Turning Napoles around

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Just last February, President Benigno Aquino 3rd was emphatic in rejecting the possibility of Janet Napoles turning into a state witness. The way the President explained it, Napoles’ level of guilt in the pork barrel scheme case the government was building had not been clearly established.

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Before an accused could cross over to the prosecution side, one of the first steps is to find out if he or she is the “most guilty.” The accused who bears the biggest guilt has the smallest chance of crossing over.

Malacañang seems ready to overlook the “most guilty” principle in Napoles’ case. It has declared that it does not have any problem with her testifying for the government. A Palace spokesman gave a simple explanation for the turnaround: last February, Napoles “was not willing to talk.”

Just like that, the administration appears to be willing to roll out the red carpet for her, now that she’s ready to spill the beans. Never mind that by doing so, Napoles would risk perjuring herself. When she appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee, she practically presented a blanket denial of involvement in the pork barrel scandal, and added she did not know of any lawmaker who was in on it.

Napoles’ lawyer tried to wriggle out of that one by saying that she was disoriented and confused during the Senate hearing because there was no private counsel by her side.

Malacañang has said it is “re-tasking the Department of Justice to make the study on the recommendation on that matter.”

Maybe we should mention at this point that the Palace recalibrated its position after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had met with Napoles just before the key figure in the scam had surgery to remove a cyst in her uterus. Napoles is said to have indicated to Secretary de Lima her willingness to render testimony for the prosecution. At about the same time, rumors materialized that Napoles had dragged at least 19 senators into the pork barrel mess.

Has Malacañang changed its game plan? If it has, it reveals a lack of decisiveness and direction in pursuing the case against the plunderers of the people’s money. It also gives the case a political tinge and leaves the administration open to insinuations that it was persecuting, not prosecuting, its political rivals.

Already, the talk of Napoles becoming a state witness has spawned legal questions. One justice shared with The Times his misgivings about Napoles being a government witness. The magistrate said that under the Revised Penal Code, Napoles, a principal accused, can never qualify as a state witness. Not unless her testimony is absolutely crucial to the prosecution, if it is the only direct evidence available, if it can be substantially corroborated, and if she has not at any time been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.

After everything is taken into consideration, everything still boils down to one question: Will the information Napoles provide bolster the prosecution’s case?

At this point, that remains in the realm of speculation. But Malacañang is desperate to see the case through, whatever the price. And that includes surrendering the moral high ground.

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