UNLESS Janet Lim-Napoles is offered immunity from prosecution, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee should not expect anything earthshaking from her when she appears before the panel next month, Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd said on Wednesday.
Osmeña, vice chairman of the panel, said that he expects Napoles, the alleged mastermind in the P10 billion pork barrel scam to invoke her right against self-incrimination which means the committee will not be able to force her to talk.
“What I am saying is the whole nation is dying to hear Napoles, and they are dying to hear Napoles because they want to hear the truth . . . I don’t think that will happen, unless we offer her to become state witness which means immunity from prosecution,” the lawmaker pointed out.
Osmeña said that the Senate has the power to grant immunity to Napoles just like what the chamber did when it probed the Philippine National Police helicopter anomaly in 2011 wherein it backed the request of witness Archibald Po to be immune from criminal suit.
It was Po who linked former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo to the sale of second hand helicopters passed on as brand new to the PNP.
He invoked a provision in the Witness Protection and Security Benefits Act that allows a witness in a congressional investigation to be granted immunity from prosecution upon recommendation of the legislative committee where his testimony is needed.
The recommendation should get the approval of the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“Yes. It’s in the Witness Protection program law. I was surprised when I read it, but yes, we gave ourselves that power to grant immunity,” Osmeña explained.
Osmeña said that although Napoles is perceived to be the “engineer” of the scam, government officials who reportedly received huge kickbacks from her face the heavier penalties because they took an oath to serve the Filipino people and they should be above suspicion.
“So if you’re saying, one guy stole P50 million, and then a governor stole P10 million, to me, I’ll go after the governor,” the senator explained.
He added that immunity is always an option for Napoles, especially if the committee or the court find her as “not the most guilty.”
But for Senator Francis Escudero, granting immunity to Napoles is not a call of the Senate alone and since cases have already been filed before the court, it is the court that should decide on the matter.
Escudero also said that he will not vote in favor of the proposal in case the committee would decide to vote on it because he does not believe that Napoles is the least guilty, based on the complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.
He also expressed belief that the evidence presented by the Justice department to the Ombudsman is enough to pin those named as respondents in the plunder and malversation cases.
In fact, he said that they do not need the testimony of Napoles anymore.
“Although it is only an opinion, for me I’m not in favor of that (immunity),” Escudero said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, made it clear that the immunity only covers the testimony that will be given by Napoles before the committee. This means that whatever information she gave cannot be used in court.
“But it doesn’t mean that she will be immune from suit,” he added.
Meanwhile, Catholic Church officials said Napoles should tell all before the Senate and shed light on the charges that she is now being accused of.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said that Napoles’ testimony can help bring out the truth and do good for the country.
“She may be a heroine,” the bishop said.
Also, Marbel bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said that Napoles has to attend the hearing so that the people should know the truth behind the pork barrel scam.
“Yes [she has to attend]because she is already subpoenaed and her testimony will ferret out the truth,” Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said.
Meanwhile, Bulacan Bishop Jose Oliveros urged Napoles to name names and testify against the others involved in the pork barrel scam.
“Let her face the music. I hope she will tell the truth. Let her name names. The Filipino people want to know where our taxes went,” he said.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo also said that Napoles should attend the Senate hearing and expose her side of the truth “in order that justice may be served for the sake of the common good.”