Former Rep. Samuel Dangwa allegedly got P27 million from his P54 million PDAF allocation and Rep. Constantino Jaraula got P20.8 million from his P55million PDAF allotments.
In a statement released after the inquiry, Enrile urged Napoles to reveal the whole truth no matter who gets hurt.
“I feel compelled to issue a statement on today’s Senate hearing lest my silence in the face of the most outrageous allegations will be construed against me. I support any investigation that seeks to uncover the truth about this PDAF scam,” Enrile said.
He scored some members of the Blue ribbon panel for using the hearing to make “wild-eyed charges, baseless assumptions, and false accusations and converted the investigation into a parody of justice.”
Waste of time
Officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the hearing was a “waste of time.”
Fr. Edwin Corros, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant Peoples (ECMI) of the CBCP said that it would be better if Napoles was brought before the court instead of the Senate.
“I am disappointed. [The hearing was] a waste of time and probably resources. [It would be] better to bring her now to court,” Corros said.
Lingayen-Dagupan Emeritus Archbishop Oscar Cruz said Napoles should have not appeared at the hearing at all since she did not say anything significant.
Cruz lauded Guingona, Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Cayetano who he said “somehow helped” in searching for the truth in the pork barrel scam.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that he was astonished by the answers of Napoles during the hearing, adding that the businesswoman’s statements were “surprising” to think that there are a lot of evidence and testimonies that implicate her in the controversy.
“Yes I am [surprised]. So many people have justified the fact that they did it on her orders, that they are really her employees,” Belmonte told reporters.
Rep. Maria Leonor Robredo of Camarines Sur third district said public trust can only be restored if the people are told what happened with their money.
“The trust should be restored and the only way to restore that trust is for them to understand what really happened . . . Until it is answered, people will always doubt their leaders and the government,” Robredo said.