P10-million bounty offered for pork barrel scam fugitive
Minutes after President Benigno Aquino 3rd announced a P10-million bounty for high-profile fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles, her lawyer said the woman in the center of pork barrel scandal is willing to surrender if government can assure her safety.
The President said the reward, the biggest the government has offered for a fugitive, will be given to anyone who can provide information that will lead to the arrest of Napoles, who disappeared early this month after the Makati City Regional Trial Court issued a warrant for her arrest.
Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, are wanted for the illegal detention of Benhur Luy, who revealed the pork anomaly.
The Palace has yet to issue details about the reward because it was not clear if it covers Reynald.
The camp of Napoles said she will surrender if the government assures she will not be harmed.
Napoles lawyer Lorna Kapunan said the bounty was unnecessary because her client was willing to turn herself in.
“She is here. She will never escape. She has nothing to hide. She would never leave this country until her name is cleared. If you can tell us how she can surrender without any threat to her life, she is willing to come out,” Kapunan said.
She warned that dangling a huge reward for her client’s capture could drive Napoles deeper into hiding.
Kapunan said the President was ill-advised in announcing the reward. “Sadly, the advisers of the President have convinced him to issue this reward money.”
Kapunan also questioned the government’s treatment of Napoles as a dangerous fugitive.
She pointed to the statement of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Napoles could be surrounded by armed bodyguards.
“It’s like a shoot-to-kill order because of that statement of the Justice secretary that she is heavily armed, so what is going to prevent anyone who wants to silence her forever for saying that she has resisted arrest when they see her?” Kapunan said.
“Instead of encouraging her to come forward, they are discouraging her with statements like there is a ‘nationwide manhunt, shoot-to-kill, citizen’s arrest. We have Interpol (International Police), we have reward’. Is this an inducement for her to surrender? No,” she said.
The President also said the government will go after the people who are harboring Napoles.
He said if Napoles thought the government will not step up the manhunt for her, “then she is mistaken.”
The President said he is confident the manhunt will bear fruit soon.
But while the President exuded confidence about Napoles’ imminent capture, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has no idea where Napoles was hiding.
De Lima said the NBI believes that Napoles is surrounded by “armed and dangerous men.”
“That’s always the possibility, that’s always in the realm of possibility,” she said. It could be soldiers or politicians (who are protecting Napoles).”
The Philippine National Police (PNP) welcomed the bounty. “It will be a big help in the sense that the community will help us in gathering more information and at the same our manhunt for Napoles will be strengthened,” PNP Public Information chief Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac told reporters.
Aquino shot down speculations that Napoles can stand as a state witness, although he said the possibility will be closely studied by the government.
“The warrant of arrest must first be served, and Mrs. Napoles placed under government custody and made to answer the accusations against her,” he said.
De Lima said there are many factors to be considered before someone becomes a state witness, including the gravity of the accused’s guilt and testimony.
The Bureau of Immigration sharpened its lookout for Napoles and her brother in the country’s southernmost islands, believing they might make a run for either Indonesia or Malaysia.
“They can use the Balot Island which is near General Santos City, about three hours away to Indonesia, and Bonggao, Tawi-Tawi, which is near Malaysia,” acting Immigration chief Siegfried Mison said.
Immigration personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport were also looking out for siblings, he said.
Mison said his agency has asked Indonesia to help locate Napoles and Lim.
“We have already coordinated with Indonesian immigration at the Marore Island, which is near the Philippines. We alerted them by issuing information including pictures of Janet and Reynald,” he said.
Mison earlier said three yachts owned by Napoles that were docked at the Manila Yacht Club were missing.
But Kapunan said her client does not own a yacht.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has issued an aviation alert in case Napoles tries to flee the country in a private plane.
CAAP Deputy Director General John Andrews said that a private plane can only use domestic and international routes if the pilot secured a flight plan from the CAAP’s Flight operation department.
The flight plan must include a list of passengers and crew.
The Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied Napoles’ petition to stop the arrest warrant from being served.
The court’s 4th Division, in a decision written by Associate Justice Ramon Garcia and concurred in by Associate Justices Amelita Tolentino and Danton Bueser, refused to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the warrant issued by the Makati RTC.
Napoles asked the tribunal to stop the serving of the warrant, saying the Makati court abused its discretion when it issued the order.
The Secretary General of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) rejected proposals to make Napoles a government witness.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, head of the House contingent to the powerful Commission on Appointments, said Napoles will not be credible state witness, since she ran at least 10 bogus nongovernment organizations that allegedly benefited from lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“Her sins are so grave she can’t be a state witness at this point. It would be better if she gets caught, and let the DOJ extract as many information from her as possible.
Everybody here wants her arrested,” Sarmiento said.
“Those liable in this mess should be held accountable,” he added.
Even with the P10-million bounty, Sarmiento admitted that capturing Napoles will be difficult.
“With her wealth, she can easily bribe anyone who would pinpoint her to authorities. She could have brought a lot of money with her, but it will eventually run out if the citizenry will be vigilant,” he said.
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said that only by abolishing the PDAF can the government address the problem of pervasive corruption.
“The P10 million bounty and Napoles’ arrest, if she is indeed arrested, will not even bring the Filipino people an inch closer towards putting an end to corruption especially with Aquino’s plans to merely restructure, rename, realign the PDAF in its current state. As long as there is PDAF, there will be kickbacks and favoring certain contractors in exchange of money,” Ilagan said.
With reports from Llanesca Panti And Anthony Vargas