• Senate can grant immunity to Napoles to convince her to talk

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    UNLESS the Senate offers Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, immunity from prosecution, the senate blue ribbon committee investigating the anomaly will not get any crucial information from the controversial businesswoman, Senator Serge Osmena said Wednesday.

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    Osmena, the vice chair of the senate blue ribbon panel, said the he expects Napoles 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.

    Osmena said that the senate has the power to grant immunity to Napoles just like what the chamber did in the Philippine National Police Chopper controversy in 2011 wherein it backed the request of witness Archibald Po from criminal suit.

    Po, was the one who linked former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo to the sale of second hand helicopters to the PNP.

    He invoked a provision on Witness Protection and Security Benefits Act that allows a witness in a congressional investigation, immunity from prosecution upon recommendation of the legislative committee where his testimony is needed and with 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,” Osmena explained.

    The blue ribbon committee vice chair further said that although Napoles is perceived to be the “engineer” of the scam, the government officials who reportedly received money from her has the heavier responsibility.

    According to Osmena government officials 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 especially if the judgment of the committee or of the court the she is 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 doesn’t 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 office of the Ombudsman is enough to pin those named as respondents in the plunder and malversation cases and that they don’t need the testimony of Napoles anymore.

    “Although it is only an opinion, for me I’m not in favor of that (immunity),” he added.

    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 which means that what ever information she will give can’t be uses in court.

    “But it doesn’t mean that she will be immune to suit,” he added.

    When asked if he it is advisable for Napoles to be granted immunity, Drilon said he will just leave the decision to her lawyer. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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